The presidential election is too close to call.
As of 9:10 am Eastern time, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump has yet won the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. Several key swing states have not been called for either candidate. And we will simply have to wait some time longer for more votes to be counted. (You can follow live results from Decision Desk at this link.)
There are extra challenges to calling these races, due to the unprecedented number of mail ballots because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Democrats were more likely to vote by mail, and Republicans were more likely to vote in person on Election Day. So, as we’ve seen throughout the night, counts of which candidate is ahead can be misleading, if those counts are overly reliant on one of those types of votes (mail versus election day in-person).
Trump has done well in his must-win states so far, but some haven’t yet been called
The first swing state that Decision Desk called was Florida, for Trump, because Biden significantly underperformed Hillary Clinton in the heavily Latino Miami-Dade County. While this was a noteworthy win for the president, it was really a state he had to win — one that’s necessary, but not sufficient, for his victory scenario. Biden could afford to lose it. The same holds true for Ohio and Texas, which Decision Desk called for Trump later in the night. Trump had to win both, and he did.
The other must-win states for Trump that the polls indicated were close are North Carolina and Georgia. Both of these states, notably, got a head start on processing mail ballots, so many of them could be counted quickly on election night. Still, they haven’t yet been called. Trump may have an edge, but we’ll have to wait for more votes to be counted to know for sure.
Biden’s most plausible path to victory is still Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania
Yet Joe Biden’s most plausible path to victory didn’t rely on any of these states. Instead, it went through some combination of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. And the problem here is that these states will be particularly slow to count mail ballots (because Republican legislators wouldn’t let these ballots be processed weeks earlier, as they are in most other swing states).
On Tuesday night, Trump led the count in all three of these states, but that was always expected, since that count is mainly of the Election Day in-person vote. Biden’s performance was expected to improve by quite a lot as more mail ballots are slowly counted. Indeed, Biden has already taken the lead in Michigan and Wisconsin.
If Biden holds on to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — and avoids some completely unexpected loss elsewhere — none of the other states listed in this article matter for the presidential race. Biden would have more than the 270 electoral votes he needs to win. Unfortunately, we may have to wait a while to know whether he did in fact win these states.
If Biden falls short in Pennsylvania, a few other key contests come into play
If Trump can pry away all three of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania from Biden, he’ll have won a pretty clear victory, as he did in 2016. But that is looking less likely as more votes from these states are counted. So if, say, Trump wins just Pennsylvania, then a few other key contests could decide the outcome of the election.
Crucial to Biden here would be winning Arizona and Nevada, neither of which has yet been called by Decision Desk. Biden is currently ahead in both states by low single-digit margins, but neither state has been called.
Finally, there are the two oddball states that assign some of their electoral votes to the winner in each congressional district, rather than handing them all to the statewide victor. Two districts in these states are competitive: Maine’s Second Congressional District (which has not yet been called) and Nebraska’s Second Congressional District (which Decision Desk has called for Biden). They have one electoral vote each.
Overall, there are a variety of ways the election could still play out — from a Biden victory to a Trump win to a lengthy recount battle to the dreaded 269-269 tie. We’ll just have to wait for more votes to be counted.