We knew this would take a while.
In the weeks and months leading up to Tuesday's presidential election, state officials and election experts repeatedly urged others to prepare for the race “to be closer to an election week as opposed to an Election Day," as Michigan’s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, said in September. This is because of the waves of early mail-in votes as well as some state laws that meant officials could not begin processing those ballots until Election Day itself.
The heightened interest in the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has left people around the country, and even the world, waiting on every update.
Since polls closed on Tuesday Biden, 77, has projected confidence about ultimately winning but has asked Americans to have “patience,” while Trump, 74, demanded to “stop the count” — in violation of state law — even as some of his supporters urged counting to continue in places where he was losing.
The president has repeatedly spread baseless claims of misconduct and implied votes against him were fraudulent.
In Georgia, where more results are to be expected later on Thursday and where Biden has shocked election experts by potentially flipping the state blue, a state official reiterated that the delay was normal.
“We — literally for the last two months — we have said it would be Wednesday or Thursday before we knew the answer to this [election],” Georgia secretary of state official Gabriel Sterling told reporters on Thursday morning.
"Fast is great and we appreciate fast," Sterling said. "We more appreciate accuracy. Accuracy is going to be the bedrock upon which people will believe the outcome of these elections, be they on the winning side or the losing side."
As ballot counting enters day three, here’s the latest from states where votes are still being tallied up.
Latest Counts: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania
Biden currently leads Trump by a 264-214 in Electoral College votes, according to projections by The Associated Press.
A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win the election.
To track reliable, real-time results, PEOPLE is using the data collected by the nationwide team at the AP, which emphasizes precision and caution in gathering vote totals across the country. (All estimates below are based on the latest AP projections and estimates as of Thursday mid-afternoon.)
ARIZONA (11 electoral votes)
Current Margin: Though the Trump campaign and some analysts say the data is not yet conclusive, the AP's analysis called the state for Biden with about 88 percent of the votes counted as of Thursday afternoon. Other media outlets, such as CNN, have held off on calling Arizona thus far, though the AP projects that Biden holds a roughly 68,000-vote advantage over Trump with the remaining vote, heavily centered around Biden-friendly Phoenix, still to come.
When to Expect the Final Count: Arizona state officials have said to expect additional vote counts by Thursday night.
To Keep in Mind: While the AP and Fox News called the race for Biden, other media outlets said that the numbers do clearly favor Biden but there is still need for caution as roughly 12 percent of the vote is outstanding. Biden winning Arizona and Georgia, flipping them from Trump four years ago, would dramatically change the optics of a race in which polls had consistently shown him ahead across the country by even larger margins — only to see Trump defy that and easily win in Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.
GEORGIA (16 electoral votes)
Current Margin: Trump leads Biden by less than 13,000 votes, as of Thursday morning, with 99 percent of the vote counted — and a decisive sliver of ballots remaining.
When to Expect the Final Count: State officials had said they would like to finish their count by Thursday, with some 60,000 votes across the state still needing to be counted. Later Thursday, however, some county officials reportedly said it would take until Friday.
To keep in mind: Biden has increasingly narrowed the gap between him and Trump in Georgia, as the final ballots — which have mostly been concentrated in Democratic-friendly Atlanta — are counted. Additionally, Sterling, the secretary of state official, said Thursday that some additional ballots could be counted through Friday, including overseas ballots postmarked by Election Day and ballots being returned by voters who were asked (by the state) to fix minor personal identification mistakes.
NEVADA (six electoral votes)
Current Margin: Biden leads Trump by about 11,000 votes with approximately 76 percent of the count having been tallied by Thursday afternoon, according to the AP.
When to Expect the Final Count: Officials began releasing additional vote counts on Thursday but told reporters they would not be finished until Nov. 12, though it was possible a definitive picture of the race would emerge before then.
To Keep in Mind: Mail and provisional ballots are left to be counted in Nevada, mostly in Clark County, a Democratic stronghold. The Trump campaign announced Thursday it will file a lawsuit asking the state to stop counting mail-in ballots, though other challenges they've brought since Tuesday have not succeeded.
NORTH CAROLINA (15 electoral votes)
Current Margin: Trump leads Biden by about 77,000 votes with 94 percent of the ballots counted, according to the AP.
When to Expect the Final Count: Per state law, mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day can still be counted until Nov. 12.
To Keep in Mind: North Carolina is also home to a key Senate race that could determine the body’s majority. Sen. Thom Tillis, the Republican incumbent, currently leads Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by less than 7,000 votes with 93 percent of those ballots counted, according to the AP.
PENNSYLVANIA (20 electoral votes)
Current Margin: Trump leads Biden by about 108,000 votes with 88 percent of the ballots counted, according to the AP.
When to Expect the Final Count: A more definitive picture of the total is reportedly expected later Thursday, according to state officials, while the law requires mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be received and counted through Friday.
To Keep in Mind: The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit in the swing state to stop ballot counting, as the gap between the candidates increasingly narrows with mail ballots in the state's major cities and suburbs overwhelming going toward Biden.
Challenges & Recounts Will Likely Drag This Out (but That Doesn’t Mean the Results Will Change)
The Trump campaign has now threatened or launched legal battles in at least four states around the country, contesting the ballot counts as the president’s path to re-election narrows.
His lawyers have filed or have said they will file complaints in Georgia, Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania. In some of those cases, however, judges have already sided against them while the prospect of Trump appealing would prolong the dispute more.
One prominent election law professor told PEOPLE the lawsuits may not have a great impact on the results, however: “It is very unlikely that the efforts will be successful or even slow down the counting of ballots,” Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said.
In other states like Wisconsin, which the AP called for Biden on Thursday, the Trump campaign has signaled they will ask for a recount. Such a request would likely draw out the election through December because state officials say a recount request can’t be made until its initial count is fully certified. (Wisconsin’s deadline to certify its count is Dec. 1.)
Previous recounts have not notably adjusted the final vote tallies, however.
As Scott Walker, the former Republican governor of Wisconsin, tweeted Wednesday: “After recount in 2011 race for WI Supreme Court, there was a swing of 300 votes. After recount in 2016 Presidential race in WI, [Trump’s] numbers went up by 131.”
Here’s what the campaigns have said
Whether he is re-elected or not, Trump made it clear he will protest the process every step of the way.
He has falsely claimed on Twitter that “they” are trying to “STEAL” the election and he has simultaneously contradicted his own stance on the election process, pleading on social media to stop ballot counts in states where he leads Biden while his supporters have said they want to see more ballots counted in states like Arizona, where the president trails.
Biden has said he believes he will be president, based on the majority of results so far (and where additional ballots are trending). On Wednesday, he also called for unity.
“I will govern as an American president,” he said. ”There will be no red states and blue states when we win—just the United States of America.”
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