Here’s when we know who won the 2020 U.S. election

It has been three days since the US election. You could reasonably have expected to have some sort of clue to the results by now.

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Okay, so who will be the next president?

We still can’t say because there weren’t enough votes for either Donald or Joe Biden to claim victory.

But the time when we can tell you someone has won seems to be drawing near. And the results always come.

Protesters in Washington DC

Protesters in Washington DC


The large number of mail-in votes cast in this pandemic election and the laws of different states on how to count them meant it would always take longer if the race was close.

Didn’t Joe Biden win the popular vote?

Yes, so far, and by far, but that’s not what decides who will be president.

Instead, a candidate must win a majority in a system called an electoral college, where each state gets a certain number of votes or “voters” roughly in proportion to its population. If you win a state, you win all of its votes (except Nebraska and Maine, but it’s complicated). There are 538 state votes and whoever gets 270 wins the prize.

So what are we waiting for now?

Mr. Biden is out of 253 Electoral College votes against 214. There are several ways each of them could reach 270.

If Mr. Biden gets Pennsylvania, that’s all he needs – he’s over the line. Georgia and all of Nevada, Arizona or North Carolina are working for him too.

Mr. Trump would need Pennsylvania’s votes and win three states in Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada or Arizona.

Paths to victory

Paths to victory

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So how are they doing in these states?

  • Georgia (16 votes): The story here tells how Mr. Biden took over as head of Mr. Trump in a strong Republican state as mail-in votes and tallies from more Democratic countries arrived. Mr. Biden has taken a very slim lead in the state and there are votes yet to be counted, such as military and overseas votes. But since the margin is so narrow, there is going to be a recount.
  • Pennsylvania (20 votes): There are fewer than 115,000 mail-in ballots left to count, and Mr. Biden has now taken the lead. As mail-in ballots in most places tend to become democratic, analysts are watching the scale of this advance.
  • Nevada (6 votes): Mr. Biden took the lead in Nevada. About 150,000 ballots are yet to be counted, many of which are from Clark County, which leans Democratic.
  • Arizona (11 voices): Joe Biden has a narrowing lead. Many of those votes yet to be counted come from Maricopa County, which is home to 60% of the state’s population – and Mr. Trump has caught up as those votes are being counted.

The story in one line?

Donald Trump did better than expected and Joe Biden failed to win those battlefield states that count the votes quickly, but the Democrat is closing the gap in crucial states as the votes are counted.

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Why are the numbers constantly changing?

Each state has its own laws and counting systems. Individual states are also responsible for the order in which they count different types of votes – for example, postal votes are often counted last.

So it makes a difference when Republicans tend to vote in person on the same day and postal votes tend to skew Democrats. Since there have been so many mail-in votes in this pandemic election, which is why we have seen such drastic late changes in who will lead a race.

Another thing to know is that different news organizations have different counts for each candidate depending on the source of electoral data. Some media have therefore called Arizona for Mr Biden, but the BBC believes that is still not decided.

Mr Trump has launched legal challenges, but analysts suggest that most of these challenges concern a small number of ballots that might not make a difference in the end, with the exception of Pennsylvania, where the Supreme Court had previously hinted that it could review the rules on time limits for accepting postal votes.

Michigan investigators

Michigan investigators

legendMichigan poll officials – now screened for Biden – work to count the ballots

But the story here is not just the math.

It now appears that pre-election poll data has not told us the full story of the American public. Many observers did not know the race would be so close.

Robert Cuffe, head of statistics for the BBC, says it is still too early to say whether this election has been a nightmare for pollsters. Final national polls showed Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump by about eight points. In the Battlefield States, Biden also polled in the lead, but with a much thinner margin.

Currently, Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump in the popular vote share by about three percentage points.

People rally to demand that every vote be counted outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia

People rally to demand that every vote be counted outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia


Some experts suspect that part of the American public will not even participate in the polls because they do not trust the institutions – they are more likely to vote for Mr. Trump.

Voters’ priorities may also have been slightly misjudged. As the coronavirus pandemic grabbed the headlines, an investigation by Edison Research found more voters (a third in total) listed the economy as their main problem – this was a central message from Trump .

Mr. Trump’s vote also looks a bit more diverse than many might have assumed.

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