The undecided presidential election entered a new phase on Wednesday as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner of Michigan and Wisconsin, two key swing states that President Trump won four years ago.
The Trump campaign, whose path to victory was narrowing, said that it would seek a recount in Wisconsin and that it had filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the vote count in Michigan, moves that could further delay the moment when a victor can be declared.
The Trump campaign’s challenges came as the president found himself with few paths remaining to winning the 270 electoral votes needed to win re-election. By Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden was holding slim leads in several key states that, if they hold, could propel him to the critical Electoral College threshold and the presidency.
The lingering uncertainty of the 2020 campaign was perhaps unsurprising in an election with record-breaking turnout where most ballots were cast before Election Day but many could not be counted until afterward.
Mr. Trump’s chances of winning a second term depended on his ability to hang on to his leads in states like Georgia and in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Biden has been narrowing Mr. Trump’s leads as vote counting progresses, and on overtaking Mr. Biden in one of the states where Mr. Biden is currently ahead.
With millions of votes yet to be counted across several key states — there is a reason that news organizations and other usually impatient actors were waiting to declare victors — Mr. Biden was holding narrow leads in Arizona and Nevada. If Mr. Biden can hold those states, the former vice president could win the election even without Pennsylvania, which has long been viewed as a must-have battleground state.
“We feel good about where we are,” Mr. Biden told rattled supporters early Wednesday morning. “I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election. I’m optimistic about this outcome.”
Even before the Wisconsin race was called, the Trump campaign said that would request a recount. Under Wisconsin law, a recount can be requested if the margin between the top two candidates is less than one percentage point.
Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement that “the president is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so.”
And Mr. Stepien claimed that the Trump campaign had not been given “meaningful access” to several counting locations in Michigan, and that it had a filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims to halt counting until access was granted. Shortly after that he announced that the campaign would intervene in Pennsylvania.
One source of Mr. Biden’s resilience lies in the nature of the votes still to be counted. Many are mail-in ballots, which favor him because the Democratic Party spent months promoting the message of submitting votes in advance, while Mr. Trump encouraged his voters to turn out on Election Day. And in Michigan and Pennsylvania many of the uncounted votes are from populous urban and suburban areas that tend to vote heavily for Democrats.
Four years ago, Michigan provided one of Mr. Trump’s most surprising victories and helped him take back the Northern industrial states that had favored Democrats in presidential elections since the 1990s. In this election, Mr. Trump’s popularity took a serious hit with the coalition of white voters — independents, those who had an unfavorable view of him but supported him anyway, people with and without college educations — that helped secure his win in Michigan in 2016.
Even in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump had run up a daunting lead of roughly eight percentage points as of Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden had a plausible shot of catching up. Pennsylvania’s secretary of state said there were more than 1.4 million mail-in ballots still to be counted, and those votes are expected to heavily favor Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump held leads in North Carolina and Georgia, and his campaign expressed hopes that his early Pennsylvania lead could withstand an influx of mail-in ballots for Mr. Biden. Then, if Mr. Trump was able to retake the lead from Mr. Biden in Arizona or Nevada, which has gone Democratic in recent elections, he would have a path to a second term.
Early Wednesday, Mr. Trump prematurely declared victory and said he would petition the Supreme Court to demand a halt to the counting. Mr. Biden urged his supporters — and by implication, Mr. Trump — to show patience and allow the process to play out.
WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday said it was “clear” that he would reach 270 electoral votes and win the presidency, though he stopped short of claiming victory.
“I’m not here to declare that we’ve won, but I am here to report that when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at an event center in Wilmington.
After President Trump said in the early morning hours that vote counting should be halted, Mr. Biden offered a strikingly different message, paying tribute to democracy.
“Here, the people rule,” he said. “Power can’t be taken or asserted. It flows from the people. And it’s their will that determines who will be the president of the United States, and their will alone.”
Mr. Biden added that “every vote must be counted.”
“No one’s going to take our democracy away from us,” he said. “Not now, not ever.”
And in a continuation of one of the broad themes of his campaign, Mr. Biden offered a unifying message for the American people.
He said that the presidency “is not a partisan institution” and promised, “I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as I will for those who did vote for me.”
“My friends, I’m confident we’ll emerge victorious,” Mr. Biden said. “But this will not be my victory alone or our victory alone. It will be a victory for the American people, for our democracy, for America. And there will be no blue states and red states when we win — just the United States of America.”
Here is the state of play in battleground states as of 7:15 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday.
Electoral votes: 11
Biden leads Trump, 51.0 percent to 47.6 percent, with 86 percent of the estimated vote in.
To keep in mind: Trump needs to win nearly two-thirds of the remaining votes to capture the state. Officials have said they expect to announce results around 9 p.m. Eastern time.
Electoral votes: 16
Trump leads Biden, 49.9 percent to 48.9 percent, with 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: Many of the votes still coming in are in suburbs of Atlanta and other populous counties that have been breaking for Biden. Georgia’s secretary of state said that he expected the count to be done by the end of the day. Mr. Biden must win around 60 percent of the remaining votes to pull ahead.
Electoral votes: 6
Biden leads Trump, 49.3 percent to 48.7 percent, with 86 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: Mr. Biden leads by fewer than 8,000 votes, but all of the Election Day vote has been counted, leaving only Democratic-leaning late mail and provisional ballots to be tabulated. An election official promised “a fairly large update” later today.
Electoral votes: 15
Trump leads Biden, 50.1 percent to 48.7 percent, with 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: With most votes now tabulated, Biden would need to win about two-thirds of the remainder to pull ahead.
Electoral votes: 20
Trump leads Biden, 51.4 percent to 47.4 percent, with 86 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: An analysis by The Times’s Upshot finds that the remaining vote appears to be tilting toward Biden. Populous counties where relatively large portions of the votes have yet to be counted include Philadelphia, where Biden leads by more than 50 percentage points, and Allegheny, which Biden leads by over 10 points and which includes Pittsburgh. But plenty of votes are outstanding in dozens of smaller Trump-leaning counties.
Biden needs to win about two-thirds of the remaining votes to win the state. Officials have said they expect most votes to be counted by Friday.
Electoral votes: 16
Biden was declared the winner, 49.8 percent to 48.6 percent, a margin of 1.2 percentage points, with 97 percent of votes counted.
Keep in mind: Before the Michigan race was called, the Trump campaign had announced that it was suing to halt the counting of mail-in ballots there because of what it called insufficient transparency in the process.
Electoral votes: 10
Biden was declared the winner, 49.4 percent to 48.8 percent, a margin of 0.6 percentage points, with more than 98 percent of votes counted.
Keep in mind: Wisconsin law allows a recount when the leading candidate’s margin is less than one percent, and the Trump campaign said it would request one.
MADISON, Wis. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. has defeated President Trump in Wisconsin, flipping a state President Trump narrowly won in 2016, according to The Associated Press.
With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Biden had 1,630,389 votes and Mr. Trump 1,609,879, a margin of more than 20,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points.
But under Wisconsin law, a recount can be requested if the margin between the leading candidates is less than 1 percent, and Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said even before the race was called that the campaign would “immediately do so.”
“The president is well within the threshold to demand a recount,” Mr. Stepien said Wednesday afternoon.
In 2016, a statewide recount increased Mr. Trump’s margin in Wisconsin by 131 votes.
Whoever requests the recount would have to pay for it unless the margin is less than one-quarter of 1 percent.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said the push for a recount was not the behavior of a winning campaign.
“When Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by roughly the same amount of votes that Joe Biden just did, or won Michigan with fewer votes than Joe Biden is winning it now, he bragged about a ‘landslide,’ and called recount efforts ‘sad,’” Mr. Bates said. “What makes these charades especially pathetic is that while Trump is demanding recounts in places he has already lost, he’s simultaneously engaged in fruitless attempts to halt the counting of votes in other states in which he’s on the road to defeat.”
Mr. Biden’s narrow Wisconsin advantage came after several of the state’s large cities — including Milwaukee, Green Bay and Kenosha — reported results from their absentee ballots on Wednesday morning.
The Biden campaign maintained a sharp focus on Wisconsin after the state was one of three crucial Great Lakes states that the party lost four years ago. It was a key part of the campaign’s hope of clearing a straightforward path to 270 electoral votes.
During his campaign, Mr. Biden made three visits to the state, which was set to host the Democratic National Convention before it became an all-virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently worse in Wisconsin than in any other battleground state. He maintained a steady lead in the polls in the run-up to Election Day.
In 2016, Mr. Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, narrowly defeating Hillary Clinton in a state with a large population of white, working-class Democrats.
Wisconsin saw a surge of infections from the coronavirus this fall as voters were preparing to go to the polls. The state had also been upended this year after Kenosha became the site of unrest and protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Vote counting is still underway in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, even as the Trump campaign challenges the process.
President Trump, who won the state narrowly in 2016, had secured about 52 percent of the vote by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, with the state reporting 84 percent of ballots counted. The mail ballots that have yet to be counted in Pennsylvania were expected to favor Democrats, and Mr. Biden has been narrowing Mr. Trump’s lead as the counting progresses.
But Mr. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that his campaign had “claimed” Pennsylvania “for Electoral Vote purposes,” even though the votes are still being counted. And at an afternoon news conference in Philadelphia, Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, made the baseless assertion that the election in Pennsylvania was being stolen from Mr. Trump, and claimed that the campaign had been barred from observing the counting.
Mr. Giuliani claimed, with no evidence, that dead people had voted. Eric Trump said the campaign was filing a lawsuit in the state. They took no questions.
In Philadelphia, city commissioners processed another 47,000 mail-in ballots for a total of 233,486, commissioner Lisa Deeley said on Wednesday. She also said that 347,000 in-person ballots had been counted, or 97 percent of those cast, but that city officials were still waiting to receive some mail-in ballots.
Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, defended the Philadelphia counting process against attacks by the Trump campaign, which has accused the commission of preventing Republican poll watchers from observing the count.
“In the room down the hall where all this activity is taking place, you can see a group of observers from the campaigns standing at a close but also safe distance from where all the activity is,” Mr. Schmidt said.
Not long before multiple news outlets declared former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. the winner in Michigan, tensions escalated on Wednesday at a ballot-counting center in Detroit, a critical reservoir of votes for Mr. Biden in the battleground state.
President Trump’s supporters and Democratic observers converged on the TCF Center to monitor poll workers as they tried to finish counting more than 170,000 absentee ballots in the state’s largest city.
The president’s backers chanted “stop the count” as law enforcement officers stood in front of the doors to the convention center, a video of the episode showed.
While there was a standoff at the convention center, there were no apparent episodes of violence. It was not immediately clear if there were any arrests.
Though Mr. Trump took an early lead in Michigan as votes began to be counted, his margin evaporated overnight as ballots from Detroit, which is in Wayne County, were counted. The president’s campaign filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in which it accused election officials of blocking access to observers from the Trump campaign as the ballots were tabulated.
When counting began, 85 challengers were monitoring the 900 city workers who were counting the absentee ballots in shifts.
Outside the TCF Center, dozens of challengers — most not wearing masks — urged poll workers to stop counting votes and chanted “let us in.” A group of counter-demonstrators responded with “count every vote” chants.
Rich Henry, a protester from Livonia, a city in Wayne County, said that he was angered that the county was still counting ballots. His comments echoed the president’s false claims that ballots tabulated after Election Day should not count, despite it being commonplace in U.S. elections.
Mr. Henry, who owns a construction business and voted in person on Tuesday, called the mail-in ballot system a “fraud.”
“Why are we pushing it, because of the pandemic?” he said.
Behind the crowd, about 20 police officers watched as people continued to congregate in the late afternoon, and a helicopter circled overhead. At one point, an argument between two demonstrators broke out after the group challenging the ballot count began chanting “no more abortion.”
Some of the counter-demonstrators held signs saying “count every vote.” Beryl Satter, a history professor at Rutgers University who traveled to the Detroit area for the election, stood with the group.
“It seems to me, that if they’re going to have an election and a democracy, the votes should be counted,” she said. “It seems common sense and completely uncontroversial.”
ATLANTA — In a nail-biting scenario whose resolution could help determine the winner of a tumultuous, fraught presidential race, state election officials in Georgia continued Wednesday to count more than 200,000 outstanding ballots.
As of Wednesday evening, about 60,000 votes separated the presidential candidates in Georgia, with President Trump leading his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., with about 50 percent of the vote, or 2.41 million votes.
Beyond the fate of the state’s 16 electoral votes, the uncounted ballots also left some down-ticket races unresolved, leaving open the possibility that Democrats’ big dreams of transforming Georgia may founder this week in the face of the enduring popularity of the Republican Party in the South.
At the same time, the closely contested presidential race underscored the fact that this Deep South state, once a reliable Republican stronghold, has become a legitimate battleground.
The fact that so many ballots remain uncounted came as little surprise. Voters were allowed to deposit absentee ballots in county drop boxes until 7 p.m. Tuesday. The process of counting them is labor-intensive, involving manually removing ballots from envelopes and, in some cases, subjecting them to human review.
But there were also unwelcome surprises, most notably a pipe that burst Tuesday morning in State Farm Arena, the stadium where the Atlanta Hawks play basketball and where Fulton County was tabulating votes. The plumbing failure, announced by county officials late Tuesday night, delayed the counting of an estimated 50,000 ballots.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said that the largest number of outstanding ballots, more than 60,000, were from Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta and is a reliable Democratic stronghold. About 50,000 ballots were from DeKalb County, a Democratic-leaning area that also includes part of Atlanta.
Roughly 7,000 ballots were from Forsyth County, which voted heavily for Mr. Trump in 2016.
Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican and supporter of Mr. Trump, said he would pressure county officials in the state to complete its tally on Wednesday. But if a full vote count could not be finished, he added, he hoped that the number of uncounted ballots would be significantly reduced by the end of the day.
Jacey Fortin contributed reporting.
The Battle for the Senate
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, emerged victorious on Wednesday in her bid to secure a fifth term, beating back an avalanche of Democratic money and liberal anger in the most difficult race of her career to defeat Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and strengthen her party’s hold on the Senate.
The Associated Press called the race for Ms. Collins with an estimated 75 percent of the votes tabulated and Ms. Collins leading Ms. Gideon by more than six percentage points, 49.8 percent to 43.4 percent.
Ms. Collins said she had received “a very gracious call” from Ms. Gideon conceding the race.
Ms. Collins’s victory dashed Democratic hopes of a crucial pickup as their ambitions of a Senate takeover hung by a thread.
If Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins the presidency, Democrats need to gain three seats to retake control of the Senate, which the Republicans have held since 2015. If President Trump is re-elected, Democrats need to gain four seats.
So far, Democrats have flipped two seats and Republicans have flipped one, for a net gain to the Democrats of one seat. Three races for Republican-held seats where Democrats were thought to have a chance have yet to be called, and Republicans held an edge in two of them.
The Collins-Gideon race was the most expensive in Maine history, with national donors flooding the state with tens of millions of dollars and an onslaught of negative campaign ads. The battle for control of the Senate appeared to be heading out of reach for Democrats.
Democrats early Wednesday won a crucial seat in Arizona, with Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, defeating Senator Martha McSally, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated Senator Cory Gardner on Tuesday night in the high-profile fight for Colorado’s Senate seat. Those victories were essential to Democrats’ push to take the Senate majority.
In Georgia, the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, a Democrat, advanced to a runoff election against Senator Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbent. The other race in the state, between Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challenger, and Senator David Perdue, a Republican, was too close to call.
But Republicans across the country were successful in holding off well-funded challengers in a number of key races. In Montana, Senator Steve Daines defeated Gov. Steve Bullock and in Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst defeated Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman who had styled herself as a “scrappy farm kid.” Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, hung onto his seat in South Carolina, fending off the toughest challenge of his political career from Jaime Harrison, a Black Democrat whose upstart campaign electrified progressives across the country and inspired a record-setting onslaught of campaign cash.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, also defeated a challenge from M.J. Hegar, a former Air Force pilot who Democrats hoped could have an outside chance of winning in the rapidly changing state. In Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, easily won re-election, defeating Amy McGrath, a Democrat who struggled to gain ground despite an outpouring of financial support from her party’s supporters around the nation.
Republicans succeeded in ousting Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, who came to power in a 2017 special election against Roy S. Moore, who was accused of sexually assaulting and pursuing teenage girls.
Democrats were in danger of losing another seat in Michigan, where the Democratic incumbent, Gary Peters, was in a neck-and-neck race with his Republican challenger, John James.
Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, claimed victory Wednesday afternoon over his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, in a seat that strategists in both parties identified as a possible tipping point, but news organizations did not declare a victor and Mr. Cunningham did not concede.
Republican lawyers and Trump campaign officials on Wednesday began a wide-ranging legal assault to challenge Democratic votes in key swing states, part of a long-telegraphed, post-Election Day campaign to claim victory over Joseph R. Biden Jr. with help from the courts.
By midday Wednesday, the Trump campaign had announced that it was suing to halt the counting of mail-in ballots in Michigan because of what it called insufficient transparency in the process.
“President Trump’s campaign has not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law,” said Bill Stepien, President Trump’s campaign manager.
Separately, the Trump campaign said it would seek a recount of the vote in Wisconsin, even before the race was called. Mr. Biden was named the winner there on Wednesday afternoon by The Associated Press, by a margin of more than 20,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points.
In news briefings and interviews, campaign aides grounded their legal arguments in a claim that they were merely seeking to ensure that no votes get to count that should not count, rather than repeating the president’s own early-morning claims that all counting should have stopped on Election Day, when early and incomplete results showed him ahead in some battleground states that will help decide the Electoral College winner.
“If we count all legal ballots, the president wins,” Mr. Stepien said on a morning conference call with reporters.
The statement was in keeping with the campaign’s legal strategy to contest votes it alleges should not have been counted under state election laws, some of which it is already challenging.
Earlier in the morning, Mr. Trump had emerged from watching returns at the White House to say, “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop,” a crude rendering of his campaign’s legal position that was legally meaningless and that drew bipartisan criticism.
Already on Wednesday the Trump and Biden campaigns were in Pennsylvania courts pressing dual lawsuits to invalidate provisional and corrected ballots by citizens who were informed before polls closed that problems with their mail-in votes had caused them to be rejected by election officials.
Trump campaign officials also indicated they were considering more legal action in Arizona and in Nevada, where the Trump campaign was already pressing a lawsuit protesting the counting process in the state’s largest county.
Biden campaign officials said they had readied contingencies and legal papers for any challenges the president and his allies might bring. “We are prepared for any effort any Republicans make in any of these states,” said Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden’s campaign.
He cast the Biden campaign’s legal position as one of more defense than offense, referring to ever-changing tallies that, at that moment, showed Mr. Biden with leads in Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona and that, if they held, would deliver Mr. Biden the White House.
“As far as our own planning, we’re winning the election,” Mr. Bauer said.
The position marked a key difference from the last time the nation was in a similarly contested setting, in Florida in 2000. In that case, Al Gore, the Democrat, was behind in the returns and was portrayed by Republicans as seeking to snatch victory away from George W. Bush — a position that kept Mr. Gore at a disadvantage throughout the legal fighting that followed.
With counting incomplete and continuing across the country, the dynamic could shift at any minute. But as of early Wednesday afternoon, it was Mr. Trump’s campaign that was in the position of challenging a potentially losing result.
The Trump campaign indicated it was prepared for a lengthy war of legal attrition in a fund-raising appeal it sent to supporters after polls had closed, asking for money so it can “FIGHT BACK” against Democrats that the campaign claimed without evidence were trying to “steal” the election.
The president’s legal tab promised to be high. When the Green Party nominee Jill Stein forced a recount in Wisconsin in 2016, for instance, she received a bill from the state for $3.5 million.
While there have been countless election cases filed around the nation, it is not clear which of them might reach the Supreme Court in the coming days.
But one candidate is already on the docket, and on Wednesday that Trump campaign said that it was intervening in the case, from Pennsylvania, which challenges a ruling by the state’s highest court that extended the deadline for receiving mail ballots by three days.
Last month, the court refused to put the Pennsylvania on a fast track, but three justices indicated that the court might return to it later if need be.
Should the vote in Pennsylvania have the potential to determine the outcome in the Electoral College and should those late-arriving ballots have the potential to swing the state — two big ifs — the U.S. Supreme Court might well intercede.
Late last month, the justices refused a plea from Republicans to fast-track a decision on whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had acted lawfully when it ordered a three-day extension for ballots clearly mailed on or before Election Day, and for ballots with missing or illegible postmarks “unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day.”
The justices’ refusal came a little more than a week after the court deadlocked, 4 to 4, on an emergency application in the case on Oct. 19.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh said they would have granted a stay blocking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision. On the other side were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s three-member liberal wing: Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the court on Oct. 27, did not take part in the decision not to fast-track the case.
Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, criticized his court’s treatment of the matter, which he said had “needlessly created conditions that could lead to serious postelection problems.”
“It would be highly desirable to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the State Supreme Court’s decision before the election,” Justice Alito wrote. “That question has national importance, and there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the federal Constitution.”
But there was not enough time, he wrote. Still, Justice Alito left little doubt about where he stood on the question in the case.
Pennsylvania officials have instructed county election officials to segregate ballots arriving after 8 p.m. on Election Day through 5 p.m. on Friday. That would as a practical matter allow a ruling from the Supreme Court to determine whether they were ultimately counted.
As the results rolled in on Tuesday night, a feeing of déjà vu arrived along with them. Pre-election polls, it appeared, had been misleading once again.
While the nation awaits final results from Michigan, Pennsylvania and a few other states, it is already clear — no matter who ends up winning — that the industry failed to fully account for the missteps that led it to underestimate President Trump’s support four years ago.
The misses raise the question whether the polling industry, which has become a national fixation in an era of data journalism and statistical forecasting, can survive yet another crisis of confidence.
“I want to see all the results in,” Christopher Borick, the director of polling at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “I want to see where those deviations are from pre-election polls and final margins. But there’s ample evidence that there were major issues again. Just how deep they are, we’ll see.”
In some states where many polls had projected Mr. Trump losing narrowly — like Ohio, Iowa and Florida — he had already been declared the winner by early Wednesday. And in states that had seemed more than likely to go for Mr. Biden, like Michigan and Nevada, results were too close to call as the official tallies trickled in. (In one such state, Wisconsin, Mr. Biden was declared the winner on Wednesday afternoon, by 0.6 percentage points.)
Given the ballots that have been counted, it is now clear that there was an overestimation of Mr. Biden’s support across the board, particularly with white voters and with men. And while polling had presaged a swing away from Mr. Trump among white voters 65 and over, that never fully took shape.
Partly as a result, Mr. Biden underperformed his expectations not only in polyglot states like Florida but in heavily white, suburban areas such as Macomb County, Mich., where he had been widely expected to do well.
Dr. Borick pointed out that while state-level polls had widely misfired in 2016, the same thing had generally not occurred in the 2018 midterm elections. This led him to conclude that Mr. Trump was a complicating factor.
“In the end, like so many Trump-related things, there may be different rules,” he said. “I’m a quantifiable type of human being; I want to see evidence. And I only have two elections with Donald Trump in them — but both seem to be behaving in ways that others don’t behave.”
Not every pollster fared poorly. Ann Selzer, long considered one of the top pollsters in the country, released a poll with The Des Moines Register days before the election showing Mr. Trump opening up a seven-point lead in Iowa; that appears to be in line with the actual result thus far.
And inevitably, Robert Cahaly and his mysterious Trafalgar Group — which projected a bunch of close races in the battlegrounds — will get another look from curious commentators wondering why it has been so close to accurate, both in 2016 and this year.
The firm was among the only pollsters to show Mr. Trump’s strength in the Midwest and Pennsylvania four years ago, and while its polls this fall may end up being a little on the rosy-red side, it appears to have gotten the horse race in many states closer than other pollsters, by not giving short shrift to Mr. Trump’s strengths.
A federal judge on Wednesday threatened to call Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to appear before him, expressing frustration with the Postal Service’s slow response in carrying out Election Day sweeps of postal facilities looking for undelivered ballots.
“The postmaster is either going have to be deposed or appear before me,” said Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, as he continued to monitor the agency’s performance delivering ballots, which can be counted for days after the election in many states.
On Tuesday, Judge Sullivan had ordered inspectors to sweep facilities in 12 districts after the Postal Service said in court that some 300,000 ballots it had received had not been scanned for delivery. He said he was particularly concerned about ballot delivery in key swing districts with low on-time delivery scores, including Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Detroit.
The judge gave the agency until 3 p.m. to complete the sweeps, but the Postal Service said it would need until 8 p.m. to do the work without disrupting the processing of a flood of Election Day ballots.
On Wednesday morning, the Postal Service said it had completed the sweeps, and that they turned up only a “relative handful of ballots” — about 12 or 13, according to a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer representing the Postal Service.
The judge’s dramatic Election Day order came as record numbers of Americans cast ballots by mail this year, with voters anxious to avoid crowds at the polls during the pandemic.
“Why was it as of yesterday there were still ballots being delivered late?” Shankar Duraiswamy, the lead lawyer for the nonprofit coalition Vote Forward, which is suing the Postal Service to try to ensure all ballots are delivered, asked during Wednesday’s hearing.
He said the court must now focus on getting ballots to the 21 states in the country that accept ballots postmarked by or before Election Day in the days after the election.
Roughly 300,000 ballots that the Postal Service says it processed showed no scan confirming their delivery to ballot-counting sites, according to data filed recently in federal court in Washington, D.C., leaving voter-rights advocates concerned.
Postal officials said that just because a ballot never received a final scan before going out for delivery, it did not mean that it wasn’t delivered. A machine scanning ballots for final processing can sometimes miss ballots that are stuck together or have smudged bar codes. And hand-sorted ballots typically do not receive a final scan before delivery.
The Postal Service said Wednesday morning it had been conducting daily searches at all of its facilities for ballots that might fall through the cracks.
In a statement, a Postal Service spokesman said some ballots, expedited to election officials, had bypassed certain processing operations and did not receive a final scan.
“The assumption that there are unaccounted ballots within the Postal Service network is inaccurate,” he said. “We remain in close contact with state and local boards of elections and we do not currently have any open issues.”
As the agency continues to process ballots, states across the country are still counting votes cast by mail. In the final hours that election officials in Texas can accept some mail-in ballots, Judge Sullivan also ruled Wednesday that the Postal Service must instruct employees in Texas to conduct additional sweeps for ballots sent to election officials. The Associated Press has already called the state in Mr. Trump’s favor.
Republican women delivered critical victories to their party in the election, signaling the success of the party’s efforts to recruit and elect a more diverse slate of candidates to counter Democrats’ huge advantage in adding women to their ranks in Congress.
In battlegrounds across the country, conservative women scored upsets for House Republicans, with Ashley Hinson, a former state legislator and television reporter ousting Representative Abby Finkenauer of Iowa; Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, defeating Representative Joe Cunningham of South Carolina; and Yvette Herrell, a former state legislator, flipping Representative Xochitl Torres Small’s New Mexico seat.
Those wins came as Republicans fought to protect women incumbents in the Senate, where Joni Ernst of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine prevailed in their competitive races and Kelly Loeffler advanced to a runoff in Georgia. By Wednesday morning, Democrats had only vanquished one Republican woman in the Senate, Martha McSally of Arizona, who had been expected to lose.
In past cycles, House Republicans had failed to recruit and elect women candidates. In 2018, as Democrats wrested control of the House with a diverse class of contenders, just one new Republican woman was elected to the chamber. That set off a scramble by party leaders to steal a page from the Democratic recruiting playbook, eschewing the kind of candidates they had previously turned to — white, male, often veterans of politics — in favor of political newcomers with diverse backgrounds.
Those efforts appeared to be paying off as Republicans clawed back a number of seats they had lost in 2018, and partial returns showed women leading Democratic incumbents in other competitive districts, like in Staten Island, where Representative Max Rose of New York was fighting to hold of Nicole Malliotakis.
“We flipped seats primarily with women and minority candidates,” Parker Hamilton Poling, the executive director of House Republicans’ campaign arm wrote on Twitter early Wednesday. “I’d call that a pretty good night.”
While the outcome of the presidential race remains undecided, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has notched one clear milestone: He has collected more votes than his old boss Barack Obama did in 2008, to set a new record for the popular vote.
Powered by the enormous turnout, Mr. Biden has received more than 71 million votes, and still counting, nationwide, exceeding the 69,498,516 collected by Mr. Obama in another year with enormous voter enthusiasm that held the record until this year.
Democrats are likely to point to the vote total as evidence that they continue to represent the majority of the country in presidential elections. They have won the popular vote in every presidential election since 2000 with the exception of 2004.
But there are some caveats: The population of the country has grown since 2008 from 304 million to more than 330 million people in 2020.
This means that Mr. Obama received the votes of a greater percentage of Americans — about 23 percent, to Mr. Biden’s 22 percent. Mr. Obama also drew a higher percentage of the country’s registered voters, 48 percent to Mr. Biden’s 45 percent.
While Mr. Obama was swept in with a clear majority of the popular vote, Mr. Biden, who served two terms as his vice president, is on track for a narrower margin in the nationwide results, reflecting a more divided electorate, said Rogers Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania
“This was an extraordinary election that appears to have spurred one of the highest turnouts in a century,” he said. “That means that both candidates are going to receive larger vote totals than they would have in the past.”
For the sixth time in less than 24 hours, Twitter on Wednesday flagged tweets by President Trump for violating its rules because they included unsupported claims of widespread election fraud and premature declarations of victory in key battleground states.
Twitter attached warnings to each of the president’s tweets, but also to others posted by his allies, including, among others, his official campaign account, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the president’s son Eric Trump. All three had, like the president, claimed victory for Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania, a race that no major news organization has said is decided.
At least three of Mr. Trump’s posts were hidden and one was partially hidden, but each allowed Twitter users the option of viewing them. The platform also restricted the ability of users to retweet or repost the posts by the president that had violated the company’s standards.
Twitter’s actions came as Mr. Trump’s possible path to re-election narrowed, with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. winning Wisconsin and Michigan, two states in the so-called Midwest blue wall that Mr. Trump had won in 2016.
Mr. Trump falsely claimed on Wednesday afternoon that he had won not only Pennsylvania but also Georgia and North Carolina, states in which he had been leading in early vote totals but where a significant number of ballots remained uncounted. In each case, his lead was shrinking.
Mr. Trump has nearly 88 million followers on Twitter, which faced accusations of bias from Republicans during the campaign.