A canvas observer photographs Lehigh County provisional ballots as vote counting in the general election continued Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Allentown, Pa. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

A canvas observer photographs Lehigh County provisional ballots as vote counting in the general election continued Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Allentown, Pa. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

EXPLAINER: States still in play and what makes them that way

The Associated Press reviews

  • Saturday, November 7, 2020 9:38am
  • Politics

By Brian Slodysko | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner of his native Pennsylvania on Saturday, and by extension of the tightly contested U.S. presidential race against President Donald Trump. The outcome of contests in Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada remained in play.

The solidly Republican state of Alaska has also not been called because it is only 50% counted and will not release absentee numbers until Nov. 10. It is not expected to impact the outcome.

The Associated Press reviews the status of the last remaining states still in play.

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GEORGIA: Outstanding ballots left to be counted and a razor-thin margin

THE BACKGROUND: A razor-thin margin and ongoing vote count are what’s making the Georgia contest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden too early to call.

Votes are still being counted across the state, though many from counties where Biden was in the lead.

Biden inched past the incumbent in the tally Friday and by early Saturday was leading by 4,020 votes of nearly 5 million ballots cast — a lead of about 0.08 percentage points. Under Georgia state law, a candidate can request a recount if the margin is within 0.5 percentage points.

The AP does not declare a winner of an election that will be — or is likely to become — subject to a mandatory recount. In instances where a recount isn’t required by law but a candidate requests one, AP will not call a race if the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5 percentage points or less.

Electoral research conducted by the AP found there have been at least 31 statewide recounts since 2000. Three of those changed the outcome of the election. The initial margins in those races were 137 votes, 215 votes and 261 votes.

Among all 31 recounts, the largest shift in results was 0.1%, in the 2006 race for Vermont’s Auditor of Accounts. This was a low turnout election in which the initial results had one candidate winning by 137 votes. The candidate eventually lost by 102 votes, for a swing of 239 votes.

The average shift in the margin between the top two candidates was 0.019 percentage points.

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NEVADA: A tight vote margin and large number of ballots that have yet to be counted made the Nevada race too early to call Friday.

THE BACKGROUND: With more than 1.2 million ballots counted, Biden held a 22,657 vote lead Friday evening — a roughly 1.79 percentage point edge over Trump. But even after about 87% of the estimated vote had been tallied, tens of thousands of votes remained to be counted statewide, which could eat into Biden’s advantage.

Election officials in the state said they would release more results Saturday at noon EST.

Most of the ballots were in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, a Democratic-leaning area where most of the state’s voters live. Biden held a nearly 9 percentage point lead over Trump in the county on Friday. And elections officials there said they plan to continue counting 55,000 mail ballots there over the weekend.

Yet questions remain over just how much of the vote was left to count across the state, including these:

— Clark County officials said Thursday that they would be releasing the results of 51,000 ballots on Friday. But they later clarified that they had overestimated the size of the batch and released results from about 30,000 ballots instead.

— Separately, state officials said Thursday that there were about 190,000 votes left to count statewide, a total that included mail ballots and provisional ballots from voters who registered or updated their registration at the polls. But it was unclear if that figure took into account the overestimated number of ballots by Clark County election officials.

In a tight race, that could delay the AP declaring a winner. For example, in the 2004 race between George W. Bush and John Kerry, the AP did not call the winner of the election in Ohio until it was able to confirm that Bush’s lead exceeded the number of provisional ballots left to be counted.

Nevada, once a swing state, has trended toward Democrats in the past decade. But this year there were signs that Trump could have an opening after narrowly losing the state in 2016.

Overall, Trump performed better than Mitt Romney did in 2012 or John McCain in 2008. The state also has has a higher percentage of non-college-educated whites, who have made up the base of his electoral support, than in many other pivotal states, including Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Bush was the last Republican to win there, in 2004.

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NORTH CAROLINA: Race too early to call. Ballots left to count.

THE BACKGROUND: Trump prematurely claimed early Wednesday that he won the state.

“We’ve clearly won North Carolina, where we’re up 1.7%, 77,000 votes with only approximately 5% left. They can’t catch us,” he said during an appearance at the White House. Trump also said he planned to contest the U.S. presidential election before the Supreme Court. It was unclear, exactly, what legal action he might pursue.

Though Trump is correct that he held a nearly 77,000-vote lead, which he maintained Thursday morning, the race is too early to call with up to 116,000 mail ballots left to count, as well as about 41,000 provisional ballots statewide.

As long as those ballots are postmarked by Nov. 3, state election officials have until Nov. 12 to count them. And when it comes to mail ballots, Biden was outperforming Trump. That means the ballots yet to be counted could give Biden a lead.

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PENNSYLVANIA: AP called the race for Biden.

THE BACKGROUND: Four years ago, President Donald Trump breached the Democrats’ “blue wall,” narrowly winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — a trio of Great Lakes states that had long served as a bulwark against Republican presidential candidates.

On Saturday, Democrat Joe Biden captured it back — and also won the presidency — after The Associated Press declared the former vice president the winner of his native Pennsylvania at 11:25 a.m. EST.

The AP called the race for Biden, who held a 34,243-vote lead, after it determined that the remaining ballots left to be counted would not allow Trump to catch up. The news agency has already declared Biden the winner in both Michigan and Wisconsin.

Biden held a .51 percentage point lead late Saturday morning. Under Pennsylvania law, a recount is automatic when the margin between two candidates in a statewide race is less than 0.5 percentage points. Biden’s lead over Trump was on track to stay outside of that margin as final votes are counted.

There are roughly 62,000 mail ballots remaining to be counted. Biden has won the overwhelming majority of mail ballots cast in the state.

Biden’s win in Pennsylvania was a dramatic, though not unexpected, turn after Trump jumped out to an early Election Day lead of 675,000 votes and prematurely declared he had won the state.

Over coming days, as local elections officials tabulated more ballots, Trump’s lead dropped sharply, with Biden winning roughly 75 percent of the mail-in vote between Wednesday and Friday, according to an analysis by the AP.

Another reason the late-breaking mail vote broke Biden’s way: Under state law, elections officials are not allowed to process mail-in ballots until Election Day.

Biden, who was born in Scranton, claims favorite-son status in the state and has long played up the idea that he was Pennsylvania’s “third senator” during his decades representing neighboring Delaware. He’s also campaigned extensively in the state from his home in Delaware.

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