Election workers sort ballots at the Dauphin County Administration Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 3, 2020.

Election workers sort ballots at the Dauphin County Administration Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 3, 2020. AP / Julio Cortez

No Clear Winner As Presidential Vote-Counting Continues Into Wednesday

Several senators with national-security posts win re-election.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 4, to include additional poll results.

There was no decisive winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election as of 3 a.m. on Wednesday night, leaving Americans anxious, uncertain and wary of potential unrest as votes continue to be counted in the days to come.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden led President Donald Trump by 220 to 213 electoral votes in the early hours on Wednesday, with key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia still outstanding and not expected to report their tallies overnight. By 8:00 a.m., the race to reach 270 electoral votes — and the presidency — had been fought to a near-draw. 

The path for either candidate runs through the trio of formerly-Democratic states won by Trump in 2016, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Arizona and Georgia. Biden has taken a razor-thin lead in both Michigan and Wisconsin, with votes still to be counted. The former vice president also picked up one electoral vote from Democrats, winning Nebraska's 2nd congressional district overnight, and is up far enough in Arizona that some news organizations are forecasting he will win. 

Georgia remains a toss-up. Biden closed in on Trump overnight, but Atlanta's Fulton County has not yet reported its tallies. Officials are scheduled to resume counting their remaining ballots Wednesday morning. The crucially-important Pennsylvania is far behind the other states in vote counting.

In overnight remarks from the East Room in the White House, Trump triumphantly but falsely claimed victory and announced that his campaign would petition the U.S. Supreme Court to immediately halt the counting of all outstanding votes. 

"This is a fraud on the American public," Trump told cheering supporters just before 2:30 a.m. "We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election... We'll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don't want them to find any ballots at 4 o'clock in the morning and add them to the list."

He added that, "We will win this and as far as I’m concerned, we’ve already won it."

No state ever reports final vote counts on the night of the election, nor are they legally obligated to. It was not immediately clear what legal basis the Trump campaign may have for its petition. The U.S. Supreme Court in recent weeks declined to endorse a GOP effort to block the counting of ballots post-marked before but received after Nov. 3, in Pennsylvania. 

Biden, speaking earlier in the evening, said he is "on track" to win the election, citing wins in Arizona and Minnesota — the former called early by Fox News but still officially outstanding — and expressing confidence for Pennsylvania.

"We’re going to have to be patient until the hard work of tallying the votes is finished. And it ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted," Biden said in brief remarks from Delaware just before 1 a.m. "We can know the results as early as tomorrow morning. But it may take a little longer."

Tuesday proved a quiet day at the polls, with few disruptions either digital or physical. But the unexpectedly close race raised the specter of days more of vote counting, and potential court challenges in closely-run states that could prolong a definitive result even longer. 

That, in turn, raised simmering fears of unrest, in particular from armed militia supporters of President Donald Trump, who have threatened violence — even civil war — leading up to or after the election. 

Trump and his campaign have stoked those fears. Trump campaign advisor Jason Miller falsely claimed on Sunday that counting valid mail-in ballots after Nov. 3 would constitute a Democratic attempt to “steal” electoral votes. Trump, who has repeatedly declined to say whether he will accept the results of the election if he loses to Biden, tweeted Monday night that a recent Supreme Court decision allowing Pennsylvania to continue counting mail-in ballots postmarked before the election but received after Nov. 3 “will allow rampant and unchecked cheating” and “induce violence in the streets,” adding: “Something must be done!” (Twitter also masked that tweet, requiring viewers to click through and read a warning that some of its content “might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”)

Trump also claimed the upper hand in an earlier string of tweets that Twitter immediately marked as potentially "misleading." 

"We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Poles [sic] are closed!" Trump wrote at 12:45 a.m., promising a forthcoming statement. "A big WIN!"

The tweet earned immediate condemnation. 

"Stop.  Full stop. The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose. And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue," tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a former Air Force pilot and frequent critic of the president's. The ambiguous end to the evening also leaves the future of American foreign policy up for grabs. 

If Trump wins, it would put American voters’ imprimatur on the president’s norm-busting and chaotic foreign policy, while delaying for another four years a debate over the future of the Republican party and its policies in a post-Trump Washington. 

If Biden wins, it would herald a more traditional foreign-policy approach to come and lodge a victory for scores of national security professionals and former administration officials from both parties who had warned publicly of the dangers of a second Trump term. 

In other ways, a Biden victory may enshrine the Trump administration’s approach. The 2017 National Security Strategy, which prioritizes threats from Russia and China over the threat of terrorism, is expected to remain the broad frame for a Biden administration’s foreign policy. 

And Biden will face many of the same key national security threats that have confronted Trump. A China that is increasingly muscular on the world stage. Ongoing Russian and Iranian provocations. The threat from ISIS and other Islamist terror groups still active in hotspots around the globe. The economic and public health fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both candidates had called for ending the so-called “forever wars,” with approaches that were almost identical when it came to Afghanistan: Pull out the majority of combat troops while preserving some counterterrorism capabilities through the undefined use of special operations forces.

The worst of Americans’ fears about Election Day violence had not come to pass, at least as of 12 a.m. Wednesday morning. Americans voted in the tens of millions with few reports of irregularities. A spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, Army Master Sgt. Michael Houk, said late on Tuesday morning that regional rapid response units created in September to respond quickly to state governor’s requests for law enforcement assistance received no requests.

That Tuesday night should close without a definitive winner was not unexpected.

"This is an Election Day that may end up looking like an Election Week," Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters in a Zoom call Tuesday morning. "I hope [it's] not a whole lot longer than that, but if it [is], the goal here is to count every single vote, and we have a whole team leading up to this."

Here are the results of notable races with national security implications:

  • Mark Kelly, former astronaut and Navy pilot, has defeated incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who was appointed to the seat after Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed to the same seat after Sen. John McCain’s death. 
  • Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the 85-year-old Senate Armed Services Committee chairman won his reelection bid against 31-year-old Democrat challenger Abby Broyles, a journalist and attorney
  • Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, won reelection against Republican challenger Allen Waters.
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, beat Republican challenger Corky Messner.
  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, beat challenger Theresa Greenfield in one of the most expensive races in the country. 
  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, won his re-election over Daniel Gade, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, according to AP.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, defeated democratic challenger Jaime Harrison.
  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has no Democrat challenger, won reelection.
  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, defeated Mary “MJ” Hegar, a former Air Force combat search-and-rescue helicopter pilot
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defeated Amy McGrath (D), a retired Marine Corps pilot.
  • Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash, House Armed Services Committee chair, defeated Republican challenger Doug Basler.
  • Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., former CIA and Defense Department official, has won her closely-watched re-election battle in the 8th district.

Still unknown:

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., vs. Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.
  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, vs. Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.

Marcus Weisgerber and Kevin Baron contributed to this report.