Why it’s too early to call the election

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Key battleground states still have millions of mail ballots to count. Election officials are urging caution about interpreting incomplete results. And neither President Donald Trump nor Joe Biden have secured 270 electoral votes.

The current vote count in several important swing states does show Trump with the lead so far, among votes already counted — but approximately one-third of the expected vote has not yet been counted in Michigan or Pennsylvania, and a significant part of the expected vote is still outstanding in Wisconsin.

Voters cast a record-breaking number of mail ballots by mail this year, which can take longer to count, and there was a sharp partisan split around when and how people voted: Poll after poll showed that in-person voters on Election Day would favor the president, while voters who cast ballots via the mail were overwhelmingly backing Biden.

Here’s the state of play:

It is still too early in key states

Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have something important in common, besides being states that Trump flipped to win the White House in 2016: State laws in all three allow election administrators only minimal time to process mail ballots before the polls close.

That means backlogs can build up, and several key counties have already announced that they wouldn’t be counting any more mail ballots tonight. For example: In Philadelphia, only about 20 percent of mail ballots have been counted. The key Democratic stronghold would be crucial to any Biden win, but officials there have already said they will not resume counting mail ballots there until Wednesday morning.

This holds true in other critical counties in those states, where election officials have warned for months that a winner may not be certain for days. Milwaukee County in Wisconsin said that they won’t be finished tallying mail ballots until 5 a.m. on Wednesday at the earliest.

And even in other battleground states that allow more time to process mail votes, hundreds of thousands of mail ballots still need to be counted. Arizona, where Biden has an early lead, is one of them. So is Georgia, where Trump leads among the votes counted so far.

Media outlets have not called the race

Election results in the U.S. are never official on the night of election. Canvassing, the final count of ballots, happens anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks after the election.

But oftentimes, media outlets are able to project winners — even in incredibly close contests — because typically a sizable majority of ballots are counted and reported as unofficial results, and because of extensive exit polling major outlets do.

This year, the crush of mail ballots is complicating that, and in some states, officials warned that it could take days to tally all the votes.

What we know so far

So far Trump has won several key states that he won in 2016, which Democrats had been hoping to flip this year: Florida, Iowa and Ohio. But Trump has not flipped any states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 yet.

Biden has been projected to win Minnesota, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

But crucial states, like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have not yet been called.

What happens next?

However, litigation on stopping the counting of votes that were cast validly is a different matter.

Trump has intimated that he expected the courts to step in and potentially cut off vote-counting, but it is unclear if that is just bluster from a president with a long history of threatening litigation without following through — or if he’ll actually seek to have millions of Americans’ votes not counted.

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