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As President Trump falsely complained of "fraud" in the continued counting and former Vice President Joe Biden urged patience, election officials explained a crush of mail-in ballots and limitations on when officials could start tallying them has led to delays in results.
A burst water pipe, vote tabulation snafus, and a crush of mail-in ballots all contributed to delays in counting ballots on election night—leaving voters without a declared winner in the presidential election or other races in key states.
Local election officials in several battleground states had warned ahead of Election Day that it could take several days to tally election results due to limitations on when they could begin counting, sorting and verifying the record-setting number of mail-in ballots. But for an anxious America waiting for results in both the presidential election and other contests that were too close to call, the reality of a prolonged wait sunk in on Tuesday night.
Election officials in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could not even begin processing mail-in ballots until Tuesday, and neither those states nor Michigan and Minnesota could begin counting mail-in ballots until then. Results from all four states were outstanding Tuesday night.
In Pennsylvania, where both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned heavily in the final day before the election, Gov. Tom Wolf urged voters to remain patient while election officials do their job. More than 2.5 million votes were cast in Pennsylvania ahead of Election Day and elections officials in seven counties—Beaver, Cumberland, Franklin, Greene, Juniata, Mercer and Montour—have said they would not start counting mail-in ballots until Wednesday morning.
“We may not know the results today,” Wolf, a Democrat, said during a press conference Tuesday night. “But I encourage all of us to take a deep breath and just be patient.”
In an appearance after midnight, Trump derided the continued counting (a stance he has been signaling he would take for days). In his speech, Trump falsely labeled the counting fraud and threatened to seek a court intervention. “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop," he said.
Wolf on Twitter Wednesday morning emphasized that the votes people cast will be tallied. “We still have over 1 million mail ballots to count in Pennsylvania. I promised Pennsylvanians that we would count every vote and that’s what we’re going to do,” Wolf said.
Biden urged patience in his own speech after midnight. “We knew this was going to go on, but who knew we were going to go into maybe tomorrow morning, maybe even longer? But look, we feel good about where we are. We really do. I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election," Biden said.
In Philadelphia, election officials reported that they were counting ballots at a slower rate than expected. About 75,000 out of 350,000 mail-in ballots had been counted as of 9 p.m. Tuesday. Officials there plan to continue to count votes overnight, but are not expected to report additional results until 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Before Election Day, election officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania lobbied to allow them to start counting earlier, but Republican-controlled legislatures balked at proposals by Democratic state officials to make that happen.
In Minnesota, Secretary of State Steve Simon warned Tuesday night that the counting process would be very different from previous elections.
“Counting all of the ballots will take a few days, but that’s literally by design,” Simon said. “It’s evidence that the system is working. We need to get it right, and we will.”
In other states, local election officials had also reported issues that delayed vote counts earlier in the day.
In Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, a water pipe burst in a room at an absentee ballot processing center that contained ballots. No ballots were damaged by the water, but the county’s counting operation was delayed for several hours, the Atlanta Constitution Journal reported. Officials there told the paper they planned to stop scanning absentee ballots at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and to continue the count in the morning.
“As planned, Fulton County will continue to tabulate the remainder of absentee ballots over the next two days,” a spokeswoman said. “This is a labor-intensive process that takes longer to tabulate than other forms of voting. Fulton County did not anticipate having all absentee ballots processed on Election Day.”
A South Carolina county’ reporting of absentee ballots was also delayed after printing errors made it impossible for scanning machines to read the results of several thousand ballots.
Officials in Dorchester County discovered Tuesday that absentee ballots could not be scanned and would have to be reviewed manually.
Across the country, more than 100 million ballots were cast early. Initial vote tallies reported by states varied across the country, with some reporting in-person Election Day results first and others posting their early voting numbers first.
Election experts have warned that early tabulations could show a blue or red mirage that gave an inaccurate picture of trends in a state depending on which votes are counted first. States that count mail-in votes before Election Day are likely to give Biden an initial lead while states that do not begin counting mail-in ballots until Tuesday or later will likely swing initially for Trump.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.