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The key moments from an epic US presidential election count over the past four days

It’s hard to choose singular moments from a blockbuster election count. Here are the main events.

Image: PA/CNN

IT’S BEEN AN exciting and unforgettable week.

After days of counting, Joe Biden has sealed enough electoral college votes to clinch the US presidency and his running mate, Kamala Harris, is set to become the first female Vice President. 

But it was not a straightforward path to victory.

Gruelling counts at all hours of the day and night across key states kept the final result suspended until Saturday evening Irish time. 

And even after all that fuss, it’s widely expected that Trump will not concede the presidency – we could have a messy few months ahead as various legal challenges and threats are made. 

A lot has happened over the past few days, so now might be a good time to take a look back at a few of the key moments from a period that felt like eternity, but in fact only began last Tuesday night. 

Donald Trump: ‘Frankly, we did win this election’

Source: Global News/YouTube

In a statement given late on election night, Donald Trump set the scene for the course of the next few days. 

Just as it became apparent that counts in key states may begin to drift away from him, the president threatened to go to the Supreme Court and called the election a fraud on the American people. 

This was a move predicted ahead of time by Democrat Bernie Sanders and other political pundits.

Trump said “we’re getting ready to win this election” and further claimed that “frankly, we did win this election”. 

Trump added that he would go to the Supreme Court, saying “we want all voting to stop”. 

He appeared to mean stopping the counting of mail-in ballots which could be legally accepted by state election boards after Tuesday’s election, provided they were sent in time.

Trump’s campaign team has since filed lawsuits in the crucial states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Nevada. 

The legal motions include attempts to stop the vote count and allow Republican members to observe the vote count. You can read more details about these lawsuits here. 

“We were just all set to get outside and just celebrate something that was so beautiful, so good, such a vote, such a success,” Trump said.

The citizens of this country have come out in record numbers, this is a record, there’s never been anything like it, to support our incredible movement.

Record numbers  

u-s-new-york-state-election-early-voting People queueing to cast their ballots in New York State last week. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Trump was correct to say voters came out in record numbers for this election. NBC News projected on Wednesday that at least 159 million people had voted in the election. 

However, these record-high numbers were not in Trump’s favour with Biden winning the popular vote.

Biden gained the most votes of any US presidential candidate with more than 74 million votes cast for the Democrat.

Previously, Barack Obama had received the most votes ever, in 2008, with more than 69 million votes. 

As well as this, more than 100 million people voted ahead of time with absentee ballots, according to the US Elections Project watchdog. The figure for early votes in 2016 was 57 million. 

This truly was an election like no other in terms of these figures, with record-high numbers casting their vote and record-high votes for a single candidate. 

Joe Biden: ‘When the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners’ 

election-2020-protests-washington Demonstrators listening to a speech by Joe Biden on 4 November. Source: John Minchillo

Biden said on Wednesday night that he was confident he would win the presidency once all the votes were counted.

Although this likely calmed the nerves of Democrats, at this stage it wasn’t yet clear whether this was true as the situation was too close to call in most of the key swing states. 

“When the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners,” Biden said in a televised address from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware as he stressed that “every vote must be counted”.

After a long night of counting, it’s clear that we’re winning enough states to reach 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. 

At this stage, US media outlets had already projected that Biden would win the crucial battleground state of Michigan.

Another important moment here, which highlighted the differences between Biden and Trump, is when the former vice president urged voters to put their political differences aside once the election is over. 

“So once this election is finalised and behind us, it will be time to do what we have always done as Americans. To put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us and lower the temperature, to see each other again and to listen to one another and hear each other again.

To respect and care for one another. To unite. To heal. To come together as a nation. I am not naïve; neither of us are. I know how deep the opposing views are in our country over so many things. 

“Let me be clear – we are campaigning as Democrats but I will govern as an American president.”

Florida

election-2020-florida Votes received in Hillsborough County in Florida. Source: Luis Santana

On Election Night, people were focused on the results from one key state when polls first closed – Florida. 

Florida had been counting early votes for weeks in advance and usually produces quick results on the night. In the end, Trump won the state but Biden took the lead at the beginning. 

Polls closed in most of Florida at 12am Irish time and by 1am, the New York Times gave Trump more than a 95% chance of winning Florida. 

However, it was important to remember that Florida was a crucial state for Trump to win in order to open up paths back to the White House, but it was not necessary for Biden to win. 

As David Lauter from the LA Times put it: “If Trump carries FL… the main impact is that we won’t know the outcome of the elex super early. This is a must-win state for Trump, not for Biden.”  

Fox News calling the race for Arizona

At 4.20am Irish-time on Wednesday morning, Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden. Three hours later, Associated Press followed suit. Other networks were slower – the count is still ongoing and CNN and others still have not called a winner in the state, as of Saturday evening.

But the damage was done. The New York Times reported that Trump and his team “erupted” when Fox News made the call. “Words cannot describe the anger,” one adviser told CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Vanity Fair reported that Trump rang Rupert Murdoch and asked him to retract the call but Murdoch refused. Arizona had been critical to Trump’s chance to win re-election, and without it, it became clear that his path to victory had become much smaller.

His team began telling the media immediately that it was premature and much too soon – and soon afterwards, Trump gave an angry, messy statement from the White House where he called the election a fraud and claimed that he had actually won more votes than Biden.

It was a fissure between Trump and the network that has cheerleaded his presidency, and the New York Times suggests that it was this more than anything that has set the tone for how he has reacted to the outcome since early on Wednesday morning.

Biden wins Michigan and Wisconsin

In 2016, a major element of Hillary’s defeat was losing the so-called Blue Wall – states that traditionally vote Democrat – which included Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In the latter two states – and in a pattern that was replicated in other states – early results suggested Trump was in with a shout of winning them again. But, as early and mail-in ballots were counted, Biden eventually clawed back Trump’s advantage and swept into an unassailable position.

We didn’t have results here on election night, and it was late Wednesday night Irish time before we knew Biden had taken both states. 

With these two vital states in the bag, Biden’s path to the White House became a lot clearer heading into Thursday. 

Trump’s incendiary White House press conference 

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In an extraordinary press conference held at 11.30pm Irish time on Thursday, Donald Trump claimed without evidence that Democrats were trying to “steal” the US election with illegal votes, saying he would “easily win” the race if “legal” votes are counted (hinting that mail-in ballots aren’t legal).

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” Trump said, as the leads he had initially gained against Biden shrunk as mail-in votes were counted.

He said that the postal ballot system “makes people corrupt” even if they don’t want to be: “Our numbers miraculously began being whittled away in secret.”

Some elected Republicans distanced themselves from Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud, which seem to be based on his leads being reduced by mail-in ballots. 

During the campaign Trump urged his voters not to mail their votes in, while Biden encouraged people to post their votes due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What a sad night for the United States of America to hear their president say that, to falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said.

Biden takes the lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania

joe-biden-campaigns-atlanta Joe Biden speaking at a drive-in rally during a visit to Georgia at the end of last month. Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS/ABACA

The way mail-in ballot tallies have chipped away at Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden over the past 36 hours has been quite extraordinary – so much so that the sitting US president couldn’t quite believe it. 

“They want to find out how many votes they need and they seem to be able to find them,” Trump said, as the counts continued. 

It’s amazing how those mail-in ballots are so one-sided, I know they’re supposed to be to the advantage of the Democrats, but in all cases they’re so one-sided.

In Georgia, Donald Trump’s lead was consistently eaten away as mail-in ballots and votes in Fulton County (which contains Atlanta) were counted.

On Wednesday, with 285,000 votes remaining, Trump had a 103,000-vote lead over Biden. That was whittled down to less than 30,000 votes on Thursday morning.

By around 4am on Friday our time, Trump’s lead over Biden was just 1,800 with 14,000 ballots left to be counted.

Biden eventually overtook Trump in Georgia.

count-every-vote-rally-in-philadelphia Protesters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Wednesday. Source: Miguel Juarez Lugo

Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes were keenly watched from the beginning, with a tight focus in the last couple of days.

If Biden won this state, he won the election.

Trump’s lead here dropped to around 23,000 votes overnight on Thursday; before we got to the mail-ins, his lead was several hundred thousand.

As of Friday evening, Biden was winning by almost 10,000 votes having pulled into the lead at around 2pm Irish time. 

He extended that beyond 30,000 votes by Saturday evening Irish time, and major networks began to call the election for Biden at around 4.15pm here.

‘Stop the steal’ vs ‘Count the votes’

ny-protesters-demand-to-count-all-votes Hundreds of 'count every vote' protesters in New York City taking to the streets earlier this week. Source: Michael Nigro

election-2020-protests-philadelphia 'Stop the steal' protesters in support of Donald Trump outside the Pennsylvania convention centre on Friday. Source: John Minchillo

It doesn’t count as one moment or incident, but is included here as a symbol of division in the US.

Protests from different groups of Trump supporters asked that voting stops in some states, with other groups asking that it continue in other states.

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