President Donald Trump’s claim of victory from the White House early Wednesday carries no official weight yet risks touching off turmoil and a protracted legal fight over the election outcome.
Democrat Joe Biden hasn’t conceded. The Associated Press, the unofficial but respected interpreter of election results, hasn’t called a winner. Nor have any of the television networks that, like AP, project state-by-state winners based on analysis of partial results and historical data.
Millions of votes are yet to be counted, including ballots postmarked by Election Day but not yet received in some states. And states have five weeks, until Dec. 8, to report final results to the Electoral College.
The AP issued a statement saying it was not calling the race because neither Trump nor Biden had secured the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency. As of early Wednesday, Biden had 225 electoral votes to Trump’s 213.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump told supporters in the East Room of the White House. “Frankly we did win this election. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop.”
Earlier, Biden urged caution, speaking to supporters in Wilmington, Delaware. “We believe we’re on track to win this election,” he said.
Trump and his top advisers had signaled for days that they might choose an opportune moment on election night to claim victory based on incomplete results, then to contest further counting — especially of mailed ballots — as an effort to “steal” the election.
That strategy alarmed some election experts as well as a key Trump ally.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told ABC News he disagreed with Trump’s remarks and said, “There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn’t.”
Twitter and Facebook both preemptively banned claims of victory before reputable news organizations called the race.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, was asked earlier on Tuesday what he would do if Trump declared victory before definitive results were in.
“What I’ll do is point to the facts,” he said. “Anyone can declare anything, I suppose, but the facts will speak for themselves.” He added, “Every legally cast ballot must be counted. Period. Full stop.”
Due to the pandemic, many more voters than usual cast their ballots by mail, and Democratic voters used that option more heavily than Republicans.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, of the 2.4 million ballots returned as of Monday, 66% were from Democrats and 23% from Republicans, data show. Unlike in some other states, elections officials in Pennsylvania weren’t permitted to begin processing mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, but mailed ballots can be counted if received by Nov. 6.
The ultimate audience for Trump’s claim of victory might be the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. They alreadyhave weighed in on vote-counting deadlines in some states and could be called on to resolve further disputes, up to including who wins the presidency.
In one ruling, three conservative justices raised the possibility that late-arriving ballots in Pennsylvania could be invalidated. In another, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another conservative and a Trump nominee, warned of “the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election.”
That brought a counter from Justice Elena Kagan, who said that until all votes are counted, “there are no results to ‘flip.’”
— With assistance by Alexander Ebert
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