News Brief: Ballot Counting Presses On In Key States
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The electoral map at npr.org got a little more blue overnight.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Vote counting put Joe Biden slightly ahead in the state of Georgia. That's a new development this morning. President Trump still leads the count in Pennsylvania but narrowly now with many ballots still to be tallied. Biden has slightly expanded his lead in Nevada. As we track all of this, it's important to keep one fact in mind here. The former vice president has several ways to the presidency. Any one of several states could give him victory at this point. He could still win the presidency even if he loses Pennsylvania or Georgia. His advantage comes from a substantial and growing majority in the popular vote.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith covers the White House and has been following all of this, of course. Hi there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: And let's just lead with the facts here. What are the numbers in some of the key states as you and I talk on this early morning?
KEITH: Yeah, and let's just say that these numbers are a moving target. But as of this moment in Pennsylvania, President Trump's lead has dwindled to about 17,000 votes, and more ballots are still being counted. In Nevada, Biden currently leads by about 11,000 votes, but they didn't announce any new numbers overnight. In Georgia, in the 4 a.m. hour, the lead crossed over to Biden. He now leads Trump by 917 votes, with more vote counting to go. And in North Carolina, President Trump's lead is a bit more durable, it seems. There hasn't been much movement. He leads by just shy of 77,000 votes.
INSKEEP: And as we've said, Biden is at 264 electoral votes by the NPR count, which is based on Associated Press numbers. He needs 270 to win. Nevada gives him that. Pennsylvania alone would give him that. Georgia alone would give him that. So he's got several paths here. And I want to mention something else. I want to say something else out loud, Tamara, because we're about to get into the partisan claims about this by the president. We are talking about votes that are being counted by Republicans, as well as Democrats. There's secretaries of state overseeing elections from both parties in some of the contested states. So with that fact in front of us, how has the president been reacting to this news?
KEITH: Right. And vote counting is not a partisan operation right here, period.
INSKEEP: Right. It's facts.
KEITH: OK, so what the president has been saying is he tweeted at 2:22 in the morning, making a bunch of false claims about the votes and saying the U.S. Supreme Court should decide. Late yesterday, he had delivered a statement in the White House that was defiant and full of misinformation about how this whole process works, what is happening, what hasn't happened and also claimed fraud, claimed that the election was being stolen from him but did not present any evidence of that. However, there were numerous conspiracies that that he threw out there in the White House briefing room.
INSKEEP: I want to just mention he seemed unusually downcast. His eyes were downcast. He was reading from a piece of paper, which is somewhat unusual for this president. And after making his false claims about the election, he moved on to complaining about polls, which have nothing to do with the vote count. He did not even appear to try to make a case for his own falsehoods.
KEITH: He did not. He did not. But his sons did. His sons on Twitter complained that Republicans didn't have enough backbone, that they weren't standing up for his father. They weren't standing with him. And then lo and behold, last night, Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz went out on Fox News to make evidence-free claims of fraud and backed the president up. That said, others have been more cautious and are sticking - the line seems to be that every legally cast vote should be counted. But there are divergent views on what legally cast means among Republicans.
INSKEEP: How is Joe Biden talking and behaving in this circumstance?
KEITH: Yesterday, he got another briefing on coronavirus and the economy. He delivered a very brief set of remarks in Wilmington, Del. He said he expects to win, but he did not declare victory and he told people to stay calm and carry on and be patient.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, really appreciate your coverage.
KEITH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: And now let's hear the facts from the state of Georgia.
MARTIN: That state has followed the pattern of several others. The walk-in votes from Tuesday's voting favored the president. Ballots sent by mail are still being counted, and they have now given Joe Biden the narrowest of leads.
INSKEEP: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting has been watching this. Mr. Fowler, good morning.
STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Can you just talk us through the numbers as you understand them at this moment?
FOWLER: So here is what we know. As of about 4:30 this morning, Joe Biden has the lead in Georgia by several hundred votes. That number is expected to grow as remaining absentee ballots are processed. And counted and the biggest difference maker is from Clayton County, a suburban Atlanta county that's heavily African American and heavily Democratic that had enough votes in favor of Joe Biden to close that margin and then as the final ones were tabulated put him over the top. There are still several ballots left to be counted from Clayton County. That should pad the numbers even more before other counties start processing things at a more normal time this morning.
INSKEEP: Is there much of a possibility that this number would shift further?
FOWLER: It will shift, but how much it shifts remains to be seen. There are about 10,000 or so absentee ballots that we know about from different counties that still need to be uploaded into the system. But there are still others that we can't yet know the amount. We have provisional ballots. We have military and overseas ballots that could come in before their 5 p.m. Friday deadline and ballots that need to be cured for something like a signature mismatch or other sort of ID issue that counties are - still have to work through. So of the known universe of ballots, we do know that they are in typically Democratic-leaning counties, which is why we expect that total to go up a little bit for Joe Biden. But until every vote is counted in Georgia and things are certified, we cannot and should not say definitively what the result will be.
INSKEEP: The president's many falsehoods yesterday included a claim that Democrats control the vote counting in Georgia - total lie. Republicans control it in Georgia. But what are the officials saying?
FOWLER: So, Steve, Republicans control the secretary of state's office, which is the state's top elections official. Republicans control the governor's mansion and the state legislature. And in most of Georgia's 159 counties, there are Republican-leaning local governments there. So what the president said just does not line up. And the secretary of state's office has been especially careful about giving people information - trust that an accurate information about the vote counting process. And so here's what Gabriel Sterling from the secretary of state's office said to reporters Thursday about why the count is still taking so long with things being so close.
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GABRIEL STERLING: Fast is great. And we appreciate fast. We more appreciate accuracy. Accuracy is going to be the bedrock upon which people will believe the outcomes of this election.
FOWLER: And so that is where we stand here in Georgia with votes still left to count.
INSKEEP: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting, thanks so much.
FOWLER: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And we'll keep checking in there for sure. Now, without waiting for the count to be complete, the president's campaign has filed lawsuits in multiple states.
MARTIN: In Michigan, the suit demanded that poll workers pause counting ballots. A judge said no. In Georgia, Republicans claim that late-arriving ballots were mixed in with legitimate ones. A judge rejected that, too, saying there was no evidence. In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign wants to challenge the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots, a claim the U.S. Supreme Court has already rejected twice.
INSKEEP: NPR's Pam Fessler covers elections and voting and is on the line. Pam, good morning.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So we've noted the president said he won. He gave no evidence. He went on to rambling grievances about polls. But is there any factual basis to question the results we have so far.
FESSLER: Not so far that we see. I mean, basically, what the president did is he took a lot of the normal things that happen when you count votes in an election and made them seem nefarious. And it all goes back to what we've been talking about for weeks, that the early count of in-person votes would likely show the president in the lead but that mail-in ballots, which are counted later and more widely used by Democrats, would probably favor Biden but that elections are not over until all the votes are counted. And what the president said last night is that he'd already won and that his lead was being cut away as more ballots are, as he put, found. Here's an example.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were up by nearly 700,000 votes in Pennsylvania. I won Pennsylvania by a lot. And that gets whittled down to - I think they said now we're up by 90,000 votes and they'll keep coming and coming and coming. They find them all over.
INSKEEP: I'm thinking of an analogy here, Pam Fessler. It's like he's looking at a football game and saying that because I scored a touchdown in the third quarter and was leading for those five minutes, I won the game.
FESSLER: Right, exactly. I mean, he called the system corrupt. I mean, one thing the president did say that's definitely true is that there's a lot of litigation out there, most of which has been filed by his campaign.
INSKEEP: OK, so there are these lawsuits, though. A couple of them, as Rachel noted, have already been kicked out. But of course, you can appeal, and there are other things that can happen. What lawsuits are you watching?
FESSLER: Well, there's a number of them. Most of them are aimed at giving Republicans more access to observing the counting. They've won a little bit on that and also had some of them rejected. Still others are challenging the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day. I think there'll be more on that. And there was a new case filed yesterday in Nevada that alleges that many votes that were cast there were by people who no longer live in the state. The Democrats say that most of these cases are without merit and are intended largely to cause confusion.
INSKEEP: OK, so from what we know so far, these lawsuits are largely baseless. So what would the legal strategy be in pursuing them?
FESSLER: Well, Steve, it's not really clear. I mean, some of the cases are aimed at slowing down the count in places where it looks like President Trump could lose, such as Pennsylvania, and also to challenge the legitimacy of some ballots, some of these mail-in ballots, although, to be honest, most of the cases wouldn't affect that many votes. I spoke with Josh Douglas, an election law professor at the University of Kentucky. And he notes that the president's been questioning the legitimacy of the voting process for years.
JOSH DOUGLAS: And now it's come to a head, where at least if the numbers are as they seem to be reporting right now, he's facing a loss, and he can't accept that. And so he's telling his lawyers to do something. But there doesn't seem to be a strong legal strategy in any of the states that I've seen so far that would call the election into doubt.
FESSLER: He thinks Trump's main goal is to undermine public confidence in the results if he does lose after all those ballots are counted.
INSKEEP: Pam, thanks for your work over many years covering elections and voting. Really appreciate it.
FESSLER: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Pam Fessler. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.