What to Know
- Pennsylvania is one of five remaining states that could decide the election, along with Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.
- President Donald Trump's initial Election Night lead of more than 700,000 votes vanished by early Friday morning as mail-in ballots were counted.
- Tens of thousands of votes still remain to be counted in Pennsylvania.
Joe Biden continued to widen the gulf between himself and President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania early Saturday as the former vice president gained a lead for the first time Friday and steadily built on it as the day progressed.
Shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday, Biden was leading by 28,833 votes as ballots continued to be counted.
Trump had a lead of about 700,000 votes in Pennsylvania in initial Election Day returns, which were mostly in-person votes cast on Tuesday. However, as mail-in ballots were counted since then, Trump's lead vanished and Biden's grew Friday.
Voters cast about 2.6 million mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania this year, as fears of the coronavirus pandemic led voters to avoid polling places. The mail-in ballots have leaned strongly for the Democratic challenger, which allowed him to overtake Trump early Friday.
In deep-blue Philadelphia, election officials said more than 690,630 votes were cast, of which 339,933 were cast by mail.
“This is by far the largest number of mail-in ballots in the city’s history,” City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said.
Live Election Results
The vote totals in Philadelphia and neighboring suburban counties propelled Biden’s comeback, with thousands of votes there still left to be counted. But the former vice president also picked up tens of thousands of votes on President Trump in most of the 67 counties compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Trump has filed multiple legal challenges to Pennsylvania's vote count. He's promised the same in other states with razor-thin margins, including Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, where NBC News has not yet called a winner. He has also begun or threatened legal challenges in Wisconsin and Michigan, which NBC News says Biden has won.
Early Friday, Biden also took a slim lead in Georgia, NBC News reported.
If Biden wins Pennsylvania, he wins the presidency. The state has 20 electoral college votes, which would send Biden over the 270 votes needed to win.
But the race still could hinge on Georgia, Arizona and Nevada because if Biden is declared the winner in any two of those three states, he will surpass 270.
It's not clear how long it will take for counties across Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, to finish tallying their mail-in ballots. Results trickled in all night Thursday into Friday, but according to Deeley, more than 40,000 votes remain to be counted just in Philadelphia.
Those votes include provisional ballots, ballots that need review and military overseas ballots, the latter of which are not due until Nov. 10, Deeley said.
Statewide, there were also some 85,000 provisional ballots still outstanding, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said.
Trump has tried to cast doubt on the election, saying without proof that voter fraud has taken place, including in Philadelphia.
Mayor Jim Kenney on Friday rebuffed the president.
“I think what the president needs to do is, frankly, put his big boy pants on,” Kenney said. “He needs to acknowledge the fact that he lost and he needs to congratulate the winner just as Jimmy Carter did, just as George H.W. Bush did and, frankly, just as Al Gore did.”
The slow grind toward counting all 2.6 million mail-in votes has been expected for months because the Republican-controlled state legislature refused to change the election code to allow for counting of mail-in ballots before Nov. 3.
On Thursday, Philadelphia temporarily halted mail-in ballot counting shortly before noon to address a court ruling. A state court judge ordered that observers for the Trump campaign must be allowed greater access at the Pennsylvania Convention Center while ballots are tallied.
The count was halted for less than an hour, but resumed about 12:15 p.m. The state and the Trump campaign later agreed to allow up to 60 observers to watch the counting.
Pennsylvania narrowly went for Trump in 2016 when the president won by 44,000 votes, or 0.4%. Troubling signs for Trump this election are showing up in counties like Lackawanna County, where Biden was born. Hillary Clinton barely won in there in 2016. This year, Biden won that county easily. In Northampton County, where Trump won four years ago, Biden is now winning.
Trump also appears to be losing other counties he won last election, including Erie County. The county flipped to blue Thursday.
"That takes longer than we used to do it," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday of the mail-in ballot counting. "We may not know the results even today."
Wolf promised that every vote would be counted before the tally was final, no matter how long it takes.
"Pennsylvania will have a fair election and we will count every vote," Wolf said.
Boockvar also noted that, even pre-pandemic, absentee ballots from soldiers can be counted up to a week after the election and that their votes must be tabulated too.
State officials were confident the final numbers in this critical 2020 election would show "healthy turnout," they told reporters Tuesday.
“So the engagement was high since early this morning, which is great,” Boockvar said in a news conference. “We expect very healthy turnout given the intense interest in this election, and especially in Pennsylvania’s critical role in it."
Just before 5 p.m. the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office Election Task Force saw 52 reports of incidents, with 47 being resolved peacefully. Most were minor, and the most urgent cases were traced back to disinformation that spread on social media.
"Misinformation being spread online has driven more calls to the ETF hotline than actual incidents at polling sites," the DA's office said.