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Presidential election updates from 5 key states

Several U.S. states were still counting ballots Wednesday, and some of them will decide the outcome of the presidential race. We get updates from Daniel Bush in Pennsylvania, William Brangham in Michigan, Zac Schultz of PBS Wisconsin, Miles O’Brien in Georgia and John Ralston of the Nevada Independent about the election status in those five states.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn now quickly to our Dan Bush. He's in Philadelphia. He's been watching the returns in Pennsylvania since well before yesterday.

    So, Dan, we just heard Yamiche talk about the wait for votes in Pennsylvania. How is the process going? What is known about the votes that have still not been counted?

  • Daniel Bush:

    Judy, you can see behind me there is a heightened police presence and protests here in Pennsylvania, as the state continues to count its mail-in and absentee ballots.

    The state received upwards of three million of those ballots and has counted now roughly 1.7 million. But there's still a lot to go. And it's important to stress that these ballots being counted right now, they're not fraudulent, as the president has claimed. They're not also coming in late.

    These are ballots that were received under state law by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, yesterday, and are now being counted. And, Judy, it's just a matter of resources. In larger counties, like here in Philadelphia, they can process roughly 30,000 of these ballots, smaller counties, like Luzerne and others, only a few thousand.

    So, it's going to take time. Officials are not putting an official time on it. But I have spoken to several who say that they hope to finish counting these ballots in Pennsylvania by late tomorrow or possibly Friday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Dan, the Biden campaign has said they feel good about Pennsylvania, when it is eventually — when the counting is eventually finished.

    But we also know the president is saying he's won Pennsylvania. What evidence is there on the ground of the Trump — Trump campaign efforts, legal efforts? What do you see?

  • Daniel Bush:

    Judy, Eric Trump, one of the president's sons, and Rudy Giuliani, a close ally, were here in Philadelphia just a little while ago. Eric Trump claimed that there was — quote — "rampant corruption" in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania. Giuliani said there was strong anti-democratic activity, as he put it. The campaign has said that these ballots need to be found.

    But, Judy, these ballots are not lost. And, in fact, they are in the building right behind me in a room being counted. The county is livestreaming this. They have let the media in. I have been in that room. It's closely guarded.

    So, these ballots are there. They're being processed. But the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit today, as Yamiche reported. The Biden campaign just received this filing not more than 20 minutes ago, in which the Trump campaign is seeking to intervene in this Supreme Court decision to try and halt ballots that are being counted right now.

    That's what the Trump campaign is trying to do. I spoke with a Biden campaign attorney, who said, look, we are prepared. We know that this is what they are going to try and do. And we will be ready.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dan Bush, and I was looking at that livestream of the vote counting going on there in Pennsylvania yesterday. So, we know that has been — has been taking place.

    All right, Daniel Bush there for us in Philadelphia.

    Thank you, Dan.

    Separately, our William Brangham has flown to Michigan. And he joins us now from Detroit.

    William, thank you for being here.

    As you know, the — just moments ago, the Associated Press called Michigan and said Joe Biden is the winner. This is even with both campaigns having spent a lot of effort there. I know you have just recently arrived, but what are you hearing from the campaign's about this?

  • William Brangham:

    Well, I think, as John and Yamiche have laid out, the campaigns have staked out their traditional positions.

    The Biden campaign thinks this is great news, sees it as part of their consistent path to victory. The Trump campaign is really arguing this whole case.

    I'm actually standing here in a huge convention center in downtown Detroit. This is where those votes are still being counted. Regardless of what the Associated Press or any other news organization says, Philadelphia, all of — I'm sorry — all of Michigan will continue to count those votes.

    They're very nearly done. But, as we came into this facility today, there were protesters outside, similar to the ones you saw in Yamiche's tape, people on the Biden side saying, count every vote, people on the Trump side saying, stop this vote, stop this count.

    And whether or not — I talked with a few of the Trump volunteers who are outside and asked them, what about these — at that point, they were rumors that the count had been finalized, and that Biden had won Michigan? None of the Trump supporters believed it. They said that they don't trust the media. They think that there's real chicanery going on behind me right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, William, is there any evidence of that?

    I mean, what are people who are watching this process closely saying about the counting, about whether they have had problems? What do you — what's — what are you hearing?

  • William Brangham:

    There is no documented evidence of any kind of fraud going on.

    I mean, there are ballots that get rejected because voters make mistakes. That's totally common. The process is somewhat slow because mail-in ballots take a little bit longer to open, to unfold, to scan, to confirm the signatures. Again, those are totally normal procedures.

    And it was simply state elections rules that didn't allow them to start counting those ballots until yesterday morning.

    So, there is no evidence of fraud, but there is still an incredible deal of distrust. The Trump campaign tried to file a lawsuit today, saying that they don't have proper access to this kind of counting, that they want more volunteers in here.

    As far as I can tell, both the Biden and Trump campaign have dozens and dozens of people standing at all these tables watching the process unfold.

    So, this vote is nearly done. If it has been called, the Trump campaign has less and less opportunity to really challenge what's going on here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I hear you saying both campaigns have had eyes on and still have eyes on this process as those votes are being counted.

    All right, William Brangham reporting for us tonight from Detroit.

    Thank you, William.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So another state, Wisconsin, was one of the keys to President Trump's winning the White House in 2016. But, as we reported, the AP has called a victory for Joe Biden this year.

    To give us a sense of all that's happening there, I'm joined by Zac Schultz, a reporter with PBS Wisconsin.

    Zac Schultz, thank you very much for joining us again.

    Tell us the status of counting and whether there are complaints. I mean, what are you — what's your impression overall of the ballot counting process there?

  • Zac Schultz:

    We are done counting ballots in Wisconsin. It wrapped up earlier this morning. It took through the night for quite a few of the larger cities to count all the absentee ballots, similar to what we're seeing from around the country.

    There was an abnormally large number of absentee ballots in Wisconsin, and just took a lot longer to count. The last few batches of votes came from a small township in Western Wisconsin, where the clerk went home sick yesterday and wasn't able to deliver the count. But those were 300 ballots. We're talking about a 20,000-vote margin at this point.

    And that's where it stands, until we get to the canvass, which happens later, where they may find a few errors. But it never really changes anything, beyond a few hundred votes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what are you hearing from the Biden and the Trump campaigns in Wisconsin or even from Washington, where, around the country, in reaction to the call in Wisconsin?

  • Zac Schultz:

    Well, the Trump campaign put out a statement saying that they found irregularities. There's no evidence of that here on the ground in Wisconsin, none that we have heard from the clerks or from the Wisconsin Elections Commission or either — either of the parties in Wisconsin.

    But they did say that they would request a recount. In Wisconsin, if the margin is within 1 percent, which in this case it is, the second-place runner up can request a recount. That would be a couple of weeks away from actually going through with that process. We're not at that point yet, but that is something the Trump campaign has threatened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Was it — we knew that Wisconsin was going to be close, Zac Schultz. And, again, this is a state that President Trump won narrowly in 2016.

    Is there general acceptance of the result that Joe Biden has won it, or are people saying, this was just impossible? What's the reaction?

  • Zac Schultz:

    No, absolutely, both sides seem to be understanding that this is a real result in this case.

    A number of the Republican officials that I follow from around the state have tweeted out their acceptance of this result. And there's not any — we have been through this so many times in Wisconsin. Every presidential election, unless it's involving Barack Obama, is a close one, Al Gore, 5,000 votes, John Kerry, 11,000 votes, Donald Trump, 22,000 votes in 2016, this time, 20,000 votes.

    We're used to these close elections, and both sides have come to understand that we do transparent, clean, fair elections in Wisconsin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, that has to be reassuring, not only to the people in Wisconsin, but the people across the country, as we get close to — closer and closer to declaring a winner in this election.

    Zac Schultz with PBS Wisconsin, thank you so much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now we have had a unique view of how things have been going in the state of Georgia.

    Our Miles O'Brien continues to explore how the vote is being counted there.

  • Miles O’Brien:

    On the day after in Atlanta, Fulton County election workers were hard at work scanning and counting the last of the mail-in ballots.

    They began the day with 45,000 left to go. They are among 200,000 untallied mail-in ballots statewide.

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is vowing to have the lion's share of it done by day's end.

  • Brad Raffensperger:

    We're pushing really hard for that. If we can get that down — if we don't get it there, but we get the number so small that then there's no question of who actually the winner is, I think that will be helpful, really remove a lot of those questions that people might have.

  • Miles O’Brien:

    Georgia's election might garner the most approved award. The primary in June was a disaster. They rolled out a complex new voting system in the midst of the pandemic. It led to a meltdown, and that was not the end of the trouble.

    In October, more than two dozen Fulton County election staffers contracted COVID. Early voting was disrupted by Hurricane Zeta power outages. And, on election eve, a moving company assigned to deliver voting machines backed out.

    So, early on Election Day, Fulton County's election director, Rick Bright, came to work in the Emergency Operations Center dreading a replay. And, at about 6:00 a.m., he got word a pipe burst in the room where the mail-in ballots are scanned.

  • Rick Barron:

    They were trying to assess whether any of the equipment was damaged, whether any of the ballots were damaged. They didn't find any damage on any of the ballots. And I think they're going to be able to get the equipment up and running now.

  • Miles O’Brien:

    It led to a four-hour delay, but once the in person voting began, their stars became uncrossed. Voters breezed through voting sites with barely a line in sight.

  • Rick Barron:

    Once we got past the poll opening about 30 to 40 minutes, and we realized that all of our polls were open, I felt like the day was going to go smooth.

    We looked at June, and we looked at everything that happened in June. The thing that I have said is that you can't be too timid to ask for help.

  • Miles O’Brien:

    As the focus turns to outstanding mail-in votes here and elsewhere, Georgia has another bit of luck on its side.

    The state changed the law to allow mail-in ballot processing weeks in advance of November 3, unlike Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, legally constrained to wait until virtually the last minute.

    So now we are all on tenterhooks, despite repeated warnings from election systems experts like Amber McReynolds of the National Vote at Home Institute.

    So, in a sense, this was a slow-motion train wreck that you saw coming?

  • Amber McReynolds:

    Yes, I mean, we flagged this. We flagged this policy issue. And, frankly, it's the fact that these three state legislative bodies refused to respond to the needs of the election officials, because it was election officials of all sides, all party stripes that were asking for this very technical change that would speed up the election results process.

  • Miles O’Brien:

    Election security experts say this is a particularly dangerous time. Potential adversaries can now home their attacks on the integrity of the voting system.

    University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman says this underscores the need for states to audit their results.

  • J. Alex Halderman:

    We now have a target painted on the back of certain particular states that are going to be close.

    And mischief in those states could take the form of attacking the integrity of the paper ballots. It could take the form of attacking the computers that are going to be used to count them. What we need to do is wait for states to perform the necessary checks, any post-election audits and recounts, and make sure that those checks are done accurately enough that we can all have confidence in the result.

  • Miles O’Brien:

    In the meantime, Professor Halderman will be watching closely to see if any hackers attempt to get in middle of this process and cause mischief.

    So far, the federal agency which is assigned to track all of this says there's no evidence of any threats, domestic or foreign, to the process that have affected any votes.

    Meanwhile, behind me, live pictures here of the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, as Fulton County election workers get through a pile of about 38,000 ballots and counting. They say they will be counting here tonight until they finish statewide. They are promising it will all be done tomorrow.

    But, in other places, the wait could take longer. They may take more time than we have patience — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Miles O'Brien in Atlanta, where you have been now for several days. And this is the kind of reporting that is so important at a moment like this.

    Miles, thank you very much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now turning to another state.

    What happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. The odds now show it is a pivotal state, Nevada is, in this election.

    Joining us is Jon Ralston, longtime political reporter. He's now with The Nevada Independent.

    Jon Ralston, very good to see you again.

    All eyes are on Nevada right now, since the AP has given Joe Biden 264 electoral votes. Only six more, he needs to get to 270. Coincidentally, six votes would come his way if Nevada goes his way.

    But let me just start by asking you, what is the vote counting looking like now?

  • Jon Ralston:

    Well, the margin is about 7,500 votes in Joe Biden's favor.

    The issue here now, Judy, is that there are just so many outstanding mail ballots, tens of thousands in Clark County, which is Las Vegas, which is a Democratic stronghold here, and where the Democrats, in the pre-election mail balloting, won by more than 2-1.

    So, they are very confident that, once those are counted, that the advantage will go even more in Biden's favor.

    A lot of people are asking, why aren't these votes counted yet? Well, this is a new ball game for Nevada, Judy. We have never had this kind of volume of mail balloting before. The legislature in a special session controlled by the Democrats mandated that every active registered voter get a ballot a few months ago.

    And so that has caused the mix of votes to be very different than usual, and they just don't have the staff, and they're a bit overwhelmed, especially in the urban areas and especially in Clark County. But both Clark County, which is Vegas, and Washoe County, which is Reno, have said they will announce results at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

    There may be some rural numbers that come out today, Judy, but those are going to be a very small number of votes, won't move the needle that much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Jon, they're saying 10:00 tomorrow. They have put a time on it.

    Any problems, any complaints about the voting process, other than the fact that, as you said, it's just — it's new and there are a lot to count?

  • Jon Ralston:

    Well, the Republican Party, which has objected to the mail balloting since it was passed in the legislature, has found a series of lawsuits and complained about the opacity of the process, saying they want to bring more transparency.

    But, coincidentally, Judy, they only brought these lawsuits after it came out that they were getting crushed in the mail balloting in the Clark County. Those have all been fruitless lawsuits. But if it's still close after those ballots are released tomorrow, you can be sure that we're going to see more lawyers here in Nevada talking about this.

    The Democrats, I think, hope that Biden will have a much larger lead after the ballots are released and that all of that will be unnecessary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we will wait and see. But, as you're saying, now — as of now, the plan is, tomorrow morning, we will see an announcement.

    Jon Ralston with The Nevada Independent, we appreciate it.

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