WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected president of the United States on Saturday, defeating President Trump after campaigning on a promise to restore civility and stability to American politics and to expand the government’s role in guiding the country through the surging coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Biden, 77, who will become the 46th president and the oldest man ever sworn into the office, secured 273 votes from the Electoral College after Pennsylvania was called for him, though the race was far closer than many Democrats, Republicans and pollsters had expected.
The result also provided a history-making moment for President-elect Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, who became the first woman, and first woman of color, on a winning presidential ticket.
With his third run for the White House — after unsuccessful bids in 1988 and 2008, and after spending eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president — Mr. Biden finally attained a goal that he has dreamed of for decades, capping a career in national politics that began with a victory in a 1972 Senate race here in Delaware. He was swept into office this year with the support of a diverse coalition of younger voters, older voters, Black Americans, and white college-educated voters, particularly women.
Mr. Biden’s triumph concluded an extraordinary election that was expected to set modern records for turnout, despite being held amid a pandemic that has upended life across the United States. More than 100 million Americans voted before Election Day as states sought to make voting safer, putting the nation on track for the largest turnout in a century once the final vote is tallied.
Mr. Biden also won the popular vote by nearly three percentage points, and, with more than 74 million votes, broke the vote record set by Mr. Obama in 2012. Mr. Trump received more than 70 million votes — far more than the 63 million he received in 2016 when he beat Hillary Clinton while losing the popular vote.
Voters overcame their fears of the coronavirus, long lines at the polls and the vexing challenges of a transformed election system to render a verdict on Mr. Trump’s chaotic and norm-breaking presidency. Mr. Trump was the first incumbent president to lose a bid for re-election since George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Still, the race was not the landslide many Democrats had hoped for: Mr. Biden lost a number of important battleground states where he had invested time and resources, most notably Florida, amid signs of challenges with a number of Latino constituencies.
The Trump campaign and Republican lawyers have already begun a wide-ranging legal assault to challenge Democratic votes and victories in key swing states, part of a long-telegraphed effort to call the validity of the election into question.
Mr. Trump, who baselessly declared victory early Wednesday, before votes were tallied in multiple states, had regularly questioned the legitimacy of the election as polls showed him trailing, and it was not immediately clear how he would respond to the news of Mr. Biden’s victory.
Much of Mr. Biden’s agenda in office may rest on his ability to work with Congress. Democrats have maintained their hold on the House but had a much narrower path to reclaiming control of the Senate.
Kamala Harris, a senator from California and former presidential candidate, made history when she was elected vice president of the United States.
Her victory represents a handful of firsts: She will be the first woman, the first Black woman, the first Indian-American woman and the first daughter of immigrants to be sworn in as vice president.
It also marks a milestone for a nation in upheaval, grappling with a long history of racial injustice. Over the course of her campaign, Ms. Harris has faced both racist and sexist attacks from conservatives — including President Trump — who have refused to pronounce her name correctly.
The daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Ms. Harris, 56, embodies the future of a country that is growing more racially diverse every year — even if the person whom voters picked for the top of the ticket is a 77-year-old white man. She brought to the race a more vigorous campaign style than that of the president-elect, Joseph R. Biden Jr., including a gift for capturing moments of raw political electricity on the debate stage and elsewhere.
A former San Francisco district attorney, Ms. Harris was elected as the first Black woman to serve as California’s attorney general. When she was elected a U.S. senator in 2016, she became only the second Black woman in the chamber’s history. Almost immediately, she made a name for herself in Washington with her withering prosecutorial style in Senate hearings.
Beginning her presidential candidacy with homages to Shirley Chisholm, Ms. Harris was seen as a potential front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but she left the race weeks before any votes were cast. Part of her challenge, especially with the party’s progressive wing, was the difficulty she had reconciling stances she had taken as California’s attorney general with the current mores of her party.
And although she struggled to attract the very Black voters and women she had hoped would connect with her personal story during her primary bid, she made a concerted effort as Mr. Biden’s running mate to reach out to people of color, some of whom have said they felt represented in national politics for the first time.
PHILADELPHIA — As Joseph R. Biden Jr. increased his lead over President Trump in Pennsylvania, Democrats grew increasingly confident that he would win the state and its 20 electoral votes.
Mr. Biden had steadily erased Mr. Trump’s early lead in the state — at one point, the president led by half a million votes — as ballots, mostly absentee and mail-in votes, were counted over the past few days. Most of the remaining uncounted votes in the state are in Democratic-leaning areas.
The Biden campaign hoped further counting could push their lead above 0.5 percent, obviating the need for a recount there and potentially setting the stage for television networks to declare Mr. Biden the winner.
The biggest fight in the state has been over ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but arrive later. Nearly a dozen lawsuits filed by Mr. Trump and his allies are working their way through the courts in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, trying — so far unsuccessfully — to stop ballot counting and invalidate enough votes to erase Mr. Biden’s leads there. In September, the state Supreme Court ruled, over Republican objections, that election officials could accept ballots arriving up to three days later. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intercede, but left open the possibility that it could revisit the question.
Separately, the Supreme Court did grant the Trump camp a minor victory in Pennsylvania on Friday evening, when Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. ordered election officials there to keep the late-arriving ballots separate from other ballots, and not to include them, for now, in announced vote totals. But the victory was essentially in name only: Pennsylvania’s secretary of state had already given that instruction.
In Allegheny County, a predominantly Democratic area that includes Pittsburgh, election workers were going through roughly 20,000 mail-in ballots and additional provisional ballots on Saturday, Rich Fitzgerald, the county executive, said in a televised interview.
The county’s mail-in ballots have so far been won overwhelmingly by Mr. Biden, as have the provisional ballots. Mr. Fitzgerald said the county could begin reporting votes by late morning or early afternoon.
With 96 percent of votes reported by 7:30 a.m., Mr. Biden led in Pennsylvania by nearly 29,000 votes, precariously close to the critical margin of 0.5 percent, which triggers a recount.
Mr. Fitzgerald cautioned that the last ballots to count would be the trickiest, requiring additional checks to ensure they were not duplicates, which could slow the process.
Responding to baseless allegations by the Trump campaign of vote-counting secrecy, he said that observers and journalists had access to the vote-counting site and that there were as many surveillance cameras there as in a casino.
President Trump might be vowing to battle ahead in his bid to turn the tide of the presidential election despite unanimous, major media organization calls naming former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. the winner.
But his legal campaign, already failing to gain traction in the courts, now has a new challenge in his other main arena, the political realm.
As passionate as Mr. Trump’s core of supporters may be, and as large as his popular vote was, it was millions smaller than that of Mr. Biden, whose vote share has already shattered records even as it continues to grow with the counting.
On Saturday, the Trump campaign released a statement from the president saying, “The simple fact is this election is far from over.” On Monday, the president said, “Our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated.”
The only modern historical antecedent to the moment is the 2000 recount, when Al Gore sought to stave off a winning result for George W. Bush in Florida that would decide the presidency.
Mr. Trump is now, effectively, in the role of Mr. Gore, only with fewer advantages than Mr. Gore had in his ultimately losing fight.Mr. Gore won the popular vote; Mr. Trump lost it decisively.
Mr. Gore faced a deficit in the hundreds of votes in Florida; Mr. Trump faces deficits in the thousands — in some cases, tens of thousands — in every state he is contesting.
The most devastating argument Mr. Bush had against Mr. Gore was that Mr. Gore was contesting a losing result — a fact his supporters hammered home with a merciless campaign to paint Mr. Gore as a “sore loser,’’ going so far as to print signs, stickers and T-shirts proclaiming the Democratic ticket of Mr. Gore and Senator Joseph Lieberman as “Sore-Loserman.”
Mr. Gore, at least, had one thing to rest his hopes on. After calling the Florida race for him and then Mr. Bush, the television networks and The Associated Press pulled Florida back into the undecided column and left it there as the fight played out in the courts, where Mr. Gore won several important rulings.
Mr. Trump had yet to score any substantive court wins before Saturday (a Supreme Court decision on Friday night in his favor simply reiterated pre-existing guidance from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar), as the network calls trickled in.
There is, of course, one important difference. Mr. Trump has a powerful media ecosystem at his back, one that amplifies his statements and claims, no matter how false, to millions. And Fox News, a fledgling network in 2000, is now the highest-rated news network in the nation, and its nighttime hosts are more solidly behind him than they have been behind any president in the network’s history.
But on Saturday morning, Twitter was flagging Mr. Trump’s tweets proclaiming himself the victor. And, at 11:40 a.m. Fox News joined the rest of the networks, The Associated Press, The New York Times and others in naming Mr. Biden the 46th president of the United States.
Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, was fighting for his political life on Saturday in a contest that could determine which party controls the Senate, as his re-election bid headed to a January runoff against Jon Ossoff, his Democratic challenger.
Mr. Perdue had a razor-thin lead over Mr. Ossoff in a contest that demonstrated Democrats’ emerging strength in what was once a Republican stronghold in the Deep South. Neither candidate claimed a majority of votes amid a protracted count, according to The Associated Press.
The inconclusive result set up a drastic rematch between Mr. Perdue and Mr. Ossoff on Jan. 5, and thrust Georgia into the center of the nation’s political fray as Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared on track to win the White House. The state had already been scheduled to decide the fate of its other Senate seat in a special-election runoff between the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, on the same day. That makes it nearly certain that the twin Georgia races will determine which party controls the chamber just two weeks before the next presidential inauguration.
“Change has come to Georgia,” Mr. Ossoff said at a rally on Friday, “and Georgia is a part of the change coming to America.”
If Mr. Biden wins the White House and Democrats take both of Georgia’s seats, they would draw the Senate to a 50-50 tie, effectively taking control of the chamber, given the vice president’s power to cast tiebreaking votes. But that is a tall order in a state with deep conservative roots, and Republicans felt reasonably confident they could hang onto at least one of the seats needed to deny Democrats the majority.
Two other Senate races, in North Carolina and in Alaska, had not yet been called. But Republicans were leading in both and expected to win, putting them at 50 seats to the Democrats’ 48.
ATLANTA — The presidential race in Georgia is so close that a recount is inevitable, Georgia’s secretary of state said on Friday.
As of Saturday morning, Joseph R. Biden Jr. led President Trump in Georgia by more than 7,000 votes.
“With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia,” the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said on Friday at the state Capitol.
He added: “The final tally in Georgia at this point has huge implications for the entire country. The stakes are high and emotions are high on all sides. We will not let those debates distract us from our work. We will get it right, and we will defend the integrity of our elections.”
Gabriel Sterling, an official with the secretary of state’s office, said that a pool of about 4,200 ballots — most of them absentee ballots — remained to be tallied in four counties: Floyd, Cobb, Cherokee and Gwinnett, where the largest tranche is to be counted and which contains Atlanta suburban communities that have gone from leaning Republican to leaning Democratic in recent years.
The state must also deal with ballots from military and overseas voters, which will be counted if they arrived in the mail before the end of business on Friday and were postmarked by Tuesday.
Mr. Sterling said that the unofficial tally of the votes could be completed by the end of the weekend.
Flipping Georgia, a state last won by a Democrat in 1992, and where Mr. Trump won by more than 200,000 votes four years ago, would represent a significant political shift this year. The state has shown signs of trending blue, and when Mr. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016, he did so by five percentage points, a far slimmer margin than Republicans had enjoyed in previous presidential elections.
Stacey Abrams, who earlier this year was on the Biden campaign’s short list of potential vice-presidential candidates, was celebrated as Mr. Biden took the lead on Friday, a sign of her remarkable ascent as a power broker since her failed bid for governor of that state in 2018.
Celebrities, activists and voters across Georgia credited Ms. Abrams with building a well-funded network of organizations that highlighted voter suppression in the state and inspired an estimated 800,000 residents to register to vote.
Ms. Abrams declined to comment on Friday. But in a tweet, she wrote, “My heart is full” and cited the work of other activists.
Perhaps no one wants the election to end more than the vote counters themselves.
With tens of thousands of ballots still to be counted in states where President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. were separated by slim margins — and an anxious nation riveted by every change in the count — a small army of workers continued to tally votes four days after the polls closed.
Beyond the tedium and the exhaustion, they were facing the added stress of trying to keep themselves safe as coronavirus cases in the United States hit record highs. Still, with masks covering their faces and gloves guarding their hands, they soldiered on into Saturday.
In some election offices, safety measures including social distancing, meant that fewer ballot counters could work at the same time than in previous elections, slowing the process.
One election official in the Westmoreland County, Pa., tested positive for the coronavirus in the last few days, according to Douglas W. Chew, a county elections commissioner, who said that no other employees had tested positive as of Saturday.
And, while many polling stations use scanners to process thousands of ballots rapidly, at this point in the count they were also processing ballots that could not be read by machines for a variety of reasons.
While each state has its own rules and methods, the scene in West Chester, Pa., was a familiar one. Election workers, seated under fluorescent lights, sorting and feeding ballots by hand into high-speed scanners. At this station, weary workers were given the weekend off and will resume counting inside the university gym Monday morning.
But others worked through the night and into the morning on Saturday. While they counted, independent observers watched over their shoulders and some places offered livestreaming feeds online for members of the public to watch scenes like the one at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. It was not exactly packed with action, but more like suspended animation as workers in neon yellow and orange jackets sat at opposite ends of tables methodically tabulating ballots.
The process could be tedious but no detail was too small for a citizenry hungry for information. Local media in Pennsylvania was filled on Saturday morning with descriptions of how ballot counters would load envelopes into machines twice: first to slice them open and then a second time to open the smaller, inner “secrecy” envelopes. Ballot counters then unfold the ballots by hand and feed them into high-speed scanners. From there, the results are saved onto memory sticks, WHYY-FM, a public radio station in Philadelphia, told its listeners.
Evelyn Smith, a graduate student in economics at the University of Michigan who counted ballots for 13 hours on Election Day, said she found the monotony of the process tedious, but meditative.
For a salary of $13 an hour, she worked from a high-school cafeteria in Ann Arbor, Mich., sorting ballots and delivering them to the next station. She said election officials at her center wore masks, but it was not always possible to maintain social distancing.
“It’s a risky thing to do, but it’s essential work,” she said.
Phil Armstrong, the county executive in Lehigh County, Pa., said it was impossible to respect social-distancing rules at the vote-counting center, given all of the ballot counters, lawyers and election observers from both parties who were present.
“It was pretty crowded,” he said. Still, the vibe was upbeat, and different tables of ballot counters had friendly competitions about how many ballots they had counted in a certain period of time.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the state of Nevada on Saturday, according to The New York Times, defeating President Trump by two percentage points.
The country had anxiously awaited the results in the battleground state for days, viewing it as a potential tipping point. But when they finally came, the moment was somewhat anticlimactic: Mr. Biden had already been declared the winner of the presidential race roughly an hour earlier, after Pennsylvania was called for him.
Still, that Mr. Biden has clinched Nevada’s six electoral votes adds to his lead in the Electoral College.
The Trump campaign had identified Nevada, which allows any losing candidate to request a recount, as one of the battleground states where it hopes to use the courts and procedural maneuvers to stave off defeat. Less than 24 hours before Election Day, a Nevada judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Republicans who had tried to stop early vote counting in Clark County.
In Nevada, where Hillary Clinton beat Mr. Trump by 2.4 percentage points in 2016, Democrats control the governor’s office and legislature, both Senate seats and all but one House seat. It was not widely expected to be a battleground state in the presidential election.
But while recent polls consistently showed Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump in Nevada, Democrats worried that some of their base working-class voters, many of whom lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, might not show up at the polls because of they would be focused on immediate concerns, like feeding their families. The state has reported more than 107,000 coronavirus cases.
PHOENIX — Joseph R. Biden Jr. held onto a narrow lead in Arizona after elections officials added thousands more votes to the results there on Saturday morning in what is likely to be one of the last large reports of new vote data from the state.
Just before 11 p.m. on Saturday, roughly 6,800 more votes were added to the statewide tally, shrinking Mr. Biden’s lead slightly to about 28,000 votes. Then, about 10 minutes later, the tally of more than 45,000 additional votes was reported by Maricopa County, the largest county in the state, winnowing Mr. Biden’s lead further to about 20,000 votes. Officials in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, said the Saturday afternoon data dump would be the last large report of tallied votes they planned to release.
Although ballots counted on Friday and Saturday have tilted in Mr. Trump’s favor, Mr. Biden was firmly ahead of the president in Maricopa County after the latest batch of votes were tallied. If the results hold, 2020 will be the first time that Maricopa County voters have chose a Democrat for president in more than 70 years.
The scene was calm on Saturday morning at the tabulation site near downtown Phoenix where Maricopa County employees were continuing their work. Only two protesters were standing in the parking lot where protests, some involving armed supporters of Mr. Trump, had unfolded this week.
One of the men in the parking lot held an American flag and said he was at the site as a single-issue voter, explaining that he was an anti-abortion campaigner. He declined to give his name.
The other pro-Trump protester was Franklyn Olivieri, 50, a Brooklyn-born construction worker who has lived in Arizona for more than two decades.
“We just want a fair count,” Mr. Olivieri said. “If it needs to go to the courts, go to the courts.”
Both of the men said they hoped any demonstration on Saturday would be peaceful.
Even Mr. Biden’s narrow edge in Arizona after days of ballot counting underscored a profound political shift in the state, a longtime Republican bastion that has lurched left in recent years, fueled by rapidly evolving demographics and a growing contingent of young Latino voters who favor liberal policies.
In one of the brightest spots for Democrats so far, the former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated the state’s Republican senator, Martha McSally, in a special election, making Mr. Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema the first two Democrats to represent Arizona in the Senate since the 1950s.
As the country waits for ballot tallies in a handful of crucial battleground states, the Trump campaign has pursued lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and said that it would demand a recount in Wisconsin.
If lawsuits and recounts persist — and if vote margins are razor thin in key swing states — it could be weeks before President Trump or Joseph R. Biden Jr. is named the winner. In some scenarios, the contest could drag into 2021, and might look something like this:
Even before Election Day, armies of lawyers for the Trump and Biden campaigns were preparing for an onslaught of litigation. Mr. Trump has long pushed allegations of voter fraud without evidence and raised questions about the validity of the mail-in vote.
“This election won’t be resolved until a losing candidate concedes defeat and congratulates his opponent,” said Edward B. Foley, an Ohio State University law professor. “And if the candidates don’t give us finality that way, then the legal process has to give it to us.”