Joe Biden Ohio
Pollsters have called the election in Pennsylvania in favour of Democratic candidate and former Vice-President Joe Biden, making him the new President-elect of the US. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: For the past four days, the US presidential election between President Donald Trump and Democratic contender Joe Biden hinged on a few battleground states - Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Arizona has already been called by some pollsters in favour of Biden, but counting is still taking place there.

In the US, the winner of a presidential election is determined not by a popular vote but through a system called the Electoral College, which allots “electoral votes” to all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on their population. There are 538 electoral votes and the target to win the presidency is 270 electoral votes, or one more than half the Electoral College votes. All but two states use a winner-take-all approach: The candidate who wins the most votes in that state gets all of its electoral votes.

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In this election, five states with a combined total of 68 electoral votes were too close to call, meaning they were running neck and neck with too little separating them. This was mainly due to the shifting fortunes of both candidates, especially when mail-in ballots were being counted. With more than 100 million votes cast early in the form of mail-in ballots or early votes, counting these votes added to the delay in declaring the results.

What happened in Pennsylvania?

With 20 Electoral College votes, Pennsylvania was a key state that both Trump and Biden were eyeing. On Saturday, pollsters called the race in Pennsylvania for Biden who held a 30,952-vote lead after determining that the remaining ballots left to be counted would not allow Trump to catch up.

Under Pennsylvania law, a recount is automatic when the margin between two candidates in a statewide race is less than 0.5 percentage points. Biden's lead over Trump was on track to stay outside of that margin as final votes are counted.

People celebrate Biden
People celebrate as media announce that Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden has won the 2020 US presidential election in Atlanta, Georgia, US, November 7, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

There are roughly 62,000 mail ballots remaining to be counted. Biden has won the overwhelming majority of mail ballots cast in the state.

Biden's win in Pennsylvania was a dramatic turn after Trump jumped out to an early Election Day lead of 675,000 votes and prematurely declared he had won the state. Over coming days, as local elections officials tabulated more ballots, Trump's lead dropped sharply, with Biden winning roughly 75 per cent of the mail-in vote between Wednesday and Friday, according to an analysis by the AP.

Another reason the late-breaking mail vote broke Biden's way: Under state law, elections officials are not allowed to process mail-in ballots until Election Day.

What happens to the results in the other states?

Counting will continue in the other states where the results have not been called yet. But as Biden has crossed the required 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, the results in the other states will not affect the final decision, but will only reflect in the tally.

What lies ahead?

Joe Biden's transition team did not wait for a verdict in the presidential race before getting to work.

Well before Saturday's victory for Biden, longtime aide Ted Kaufman had been leading efforts to ensure the former vice president can begin building out a government in anticipation of a victory.

Kaufman is a former senator from Delaware who was appointed to fill the seat vacated when Biden was elected vice-president. He also worked on Barack Obama's transition team in 2008, and helped write legislation formalizing the presidential transition process.

Delaware boy Biden supporter
Owen Phelps, 5, of Wilmington, Del., sits on his father's shoulders and holds a campaign sign as supporters of President-elect Joe Biden congregate in a parking lot near the Chase Centre where Biden's victory rally is expected to happen tonight, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. Image Credit: AP

Biden's campaign has refused to comment on the transition process. His closest advisers say the top priority will be announcing a White House chief of staff, then assembling the pieces needed to tackle the coronavirus.

A president gets 4,000 appointees, and more than 1,200 of them must be confirmed by the Senate. That could be a challenge for Biden since the Senate may well remain controlled by the Republicans.

The transition process formally starts once the General Service Administration determines the winner based on all available facts. That's vague enough guidance that Trump could pressure the agency's director to stall.

It's also unclear if the president would meet personally with Biden. Obama met with Trump less than a week after the election, but there was no dispute about him having defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.

Key decision

Another key decision will be how Biden deploys his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris. His campaign has indicated that Biden will establish a White House-level coronavirus task force like Trump did, but it's not clear if he will tap Harris to run it. Vice President Mike Pence heads the current panel.

What about Trump?

Donald Trump has rejected the outcome of the 2020 election and promised further legal challenges. Trump, who was at his golf course in Northern Virginia when the race was called, issued a statement undermining the legitimacy of the election. "This election is far from over," Trump said. "Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor."

- with inputs from AP