Trump claims election being ‘stolen’ as Biden in touching distance of victory

‘If you count the legal votes, I easily win, if you count the illegal votes they can try and steal the election from us’

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has called for the public to stay calm as the votes are counted and said he has “no doubt” he will win the presidency. Video: Reuters

US president Donald Trump doubled down on his claims that the election process was fraudulent late on Thursday night as Democrat Joe Biden appeared to be in touching distance of winning the electoral college.

Speaking at a press conference in the White House, the president alleged: "If you count the legal votes, I easily win, if you count the illegal votes they can try and steal the election from us."

US president Donald Trump speaks in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

Denouncing mail-in ballots , which have been used by millions of Americans in this election, as “corrupt” he said that the voting apparatus of the states where counts are continuing “are run by Democrats”.

“We were winning,” he said, “and our numbers started miraculously getting whittled away in secret.”

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His comments came as Mr Biden appeared to close in on victory last night. As expected, Mr Biden’s lead increased when mail-in ballots began to be counted in recent days, while Mr Trump performed better with in-person election-day voting.

Arguing that he “decisively” won many critical states like Florida and Iowa, he said that pollsters got it “knowingly wrong,” creating the illusion of momentum for Mr Biden.

“We think we will win the election very easily. We think there’s going to be so much litigation,” he said, predicting that the election will end up in the Supreme Court.

“We can’t have an election stolen like this,” he said. “It’s not a question of who wins, Republican, Democrats, Joe myself. We can’t let this happen to our country.”

“There have been a lot of shenanigans and we can’t let that stand in our country,” he said.

Earlier his son Donald Trump junior criticised members of the Republican party for not defending his father, tweeting that the best result for the country would be for the president to declare “total war” on the election. His comments were censured by Twitter.

Pennsylvania

As counting continued throughout Thursday, Mr Biden gradually eroded the president's leads in Georgia and Pennsylvania – two states that could determine the outcome of the election.

The Trump campaign was still hopeful that the president could win in Nevada and Arizona, but even if victorious in both, Mr Trump would also need to win Georgia and Pennsylvania. In contrast, Mr Biden had several paths to victory open on Thursday night. Winning Pennsylvania alone, for example, would secure him the White House.

Prior to his unscheduled press conference last night, Mr Trump vowed to fight the election result, making unsubstantiated claims of fraud and calling for the vote-counting to stop. This is despite the fact that two of the legal challenges mounted by his campaign since election day in Michigan and Georgia were dismissed by judges yesterday on Thursday.

Nonetheless, the president’s defiant stance on challenging the election results in several states means that the contest could drag on, even if Mr Biden secures the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election.

‘The vote is sacred’

Speaking in Delaware on Thursday following a briefing on coronavirus, Mr Biden struck a confident note on behalf of himself and running mate Kamala Harris as he called for patience while all votes are counted.

"We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners." But he added: "In America, the vote is sacred. It's how people of this nation express their will. It is the will of the voters – no one, not anything else – that chooses the president of the United States of America. So each ballot must be counted."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks as US senator and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris looks on at the Queen venue in Wilmington, Delaware on November 5th. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty

“Democracy is sometimes messy, it sometimes requires a little patience as well.”

As the presidential election came down to a few tightly-fought races in key battleground states, the total number of Americans who participated in the election broke records. More than 72 million voted for Mr Biden – a record number for a presidential candidate. But more than 68 million people voted for Mr Trump – five million more than in 2016 – underscoring the enduring popularity of the controversial US president.

Counting is set to continue in Nevada and Arizona on Friday. In Nevada, Clark County registrar Joe Gloria said the bulk of the postal ballots received in the state's largest county, which spans Las Vegas, will be counted by this weekend, though the state can technically continue to receive ballots up to next Tuesday.

Unrest

Arizona was due to release fresh results on Thursday night, while counting in Pennsylvania was due to resume on Friday, with Allegheny County pausing counting on Thursday.

Speaking in Atlanta, election official Gabriel Sterling stressed that margins were tight in the state. "These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right. We're going to make sure every lawful ballot is counted,"  he said as votes in counties around the urban areas of Atlanta and Savannah continued to be tabulated.

With the US on a knife-edge as it awaited a result in the election, isolated incidents of unrest unfolded across the country. Supporters of Mr Trump gathered outside the main count centres in Maricopa County, Arizona and Detroit, Michigan.

Police also made arrests in Oregon, Minnesota and New York amid demonstrations calling for all votes to be counted.

Members of Mr Trump’s campaign continued to hold a series of press conferences in several battleground states, including Nevada and Pennsylvania, outlining their efforts to challenge voting practices in several districts through the courts.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent