The US presidential race hovers in suspended animation four days after the election as the vote counting process continues.
The delay in producing a verdict in the contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden can be attributed to high turnout, a massive number of postal votes and slim margins between the candidates.
Mr Biden holds leads in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia, putting him in an ever-stronger position to capture the 270 electoral college votes needed to take the White House.
There is intense focus on Pennsylvania, where Mr Biden leads Mr Trump by more than 28,000 votes, and Nevada, where Mr Biden is up by about 22,000. The prolonged wait adds to the anxiety of a nation facing historic challenges, including the surging coronavirus pandemic and deep political polarisation.
When Mr Biden addressed the nation on Friday night near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, he acknowledged the sluggish pace of the count “can be numbing”. But he added: “Never forget the tallies aren’t just numbers. They represent votes and voters.”
He expressed confidence that victory will ultimately be his. “The numbers tell us a clear and convincing story. We’re going to win this race,” the former vice president said.
Standing alongside running mate Kamala Harris, Mr Biden was not able to give the acceptance speech at that time that his aides had hoped. But he hit notes of unity, seemingly aimed at cooling the temperature of a heated, divided nation.
He said: “We have to remember the purpose of our politics isn’t total unrelenting, unending warfare. No, the purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict, but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give everybody a fair shot.”
Mr Trump left the White House for his Virginia golf club dressed in golf shoes, a windbreaker and a white hat as the results gradually expanded Mr Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania. On Saturday, Mr Trump repeated baseless allegations of election fraud and illegal voting on Twitter, but they were quickly flagged as potentially misleading by the social media platform.
Mr Biden was spending Saturday morning with family and advisers at home in Wilmington, Delaware, his campaign said.
Mr Trump’s campaign was mostly quiet. It was a dramatic difference from earlier in the week, when officials vocally projected confidence and held news conferences announcing litigation in key states. But his inner circle was touched once again by coronavirus.
Mr Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, contracted the virus. Several other members of the White House staff and Mr Trump’s campaign team also tested positive.
Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been the defining issue of the campaign. The president, first lady Melania Trump and several other people in Mr Trump’s orbit have fallen ill and recovered.
A few states remain in play in the race. Georgia and North Carolina are still too close to call, along with Pennsylvania and Nevada. In all four states the margins between Mr Trump and Mr Biden are too narrow and the number of ballots left to be counted too great for The Associated Press to declare a winner.
The uncertainty leaves Americans across the nation glued to their TVs and smartphones, checking for updates to the vote count.
The delays – and the reasons – vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, officials were not allowed to begin processing postal votes until polling day under state law. In Nevada, there were a number of provisional ballots cast by voters who registered on polling day, and officials had to verify their eligibility. Recounts could be triggered in both Pennsylvania and Georgia.
With his path to re-election appearing to greatly narrow, Mr Trump is testing how far he can go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in the vote.
He took to Twitter late on Friday to pledge further legal action, tweeting that “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!”
Mr Trump did claim that he won late on election night. He also tweeted that he had “such a big lead in all of these states late into election night, only to see the leads miraculously disappear as the days went by,” although it was well known that votes cast before Tuesday were still being legally counted.