U.S. Election 2020: The Three States Everyone Is Watching Now

After Florida spared us its usual election drama, it has all come down to a familiar trio: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Officers from the sheriff’s department in Flint, Mich. take absentee ballots filled out by people in pretrial custody for counting on Tuesday—just some of the votes being tallied that could determine the outcome of the U.S. election. (Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images)

It was an election like no other thanks to COVID-19, and as the votes come in, it’s becoming clear that election night is just the beginning of the end of it. An unprecedented number of Americans voted by mail, a practice Democrats encouraged and Republicans criticized, without evidence, as insecure and ripe for fraud. Some states reported mail-in and early votes first, but a handful of key battlegrounds are still counting them. With results neck and neck, it might take days to decisively declare a winner—and since Democrats were more likely to mail in their votes, the final tally may look significantly different at the end of that process. Here’s a look at what’s going on in three key states, all in the industrial heartland.


This state was a Democratic stronghold for decades until Donald Trump won it by a narrow margin in 2016. Joe Biden has been consistently polling ahead of Trump there, but Trump had a five-point lead as of just after midnight Wednesday. About two-thirds of the state’s votes had been counted at that time, however. Officials in Wisconsin have their work cut out for them—the state’s 1,800-plus municipalities are responsible for conducting their own elections, rather than running them through a central office like most states. Clerks weren’t allowed to start counting ballots until polls opened on election day, but Gov. Tony Evers has said he hopes to be able to report full results by Wednesday.


Michigan is a state of contradictions: A labour union stronghold and a bastion of American gun culture, with a Democrat for a governor and a far-right paramilitary group—one of several in the state—whose members concocted a thwarted plot to kidnap said governor because of her COVID-19 lockdown measures. Like Wisconsin, Michigan went solidly Democrat in presidential elections for decades until Trump came along, winning it by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. And like Wisconsin, Biden had been consistently polling ahead of Trump. As of midnight Wednesday, Trump was leading by 10 points, but officials had only counted about half of all votes. Michigan election officials were only allowed to start counting ballots 10 hours before election day and the state expects to be one of the last states to report results, predicting it will be Friday or later. A possible Supreme Court challenge around when ballots can be received and still be counted could tie things up even longer.


Pennsylvania is the big, fat electoral college prize of the rust belt, with 20 electoral college votes. And Trump polled better there than he did in other states in the region. As of just after midnight Wednesday, Trump was up 15 points, with just over half of all ballots counted. Voters have returned about one million ballots in the state, but like Wisconsin and Michigan, election officials were legally prevented from counting them early. Still, the state has said it expects to be able to report a final result by the end of the week.