Why some races are essentially over, but not officially called

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New York: US President Donald Trump has closed to within around 11,000 votes in the state of Arizona, but there is no longer a realistic path for him to erase the rest of the gap.

There were only around 16,000 votes left to be counted in the state by Friday AEDT, most of them provisional ballots, and not all of those will ultimately be verified as eligible votes. The late ballots coming in have generally been in his favour, but Trump would need to win the remaining vote by more than a 60-point margin to fight President-elect Joe Biden back to a draw.

The challenge for the President became even tougher earlier in the day when ballots released from Democratic-leaning Pima County, home of Tucson, were barely in his favour.

Counter-protesters hold signs as supporters of USPresident Donald Trump gather at a ‘Stop the Steal’ protest after President-elect Joe Biden was declared the winner of the US presidential election, in Phoenix, Arizona.Credit:Bloomberg

Fox News and the Associated Press called the race for Biden on election night, and Decision Desk HQ made a call the following day after a ballot release from Maricopa County, but Reuters, CNN, NBC News, ABC News and CBS News hadn't weighed in. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age called the result in accordance with the Associated Press.

Late on Thursday, US time, (Friday AEDT) The New York Times, CNN, ABC and NBC also called the race for Biden.

After the three networks released their projections, Meghan McCain tweeted a photograph of her late father, John McCain, a Republican who represented the state in the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years, with the words: "I like people who don't lose Arizona."

That was a reference to a remark Trump made during the 2016 campaign about John McCain, a frequent critic and one of the country's most revered veterans. "He was a war hero because he was captured," Trump said. "I like people who weren't captured."

Why don't some networks made a projection? It almost certainly does not reflect the view that Trump has a realistic chance to win. Instead, the networks are being cautious for a simple reason: The overall Arizona margin was less than a half-point — Biden has a 49.4 per cent share of the vote, and Trump was at 49.06 per cent — which is generally the threshold for a network projection. If it's closer than that, the decision desks start to wonder about one-in-a-1000 possibilities, like an irregularity in the tabulated count or the kind of data entry troubles that plagued Florida in 2000.

Many news organisations — but not the AP — sometimes designate an "apparent" winner if a candidate appears to have clinched victory in a close election. But this one looks done.

The count might be even closer to its conclusion in Georgia, where Biden now leads by nearly three-tenths of a percentage point, or about 14,000 votes. Trump has even less cause for hope here.

Very few votes remain to be counted, as most of Georgia's counties — but not its most Democratic counties around Atlanta — have already certified their results.

And unlike in Arizona, the late ballots have broken towards Biden. He was leading the provisional ballots counted so far, 63 per cent to 35 per cent, and he also appears to have carried non-provisional ballots counted after the election, like those from overseas and ballots that had the chance to be "cured" of flaws like a missing signature.

Here again, the networks haven't made a projection. Not only is the race tight enough to merit the extra layer of caution, but the Georgia Secretary of State has also announced that the race will go to a hand recount. Network decision desks typically do not make a projection if there's a recount — although again the "apparent winner" designation may be considered here.

Nonetheless, Biden's lead in Georgia appears safe. I am not aware of any case where a recount has overturned such a wide advantage. The Georgia race might not be called until the statewide result is certified, but Trump's chances are now so small as to not even be visible.

In order to reverse the results of last week's vote and get the 270 electoral votes required to win, Trump, who has made baseless claims of election fraud, would have to move at least three battleground states into his column.

Overall, Biden now leads Trump by more than 5 million popular votes.

The New York Times, Bloomberg

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Understand the election result and its aftermath with expert analysis from US correspondent Matthew Knott. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald‘s newsletter here, The Age‘s here, Brisbane Times‘ here and WAtoday‘s here. 

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