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Why the Arizona and Georgia Races Are Essentially Over, but Not Officially Called

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ImageMembers of an adjudication review panel in Gwinnett County, Ga., looking over scanned ballots.
Credit…Jessica Mcgowan/Getty Images

President Trump has closed to within around 12,000 votes in Arizona, but there is no longer a realistic path for him to erase the rest of the gap.

There are only around 25,000 votes left to be counted, most of them provisional ballots, and not all of those will ultimately be verified as eligible votes. Mr. Trump would need to win the remaining vote by around a 50-point margin to fight Joe Biden back to a draw.

The challenge for the president is even greater than it looks, as about half of the remaining provisional ballots are in Democratic-leaning Pima County, home of Tucson.

Fox News and The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Biden on election night, and Decision Desk HQ made a call Wednesday night after a ballot release from Maricopa County, but Reuters, CNN, NBC News, ABC News and CBS News haven’t weighed in.

Why haven’t some networks made a projection? It almost certainly does not reflect the view that Mr. Trump has a realistic chance to win. Instead, the networks are being cautious for a simple reason: The overall margin is less than a half-point — Mr. Biden has a 49.40 share of the vote, and Mr. Trump is at 49.06 — 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-thousand possibilities, like an irregularity in the tabulated count or the kind of data entry troubles that plagued Florida in 2000.

Many news organizations — but not The A.P. — sometimes designate an “apparent” winner if a candidate appears to have clinched victory in a close election. It’s possible the networks will make that characterization once all of the votes are counted. But even if they don’t make a call, they’re just being cautious in a tight race. This one looks done.

(For most races, The New York Times automatically accepts the race calls made by The A.P. But in the most important ones, The Times sometimes takes a more conservative approach, as is the case here, particularly given the complexity of the voting in this pandemic year.)

The count might be even closer to its conclusion in Georgia, where Mr. Biden now leads by nearly three-tenths of a percentage point, or about 14,000 votes. Mr. 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 toward Mr. Biden. He leads the provisional ballots counted so far, 63 percent to 35 percent, and he also has appeared to carry 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 here again the “apparent winner” designation may be considered.

Nonetheless, Mr. 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 Mr. Trump’s chances are now so small as to not even be visible.

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