President Donald Trump was clinging to narrow leads in Michigan and Wisconsin when he leveled charges of fraud early Wednesday and claimed he had 'won' the election.
But as Trump and his advisors knew, there were plenty of votes in both states that had yet to be counted – and they were not votes that were expected to break even between the two candidates.
As the hours ticked by after the sun came up on the East Coast, the lead vanished in both states. By Wednesday afternoon, networks had called Wisconsin for Joe Biden.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden came from a deficit in Wisconsin to carry the state, according to network calls, as votes came in from urban areas and mail-in ballots
It wasn't due to irregularities – in an election officials were praising Wednesday for proceeding in relatively good order.
It was a version of the 'red mirage' that election experts had warned about – although it drew attention only in a handful of battlegrounds where Biden had been polling well.
There were two keys to Biden's apparent come-from-behind effort. The first factor was where the outstanding votes were located. Substantial votes were still to be tallied in Milwaukee County, which includes the city of Milwaukee. The raw numbers vastly overwhelmed what was still trickling in from rural counties. Out of more than 3 million votes cast, Milwaukee accounts for about 450,000. Biden's final margin there was 69 to 29.
It was a similar situation in Michigan, where Trump's early 'lead' crumbled as votes came in from Wayne County, which includes Detroit.
President Donald Trump claimed he 'won' the election early Wednesday and accused Democrats of fraud in the count without providing evidence
Biden found thousands of additional votes in Wayne County, which includes Detroit
Biden also claimed additional votes in Milwaukee County
Lopsided margins in Milwaukee aided Biden
Biden was way up in Detroit
Although Trump claimed he had 'won' and votes were being taken from him, county officials were simply processing votes using divergent methods at different counties – and the large populous counties ended up taking longer in some cases.
A second critical factor had to do with mail-in ballots. Many states have laws on the books that prevent them from counting mail-in or absentee ballots before Election Day. In the case of Michigan, the state's GOP legislature had turned back efforts to advance the count, even with a crush of mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
'You may be thinking, why are we still waiting to hear from Michigan and why are they still counting our ballots,' Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told CNN. 'Well, for about 18 months election clerks and I called on the state legislature to update ours law to provide time for preprocessing of ballots ... Now our legislature chose not to make that change to our laws, and here we are in Michigan where our counting process is continuing long after the polls have closed.'
She noted that in nearby Ohio, mail-in ballots did get counted early. This contributed to a mirror image of what happened in Michigan. Joe Biden seized an early lead among the initial count, only to watch Donald Trump seize a health 53 to 45 victory.
Even before Election Day, polling had revealed that vastly more Biden voters opted for mail-in voting compared to Trump supporters – after Trump repeatedly attacked mail-in balloting as prone to fraud despite some states using it for years.
Biden was even able to pad his lead from mail votes that came in from urban centers of