ATLANTA — As the vote counting continued Wednesday, people across the nation watched to see whether Georgia would finally become the swing state that Democrats have long hoped for.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Georgia's presidential contest because the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is too early to call. But with many of the votes left to tally in counties that tend to vote blue, Democrats had reason for optimism.
No Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992, and it's been 22 years since a Democratic nominee for governor or U.S. Senate carried the state. But some cracks in the GOP grip on power were evident two years ago when Democrat Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the gubernatorial contest to Republican Brian Kemp but refused to concede.
Shifting demographics — with more Black, Latino and Asian American voters joined by white transplants from other states — have made the state more competitive. The populous suburbs in Cobb and Gwinnett counties just north of Atlanta had already flipped for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and stayed there for Abrams in 2018.
Trump claimed in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that it was "clear that we have won Georgia." But Biden nodded to the state's potential swing status, saying as he spoke ahead of the president: "We're still in the game in Georgia, although that's not one we expected."
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state's top election official, said just under 150,000 votes remained to be tallied Wednesday evening. That was down from an estimated 200,000 earlier in the day.
"My team has sent reminders to counties to get all, let me repeat, all of our results counted today. Every legal vote will count," he said at a news conference.
Raffensperger also said that ballots that usually aren't counted until after Election Day such as those sent by military people and other citizens living overseas will eventually be incorporated into the final totals.
In Fulton County, home to Atlanta and Georgia's most populous county, election officials brought in a fresh shift of workers Wednesday night. Rick Barron, the county elections supervisors, said he planned to keep working until midnight or later to finish the count.
"We're going to finish tonight," said Barron, who estimated about 36,000 absentee ballots remained to be counted. "As long as it takes we're going to be here."
Trump and Biden are locked in a tight contest to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Georgia offers 16 electoral votes.
Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz said during a video news briefing Wednesday that it may take several days before the final outcome is known in Georgia and the final margin will likely be very small.
"I think that it's going to end up very, very close and Biden, I'd say, has a chance to win Georgia," he said. "That's close to a 50-50 proposition, I would say."
In Chatham County, a heavily Democratic county that includes Savannah, the Georgia Republican Party and the Trump campaign filed suit Wednesday essentially asking a judge to ensure that state laws are being followed on absentee ballots. Campaign officials said they were considering peppering a dozen other counties around the state with similar legal filings.
In Gwinnett County, also one of Georgia's largest, a software problem interfered with the way thousands of mailed absentee ballots are scanned in batches, county officials said. Raffensperger's office said that problem was addressed on Tuesday night.
Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer tweeted Wednesday: "Fulton County told our observers last night to go home because they were closing up and then continued to count ballots in secret."
County officials disputed that. Barron told the county board of commissioners that when he learned staffers were dismissed at 10:30 Tuesday night, he advised that some of them needed to stay, county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said in an email.
"Based on that directive, a smaller crew continued to work through the night," Corbitt said. "It may be possible that observers left at the time the majority of the staff left, but from the information we have, the processing area was never closed to observers."
In neighboring DeKalb County, officials stopped overnight but resumed counting absentee ballots Wednesday.
Inside State Farm Arena, the home of the Atlanta Hawks NBA team, about 50 people were counting Fulton County votes in a well-lit conference room on Wednesday.
Several miles away, representatives for the Democratic and Republican parties sat around a few computers in a corner of a large warehouse on Atlanta's westside to review Fulton County absentee ballots that were flagged by scanners. They reviewed the ballots on monitors, looking for marks that indicated voters' intent.
In Cobb County, also in metro Atlanta, approximately 15,000 absentee ballots remained to be processed on Wednesday or Thursday, Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said Wednesday morning. Then, on Friday, the county plans to process another 882 provisional ballots along with any military and overseas ballots and any ballots with missing or mismatched signatures that have been corrected.