BBC.COM – Early results from the US presidential election between incumbent Republican Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden show a nail-biting race in crucial battleground states.
Donald Trump leads Joe Biden in the potentially pivotal race of Florida with almost all votes counted.
But other key states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina are toss-ups.
The vote caps a long and bitter race.
More than 100 million people cast their ballots in early voting before election day on Tuesday – setting US on course for its highest turnout in a century.
Control of Congress is also at stake. As well as the White House, Republicans are vying to hang on to a Senate majority.
The House of Representatives is expected to stay in Democratic hands.
What are the results so far?
The battlegrounds in the Midwest and Rust Belt of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio look as though they could go either way in the White House race.
With partial results in, Mr Biden has a solid lead in Arizona. A loss for Mr Trump in that once reliably Republican state would be a blow.
But another sunbelt state, Texas, is leaning Mr Trump’s way, projects CBS News, the BBC’s US partner.
Cliffhanger counts are also under way in two more critical swing states on the East Coast, Georgia and North Carolina.
Both Florida and Pennsylvania are considered must-wins for Mr Trump if he is to be re-elected to a second term in office.
No surprises have emerged yet in the other states.
The BBC projects Mr Trump will hold on to Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska, Utah, Louisiana, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas and West Virginia, all as expected.
The BBC also projects Mr Biden will keep his home state of Delaware, along with New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington DC in his column.
CBS also projects Montana, Kansas and Wyoming are leaning Mr Trump’s way.
Trending towards Mr Biden are Minnesota, Nevada, Maine, Illinois and Rhode Island, CBS projects.
Mr Trump narrowly lost Minnesota in 2016 and his campaign is hoping to pick it up this time.
Voting ends on the US West Coast at 23:00 EST (04:00 GMT on Wednesday).
National opinion polls gave a firm lead to Mr Biden, but pointed to a closer race in the handful of states that are likely to decide the outcome.
Projections are based on a mixture of exit poll data and, in most cases, actual votes counted – and are only made where there is a high degree of certainty.
In the US election, voters decide state-level contests rather than an overall, single, national one.
Appearances can be deceiving
As the minutes turn into hours on election night, Joe Biden has posted early leads in several swing states that would help clear his path toward the White House.
Donald Trump needs both Ohio and North Carolina in his column for his electoral maths to work out, but Mr Biden has modest leads in both states with more than half of all voters reported.
Democrats shouldn’t count on those margins holding up, however. As predicted, the early and mail-in votes trended toward Mr Biden, while the election-day results have favoured Mr Trump.
As more and more of those in-person votes are counted, the president will slowly, inexorably claw his way back. It’s just a question of whether there are enough votes left to count.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump leads in Virginia, but the count there always trends Republican early, until the heavily Democratic suburbs of Washington DC, report their results.
What does the exit poll data show?
An exit poll conducted by Edison Research and published by Reuters suggests that four out of 10 voters nationally think the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the US is “going very badly”.
A third of voters cited the economy as the issue that most concerned them, according to the poll.
Exit poll data also suggest Mr Biden had the edge with women voters by 57% to 42%, with black voters (87% to 11%), with under-29 year olds (64% to 33%) and among voters with or without a college degree.
Mr Trump appeared to hold the advantage with over 65 year olds (51% to 48%).
Where are the candidates?
Mr Trump, who is watching the returns from the White House, is expected to address the nation later on Tuesday evening.
The president is hosting an election night party inside the presidential mansion with about 400 guests invited.
Mr Biden was at his home with family in Wilmington, Delaware, with few aides around, according to CBS.
A senior Biden adviser told CBS the Biden team “feel good”.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Trump, sounding a little hoarse, spoke to Fox News by phone, said he had a “really solid chance” of winning.
Asked when he would declare victory, he added: “When there’s victory. If there’s victory… there’s no reason to play games.”
A new “non-scalable” fence has been put up around the White House in Washington DC.
How will the election work?
To be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 votes in what is called the electoral college. Each US state gets a certain number of votes partly based on its population and there are a total of 538 up for grabs.
This system explains why it is possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally – as Hillary Clinton did in 2016 – but still lose the election.
Control of the Senate is also at stake in these elections, with the Democrats seeking to gain control of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time since early in Barack Obama’s first term.
Coronavirus has at times overshadowed the campaign, with the pandemic in the US worsening over the final weeks. The country has recorded more cases and more deaths than anywhere else in the world, and fear of infection has contributed to an unprecedented surge in early and postal voting.
Who decides which candidate wins a state?
The final election results don’t get certified for days or even weeks, so it falls to US media organisations to predict, or project, the winner in each state much sooner.
Teams of election experts and statisticians analyse a mixture of information such as exit poll data – interviews at polling stations and phone calls with early voters – and actual votes counted. In a state that always votes for one party, the results are sometimes projected as soon as voting ends, based on exit polls. In a closer contest, however, the data will draw heavily on the actual count.
This year the BBC gets its data from polling firm Edison Research who do the field work for the exit polls and work with US networks, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. Record levels of early voting have complicated this count, so there is no race to be first. If the BBC and its partners don’t believe there is enough data to project a winner, they won’t – even if others are doing so.
When will we get a result?
It can take several days for every vote to be counted after any US presidential election, but it is usually pretty clear who the winner is by the early hours of the following morning.
However officials are already warning that we may have to wait longer – possibly days, even weeks – for the result this year because of the expected surge in postal ballots.
Different states have different rules for how – and when – to count postal ballots, meaning there will be large gaps between them in terms of reporting results. In some states it will take weeks to get complete results.
The last time the result was not clear within a few hours was in 2000, when the winner, George W Bush, was not confirmed until a Supreme Court ruling was made a month later.