After waiting game, media moves swiftly to call Biden winner

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo employees at The Abbey Food & Bar watch CNN presidential-election coverage as they have lunch in West Hollywood, Calif. With a fifth day of vote counting testing the nation's patience, news organizations on Saturday, Nov. 7, moved swiftly following a crucial release of data from Pennsylvania to declare Democrat Joe Biden winner of the presidential election. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo employees at The Abbey Food & Bar watch CNN presidential-election coverage as they have lunch in West Hollywood, Calif. With a fifth day of vote counting testing the nation's patience, news organizations on Saturday, Nov. 7, moved swiftly following a crucial release of data from Pennsylvania to declare Democrat Joe Biden winner of the presidential election. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File) (Invision)

NEW YORK – With a fifth day of vote counting testing the nation's patience, news organizations on Saturday moved swiftly following a crucial release of data from Pennsylvania to declare Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.

CNN made its call at 11:24 a.m. Eastern, and was followed within two minutes by The Associated Press, NBC, CBS and ABC. Fox News called the race at 11:40.

Because votes are counted state by state, verdicts by the media outlets' decision desks serve as the unofficial finish line for the presidential race. The dramatic changes in how people voted this year, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the challenges that created for tallying ballots, complicated the process.

The closeness of the race in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina proved another challenge.

“We just have to be certain before we call a winner in the presidential election,” said Sally Buzbee, executive editor and senior vice president of the AP.

Heading into Saturday, CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC — which coordinate their vote counts and exit polls — had Biden at 253 electoral votes. Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes would put him above the 270 needed to win. The AP and Fox News, which share election data, each had Biden at 264 electoral votes because they had called Arizona for the former vice president earlier in the week.

A methodical count of mail-in ballots from Pennsylvania erased an earlier Trump lead there. On Saturday morning, Biden's margin in that state exceeded 34,000 and above the level that triggers a mandatory recount, and the news organizations concluded simultaneously that the lead was too big for Trump to erase.

AP reporters investigated the composition of yet-to-be counted provisional ballots and also determined they wouldn't be enough to help Trump win, Buzbee said. Voters cast a provisional ballot if there is some question about their eligibility, for instance, if they had turned up at the wrong polling place.