Trump sues in 3 states, laying ground for contesting outcome

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A family visits the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The Trump campaign is seeking to intervene in a Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court that deals with whether ballots received up to three days after the election can be counted. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Democrat Joe Biden inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, President Donald Trump’s campaign put into action the legal strategy the president had signaled for weeks: attacking the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean his defeat. 

Democrats scoffed at the legal challenges the president’s campaign filed Wednesday in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Those largely demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted. 

Early Thursday, a separate Trump campaign lawsuit in Georgia over concerns about 53 absentee ballots was dismissed by a judge after county elections officials testified that all of those ballots had been received on time.

The Associated Press called Michigan for Biden on Wednesday. The AP has not called Georgia, Nevada or Pennsylvania. 

Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer on Thursday called the Trump campaign’s lawsuits meritless.

“I want to emphasize that for their purposes these lawsuits don’t have to have merit. That’s not the purpose. … It is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process,” Bauer said, accusing the Trump campaign of “continually alleging irregularities, failures of the system and fraud without any basis.”

But Trump campaign officials accused Democrats of trying to steal the election, despite no evidence anything of the sort was taking place.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, in a call with reporters Thursday morning, said that “every night the president goes to bed with a lead” and every night new votes “are mysteriously found in a sack.”

Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said additional legal action was expected and would be focused on giving campaign officials access to view ballots being counted.

“We will literally be going through every single ballot,” he said of the count in hotly contested Nevada.

Trump’s campaign has also announced that it will ask for a recount in Wisconsin, also a state the AP called for Biden on Wednesday. Stepien previously cited “irregularities in several Wisconsin counties,” without providing specifics.

Biden said Wednesday the count should continue in all states, adding, “No one’s going to take our democracy away from us — not now, not ever.”

Vote counting, meanwhile, stretched into Thursday. In every election, results reported on election night are unofficial and ballot counting extends past Election Day. This year, states were contending with an avalanche of mail ballots driven by fears of voting in person during a pandemic.

Mail ballots normally take more time to verify and count. And results were expected to take longer this year because there are so many mail ballots and a close race.

The lawsuits the Trump campaign filed in Michigan and Pennsylvania on Wednesday called for a temporary halt in the counting until it is given “meaningful” access in numerous locations and allowed to review ballots that already have been opened and processed. 

The AP’s Michigan call for Biden came after the suit was filed. The president is ahead in Pennsylvania, but his margin is shrinking as more mailed ballots are counted. The state had 3.1 million mail ballots, and a court order allows ballots received in the mail to be counted until Friday if they were postmarked by Nov. 3. 

On Thursday, a state appellate court ordered a Philadelphia judge to ensure that party and candidate observers can get up close to election workers processing mail-in ballots in the city. The decision came after the Trump campaign complained Tuesday that its observer could not get close enough to election workers to see the writing on the mail-in ballot envelopes, to ensure that the envelope contains a signature and an eligible voter’s name and address. Ballots without that kind of information could be challenged or disqualified. 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a CNN interview the Trump campaign’s lawsuit was “more a political document than a legal document.”

“There is transparency in this process. The counting has been going on. There are observers observing this counting, and the counting will continue,” he said.

The Michigan lawsuit claims Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, was allowing absentee ballots to be counted without teams of bipartisan observers as well as challengers. Michigan Democrats said the suit was a longshot. Poll watchers from both sides were plentiful Wednesday at one major polling place in question, the TCF Center in Detroit, the AP observed. 

The Georgia lawsuit filed in Chatham County essentially asked the judge to ensure the state laws are being followed on absentee ballots. Campaign officials said earlier they were considering similar challenges in a dozen other counties around the state. 

Trump, addressing supporters at the White House early Wednesday, talked about taking the undecided race to the Supreme Court. Though it was unclear what he meant, his comments evoked a reprise of the court’s intervention in the 2000 presidential election, which ended with a decision effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush.

But there are important differences from 2000 and they already are on display. In 2000, Republican-controlled Florida was the critical state and Bush clung to a small lead. Democrat Al Gore asked for a recount and the Supreme Court stopped it.

To some election law experts, calling for the Supreme Court to intervene now seemed premature, if not rash.

A case would have to come to the court from a state in which the outcome would determine the election’s winner, Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor, wrote on the Election Law blog. The difference between the candidates’ vote totals would have to be smaller than the ballots at stake in the lawsuit.

“As of this moment (though things can change) it does not appear that either condition will be met,” Hasen wrote.

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