Understanding What Challenges the Trump Campaign Is Bringing to Contest the 2020 Election Results
Trump's campaign has pursued legal action as his path toward victory over Joe Biden grows narrow
President Donald Trump’s campaign has been throwing what one prominent election law expert called “Hail Mary legal plays” in the last week, still refusing to accept his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden.
The Republican campaign’s legal efforts are an apparent last-ditch effort to swing ballot counts back in the president’s favor, though officials in almost every U.S. state — both Democratic and Republican — have since said there was no widespread fraud as Trump claims.
Officials from 45 states told The New York Times instead that the 2020 election generally went smoothly, despite the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the president’s continued claims that the election was somehow “stolen” from him. (The Times spoke with officials in those 45 states as well as found comment along similar lines from four other states.)
Meanwhile, a former Trump administration official and current adviser told PEOPLE the president's team was on track to pursue his legal options — slim though they may be — before he would concede.
Outside experts say the court battles are “unlikely” to change the outcome for the president, while world leaders have since joined in on congratulating Biden for his victory.
“It is very unlikely that the efforts will be successful,” Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told PEOPLE.
“Even if lawsuits continue,” Hasen said, “I don’t think they would have much chance of affecting the election outcome or slowing certification, unless some new problems come to light.”
Here's where the Trump campaign's legal challenges stand.
In Georgia, a judge dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit after election officials testified they had properly counted a few dozen ballots the campaign's lawyers alleged they hadn’t, the Associated Press reported.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said Monday it was “laughable” that the Trump campaign’s accused him of not being transparent enough with the election results, noting that the state had provided hourly updates on voting totals in many cases, according to the Times.
Raffensperger, 65, said he expected to find minor instances of fraud, as is typical for an election, but said he did not think any findings would change the outcome of his state’s results. On Wednesday, he ordered a full hand-recount of the ballots after the Trump campaign requested it.
Biden, 77, won the state over Trump, 74, by more than 14,000 votes according to ballots cast so far, the AP shows.
In Michigan on Thursday, an appeals judge denied a Trump campaign lawsuit that attempted to stop the state's ongoing count by claiming Republican officials weren't granted appropriate access to monitoring the counting process.
The Detroit Free Press reported more than 100 Republican observers had watched absentee counts last week.
“Come on now,” Judge Cynthia Stephens told the president’s lawyers, dismissing the campaign's case because it lacked sufficient evidence.
The campaign announced plans Monday to file another lawsuit in Michigan, the Free Press reported. That suit was filed Wednesday and included sworn statements from more than 100 people, according to the paper, but none that show "proof of widespread fraud or egregious misconduct."
A federal judge rejected a Republican lawsuit in Nevada after finding no evidence to support the filing's claim that the state's automated ballot counting machines were faulty, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.
The Trump campaign, along with the state GOP, settled a state court case last week to expand voter observation, local TV station KSNV reported. The settlement has no impact on the outcome of the 2020 election, however.
In its rejected claim, the president’s lawyers had accused thousands of voters of casting ballots while no longer living in Nevada. Hundreds of the voters the campaign cited were military families who used absentee voting.
One military spouse told The Military Times the Trump campaign's accusations were “shocking.”
"To see my integrity challenged, along with other members of the military to be challenged in this way, it is a shock. And to be potentially disenfranchised because of these actions, that's not okay," Amy Rose, who votes absentee while she and her family is stationed in California, told the outlet.
Pennsylvania was long expected to be a critical step in either candidate’s path to win the election.
Biden beat Trump by more than 47,500 votes in the state, which was called Saturday for the Democratic nominee, pushing him over the edge to win the general election.
However, after Biden racked up victories in enough other swing states — like Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — he would still have the 270 required electoral votes to win the election even without Pennsylvania.
That means any legal challenges in the state may be moot, Hasen, the law professor, explained on his website last week: “It does not seem that Pennsylvania will be crucial to a Biden electoral college victory and so any litigation over ballots there would not matter.”
Still, the Trump campaign and Republican officials backing the president’s so-far-unproven claims see the state as its central battleground for a legal fight.
On Monday, 10 attorneys general filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking to join a Pennsylvania lawsuit, arguing the state’s 2020 outcome also impacts their own.
With this lawsuit, the state Republican Party is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling from September that had allowed Pennsylvania officials to accept properly postmarked mail-in ballots until Nov. 6, three days after the election.
Separately, the president’s campaign has filed a number of other lawsuits across the state.
A state court had approved a Trump legal request to allow GOP election observers to stand closer to the individuals carrying out the vote count. While the president and his campaign celebrated the ruling as a "big legal win," it did not have a discernible impact on the overall vote count.
Trump campaign filed a federal lawsuit on Monday in Harrisburg, alleging the state mishandled mail-in voting and didn’t allow Republican election observers fair access to watch the count. The lawsuit asks courts to stop the state from certifying its results, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Pennsylvania, as are all other states across the country, is currently undergoing its usual review process to certify its election count and double-check the state's original tally.
A Wisconsin Recount
The Trump campaign has said they will ask for a recount in Wisconsin, where the incumbent president lost the state by more than 20,000 votes after pulling off an upset win there in 2016.
Wisconsin election experts and former state officials soon advised that such review processes typically don’t result in drastic changes to the overall count and that the campaign’s efforts would likely be fruitless. Scott Walker, a former Republican governor of Wisconsin, said on Twitter that the 20,000-vote margin was “a high hurdle” for Trump’s campaign lawyers to challenge even as he supported the move.
History indicates the Trump campaign’s efforts may be futile, Walker explained.
“After recount in 2011 race for WI Supreme Court, there was a swing of 300 votes," he wrote on Twitter. "After recount in 2016 Presidential race in WI, [Trump’s] numbers went up by 131.”
Despite such hurdles and the campaign's lack of evidence thus far, some Republican officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have backed the president’s ongoing legal fight.
Privately, some Republicans have reportedly maintained clarity on the issue despite not speaking out against the president — while numerous critics say Trump's stubbornness corrodes faith in the election process itself, for no reason.
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” one senior Republican official told The Washington Post this week. “[Trump] went golfing this weekend. It’s not like he’s plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He’s tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he’ll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he’ll leave.”