US President Donald Trump vowed to wage legal battles against the results in states recently declared for Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee inched closer toward victory on Thursday, with gains in key states.
With just a handful of states still up for grabs, Trump tried to press his case in court in some key swing states. In spite of the aggressive Republican move, the flurry of court action did not seem obviously destined to impact the election’s outcome.
Two days after Election Day, neither candidate had amassed the votes needed to win the White House. But Biden’s victories in the Great Lakes states left him at 253, meaning he was on the cusp of becoming president-elect.
Trump, with 214 electoral votes, faced a much higher hurdle. To reach 270, he needed to claim four remaining battlegrounds: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Nevada. He led in all but Nevada.
Arizona, with 11 electoral votes, also remained to be decided, though some news networks already projected Biden as the winner there. And the former vice president also inched closer to winning Nevada, widening his lead by several thousand votes. The two states together would be enough to give him the crucial 270 electoral college votes.
It could take several more days for the vote count to conclude and a clear winner emerge.
The Trump campaign said it was confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona.
With millions of votes yet to be tabulated, Biden already had received more than 72 million, the most in history, and his campaign insisted that he was on the way to victory.
Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said Thursday on a briefing call with reporters that “the story of today is going to be a very positive story” for their campaign, but cautioned that as the counting continues, “we need to allow it to get done and get done well.”
The former vice president sought to project the appearance of a president, attending a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday. He offered reassurance that the vote counting process could be trusted.
“Be patient, folks. Votes are being counted, and we feel good about where we are,” Biden tweeted.
Trump, in contrast, was escalating his efforts to sow doubt about the outcome of the race. A day after falsely claimed that he had won, he voiced support Thursday for ceasing the tallying of legally cast votes in a tweet, saying, “STOP THE COUNT!” He later falsely asserted that ballots received after Election Day “will not be counted,” a move that if implemented would affect military ballots, as his campaign propagated unsupported allegations of fraud.
STOP THE COUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2020
Elections are run by individual state, county and local governments; and Trump’s public comments have no impact on the tallying of votes across the country.
“All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud. Plenty of proof – just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!” Trump tweeted, in a post that was promptly flagged by Twitter for containing misleading information on the election.
His campaign subsequently released the following all-caps statement on Trump’s behalf: “IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION! IF YOU COUNT THE ILLEGAL AND LATE VOTES, THEY CAN STEAL THE ELECTION FROM US!”
Trump spent much of Wednesday and Thursday in the White House residence, huddling with advisers and fuming at media coverage showing his Democratic rival picking up battlegrounds. Aides did not say when he next planned to appear in public.
Biden widened his lead over Trump in Nevada to 11,458 votes on Thursday afternoon. The former vice president had 49.5% of the vote, compared to 48.5% in a state that holds six electoral votes. CNN reported that an estimated 200,000 votes must still be counted.
The vote count was frozen in one Pennsylvania county amid a legal challenge questioning the validity of 29,000 ballots.
All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud. Plenty of proof – just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2020
Allegheny County, which covers Pittsburgh, won’t continue to tally until Friday, since most of the 35,000 ballots remaining are under dispute, it said. Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania was shrinking as mail-in ballots from urban areas were counted, with the US president currently holding 50.2% of the vote, compared to Biden’s 48.5%.
The state had 3.1 million mail ballots, and a court order allows them to be counted until Friday if they were postmarked by November 3.
Meanwhile, 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.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president would formally request a recount in Wisconsin, which Biden appeared to clinch Wednesday, citing “irregularities” in several counties. And the campaign said it was filing suits in Michigan and Pennsylvania to halt ballot counting on grounds that it wasn’t given proper access to observe. Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said additional legal action was expected in Nevada.
“We will literally be going through every single ballot,” he said of the hotly contested state.
Democrats scoffed at the legal challenges the president’s campaign filed Wednesday in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.
One of those suits in Georgia was promptly thrown out by Chatham County Superior Court Judge James Bass on Thursday. The suit filed by the state Republican Party and Trump’s campaign asked to ensure a coastal county was following state laws on processing absentee ballots.
The suit had raised concerns about 53 absentee ballots that poll observers said were not part of an original batch of ballots. County elections officials testified that all 53 ballots had been received on time.
Bass did not provide an explanation for his decision at the close of a roughly one-hour hearing. The county includes the heavily Democratic city of Savannah.
The latest legal filings, joining existing Republican legal challenges in Pennsylvania and Nevada, demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted, and raised absentee ballot concerns, the campaign said.
The Trump campaign also 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, deputy campaign manager Justin Clark said.
Trump’s campaign announced that it would ask for a recount in Wisconsin, a state the AP called for Biden on Wednesday. Campaign manager Bill Stepien 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.”
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said legal challenges were not the behavior of a winning campaign.
“What makes these charades especially pathetic is that while Trump is demanding recounts in places he has already lost, he’s simultaneously engaged in fruitless attempts to halt the counting of votes in other states in which he’s on the road to defeat,” Bates said in a statement.
As vote counting stretched into Thursday afternoon, tensions began to rise, with Trump backers rallying to stop counts in some areas and Biden supporters urging that every vote be counted.
Dozens of Trump supporters chanting “Stop the count!” descended on a ballot-tallying center in Detroit on Wednesday, while thousands of anti-Trump protesters demanding a complete vote count took to the streets in cities across the US. On Thursday, protesters were in cities in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.
Protests — sometimes about the election, sometimes about racial inequality — took place Wednesday in at least a half-dozen cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and San Diego.
In every election, results reported on election night are unofficial and ballot counting extends past Election Day. But 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. This year, because of the large numbers of mail ballots and a close race, results were expected to take longer.
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.
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.
Trump tweeted that the decision was a “big win.”
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.
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.