Republicans are keeping their legal options open to challenge absentee ballots in Pennsylvania, if the battleground state could swing President Donald Trump's reelection. A top Democratic lawyer says the suits are meant to sow doubt about the results and lack merit.
Two federal lawsuits aim to prevent absentee votes from being counted. The GOP already has laid the groundwork at the Supreme Court for an effort to exclude ballots that arrive after polls close. Trump has railed over several days about the high court's pre-election refusal to rule out those ballots.
"You have to have numbers. You can't have these things delayed for many days and maybe weeks. You can't do that. The whole world is waiting," Trump said election day at his campaign headquarters.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday (local time), Republicans and a local voter accused county officials in suburban Philadelphia of improperly sorting deficient ballots before Tuesday to give voters a chance to fix problems. The suit comes after county Republicans noted a pile of ballots set aside, during a walk-through of operations at the county courthouse in Norristown on Sunday.
Neither suit will matter in the long run unless the gap between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is so small that a few thousand votes, or even a few hundred, could make the difference.
Biden legal team attorney Bob Bauer said in a call with reporters on Tuesday that many lawsuits fronted by the GOP around the country were designed only to get attention and to arouse unnecessary concern in voters, unsupported by any true legal basis.
"They're designed to generate the appearance of a cloud over the election," he said.
Since the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, both parties have marshalled legal teams to prepare for the unlikely event that voting doesn't settle the contest. This year, there is a near presumption that legal fights will ensue and that only a definitive outcome is likely to forestall them.
Even before election day, the 2020 race was the most litigated in memory.
With early voting numbers eclipsing 2016 figures, there's already been roughly 300 election-related lawsuits filed in dozens of states across the country. Many involve changes to normal procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the US and sickened more than 9 million. Legal battles ensued over signature matches, drop boxes and secrecy envelopes.
The candidates and parties have enlisted prominent lawyers with ties to Democratic and Republican administrations should that litigation take on a new urgency.
The Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court pits Donald Verrilli, who was President Barack Obama's top Supreme Court lawyer, against John Gore, a onetime high-ranking Trump Justice Department official.
Trump said this weekend he was headed to court to prevent Pennsylvania from counting mailed ballots that are received in the three days after the election. An extension was ordered by Pennsylvania's top court. The Supreme Court left that order in place in response to a Republican effort to block it.
Trump is unhappy over the decision, even though Pennsylvania will keep those ballots separate from the rest in case of renewed court interest. He spent much of his final days of campaigning railing against the decision, often employing inaccurate characterisations that it would allow "rampant and unchecked cheating" as well as undermine the law and even foster street violence. No evidence supports that view.
Like Pennsylvania, North Carolina has seen a court fight between Democrats who support extending the deadline for absentee ballots and Republicans who oppose it. The six-day extension was approved by a state court.
In Minnesota, late-arriving ballots also will be segregated from the rest of the vote because of ongoing litigation, under a federal appeals court order.
Republican lawsuits have challenged local decisions that could take on national significance in a close election.
In Texas, Republicans asked state and federal courts to order election officials in the Houston area not to count ballots dropped off at drive-in locations. The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday denied the GOP's plea. On Monday, a federal judge also turned away the effort to invalidate the nearly 127,000 votes. Appeals were planned.
In Nevada, a state court judge rejected a bid by the Trump campaign and state Republicans to stop the count of mail-in ballots in Las Vegas, the state's most populous and Democratic-leaning county. Republicans appealed to the state Supreme Court. Around 400,000 absentee ballots from Clark County have been returned and accepted as valid, according to state election data.
"I still can't figure how counting and verifying absentee ballots is going to go in some of the battleground states like Pennsylvania," said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law expert.
Several conservative justices indicated they'd be open to taking the issue up after the election, especially if those late-arriving ballots could mean the difference in the state.