President Donald Trump and his allies are pushing forward with a slapdash and erratic effort to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, taking unprecedented steps to subvert the results of the 2020 election.
Among their last-ditch tactics: summoning Michigan state legislators to the White House on Friday to explore an elector-replacement gambit, personally calling local election officials who are trying to rescind their certification votes in Michigan, suggesting in a legal challenge that Pennsylvania set aside the popular vote there and pressuring county officials in Arizona to delay certifying vote tallies.
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Election law experts see it as the last, dying gasps of the Trump campaign and say Biden is certain to walk into the Oval Office come January. But there is great concern that Trump’s effort is doing real damage to public faith in the integrity of US elections.
During a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday, Biden said Americans are “witnessing incredible irresponsibility, incredibly damaging messages are being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions”.
He added, “I just think it’s totally irresponsible.”
Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and one of Trump’s most vocal GOP critics, accused Trump of resorting to “overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election”.
Romney added, “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) November 20, 2020
Trump’s own election security agency has declared the 2020 presidential election to have been the most secure in history on November 12. Days after that statement was issued, Trump fired the agency’s leader.
The increasingly desperate moves have no reasonable chance of changing the outcome of the 2020 election, in which Biden has now received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history and has clinched the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win, with a total of 306, compared with Trump’s 232.
But the Republican president’s actions and his allies’ refusal to admit he lost is likely to have a lasting negative effect on the country. Legions of his supporters do not believe he lost.
About half of Republicans polled by Reuters/Ipsos said Trump “rightfully won” the election but had it stolen from him in systemic fraud favouring Biden, according to a survey conducted between November 13 and 17. Just 29 percent of Republicans said Biden rightfully won.
Replacement elector theory
Trump has invited Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, to the White House, two officials familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. The two have agreed to go, according to one official, and they are expected to visit on Friday afternoon.
The Trump campaign’s latest strategy, as described to Reuters by three people familiar with the plan, is to convince Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states won by Biden, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, to undermine the results.
“The entire election frankly in all the swing states should be overturned and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for Trump,” Sidney Powell, one of Trump’s lawyers, told Fox Business television on Thursday.
This theory stems from an obscure federal law that allows state legislators to appoint electors if voters “failed to make a choice” on Election Day. Legal experts said legislators could pass a resolution saying the election was so marred by irregularities that the outcome could not be determined and then proceed to appoint their own electors.
If the theory plays out, the Michigan Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, would be called on to select electors if Trump succeeded in convincing the state’s board of canvassers not to certify Biden’s 154,000-vote victory in the state.
“There’s a lot of reasons to think that’s illegal and improper and politically infeasible,” Paul Smith, a professor at Georgetown and a vice president for the Campaign Legal Center, a voter advocacy group, told Reuters.
University of California, Irvine election law expert Richard Hasen agrees that if the legislature did pass its own slate of electors “it is extremely unlikely to lead to any different result for President”.
“If the Michigan legislature got together to vote to overturn the result of the election in which Joe Biden won by 150,000 votes, there would be rioting in the streets in Michigan and throughout the country,” Hasen wrote on his blog on Thursday. “It would be an actual attempted coup, to subvert American democracy.”
“And it wouldn’t work. The certification process is continuing in Michigan, and there will be a slate of electors for Joe Biden, which will be signed by the governor (and therefore get preference in Congress under the electoral count act if there are competing slates of electors).”
Both of the Michigan legislative leaders who are set to visit the White House have previously indicated they will not try to overturn Biden’s win.
Meanwhile, two Republican canvassers in Michigan’s Wayne County said in a statement late on Wednesday they lacked confidence that the election was fair and impartial. “There has been a distinct lack of transparency throughout the process,” they said. But there has been no evidence of impropriety or fraud in Michigan, election officials have said.
Earlier this week, the county’s two Republicans canvassers blocked the certification of votes there. They later relented and the results were certified. But a person familiar with the matter said Trump reached out to the canvassers, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, on Tuesday evening after the revised vote to express gratitude for their support. Then, on Wednesday, Palmer and Hartmann signed affidavits saying they believed the county vote “should not be certified”.
They cannot rescind their votes, according to the Michigan secretary of state. The four-member state canvassing board is expected to meet on Monday and also is split with two Democrats and two Republicans.
Other election challenges
On Thursday, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others held a press conference to allege a widespread Democratic election conspiracy involving multiple states and suspect voting machines. But election officials across the country have said repeatedly there was no widespread fraud.
Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis, who joined Giuliani, said more evidence would be forthcoming and that Trump’s allies would have more success in courts going forward. But so far, most of their legal actions have been dismissed.
In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign paid $3m for a recount in two of the state’s largest counties: Milwaukee and Dane counties. The recount begins on Friday and is expected to be completed before December 1, when the state will certify the election results.
In Pennsylvania, where the Trump campaign is challenging the election results in federal court, a legal team led by Giuliani suggested in a filing on Wednesday that the judge order the Republican-led state legislature to pick delegates to the Electoral College, potentially throwing the state’s 20 electoral votes to Trump. A judge cancelled an evidentiary hearing in the case.
In Arizona, the Republican Party is pressuring county officials to delay certifying results. The GOP lost a bid on Thursday to postpone certification in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous. In northwestern Arizona, Mohave County officials postponed their certification until next week.
In Georgia, where officials audited the results of the presidential race, Trump has repeatedly attacked the process and called it “a joke”.
A hand tally of ballots cast in the presidential race was completed this week and the results affirmed Biden’s narrow lead over Trump. The state will certify its results on Friday.