People in the United States woke up on Wednesday without a clear winner of the country’s presidential elections, as millions of ballots are still being counted in critical battleground states that will ultimately decide the victor.
That did not stop Donald Trump from sowing doubt around the electoral process, however, as the US president falsely declared that delays in declaring a winner are evidence of wide-scale voter fraud.
Legal and elections experts in the US say that there is no evidence to back up Trump’s claims – and taking time to make sure every vote is counted in no way signals that something improper is under way.
“Counting ballots is not fraud. That’s what we do in elections – we count ballots,” said Lonna Atkeson, director of the University of New Mexico’s Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy.
Atkeson told Al Jazeera in a phone interview on Wednesday that people need to be patient and respect the process, which is “slow and laboured”.
With record-high early voter turnout propelled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials continued to tally the votes past Election Day in several states that are critical to both Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s chances of winning the presidency.
They include Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where both candidates had held several campaign events in the lead-up to Tuesday to shore up support.
The Trump campaign on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to stop the count in Michigan, demanding “meaningful access to numerous counting locations” to observe the process and a review of ballots that had already been counted.
Speaking before the lawsuit was announced, Atkeson said stopping a count would be difficult.
“You’ve got to have some reason to stop the counting. You can’t just stop the counting and look around and see if the procedures are going right,” she said. “That’s why you have poll challengers across the country and legal teams set up already.”
‘Zero evidence whatsoever’
Michael Gilbert, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, pointed out that Trump’s recent comments on the integrity of the voting system are not new.
The president made allegations of voter fraud after the 2016 elections, saying without proof that three million votes were cast illegally. “There’s never been any evidence to support these claims,” Gilbert told Al Jazeera.
But this year, a combination of specific circumstances has fuelled the Republican leader’s unproven claims, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and an abundance of mail-in votes that were cast before Election Day.
Having so many mail-in ballots means the count will take longer than usual, and “the time has the potential anyway to raise doubts in peoples’ minds about the integrity of what’s happening”, Gilbert said.
That doubt may increase further as mail-in ballots, which are more widely used by Democratic Party voters compared with their Republican counterparts, are counted because leads in key states may potentially flip from Trump to Biden.
“There is no reason I have seen anywhere to believe that there’s a problem here,” Gilbert said. “It’s just vote-counting takes time, and they’re counting the votes. I see no evidence of fraud. I see zero evidence whatsoever of an election being stolen.”
That was echoed by James Gardner, a law professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who said there is “no voter fraud worth even considering” in the US.
“Since you can’t say in today’s world, ‘We are trying to rig the election in our own favour’, you have to say something else – and what they have been saying is we’re trying to control voter fraud, and that is just a complete fabrication,” Gardner told Al Jazeera.
It's just vote-counting takes time, and they're counting the votes. I see no evidence of fraud. I see zero evidence whatsoever of an election being stolen
A report last year by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan institute affiliated with New York University’s School of Law, said allegations of voter fraud are largely unfounded and used to justify measures that disenfranchise voters.
“It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls,” the report said.
Gardner said that every US state has well-established legal procedures in place to determine results when elections are close.
They include a recount – which Gardner said almost never changes the initial tabulation – and what’s called an election contest, a proceeding typically initiated in court in which a candidate, political party or voter can claim the official count is incorrect due to an irregularity.
None of this is unusual, Gardner explained – and in fact, it happens frequently.
“I think what people are more worried about right now is the people who will be administering and making these decisions – namely the judges,” he said.
“The Republicans have been working for decades to stack the judiciary, both state and federal, with loyalists. And it can’t be taken for granted today, as I think it could have been in the past, that the judges presiding over these proceedings will be impartial – or at least that’s the fear.”