Two weeks after Election Day, and more than a week after Joe Biden was declared the next president of the United States, President Donald Trump’s campaign is still engaged in bitter litigation over several lawsuits contesting Pennsylvania’s results.
The campaign filed dozens of suits around the country during and after the election. Many of those were in the commonwealth, where Biden now leads by nearly 70,000 votes — an edge of more than 1%.
The suits have contested state and county voting procedures, tabulation methods and the validity of certain ballots. So far, nearly all have been knocked down in court or abandoned.
A handful of cases are pending in courts around the state, including a few key challenges. If the Trump campaign can whittle away Biden’s advantage to 0.5%, Pennsylvania law would trigger an automatic recount.
Vic Walczak, legal director at the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has intervened in a number of the lawsuits against the Trump campaign, says even though he takes the lawsuits seriously, he hasn’t seen any evidence that makes him think Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes are in question.
“Without demonstrating widespread fraud or huge problems, it’s hard to imagine that a single lawfully-cast vote would be canceled at this point,” he said.
Below is a cheat sheet on four key Trump attempts to reduce Biden’s vote tally via the courts.
The attempt to cancel every ballot
In Donald J. Trump for President v. Boockvar, filed in federal district court on Monday, Nov. 9, the Trump campaign seeks to block Pennsylvania from certifying its election results. It names Pa. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar as the defendant.
This is the Pennsylvania case with the biggest potential impact. Walczak said in his opinion, it’s a “really extreme” request.
“[Blocking certification] would cancel every Pennsylvanian’s ballot, regardless of who they voted for,” he said.
The legal argument that the Trump campaign’s request is based on has gone through a few permutations.
Initially, the Trump campaign had made a number of claims of fraud, and said that nearly 700,000 ballots should be invalidated because the campaign hadn’t been allowed to watch the counting process as closely as it wanted.
It never provided evidence of widespread fraud, though, and restructured its lawsuit to de-emphasize ballot oversight.
The campaign is still aiming to block certification, but the case hinges on the fact that some counties allowed voters to fix mail ballots that were going to be disqualified due to technical errors. It claims Democratic-controlled counties were likelier to allow those fixes than Republican ones, and therefore the entire election was unfair.
Oral arguments in the case are being presented Tuesday in Williamsport.
The attempt to cancel mail ballots that arrived a few days late
This suit before the U.S. Supreme Court concerns a three-day extension that Pennsylvania’s high court granted for counties to accept mail ballots that were postmarked by Election Day, but were received by Nov. 6.
The state court directive was due to widespread mail delays, which officials had feared could disenfranchise voters who would have otherwise made the Election Day delivery deadline. But state lawmakers and the Pennsylvania Republican Party believed the state court had overreached, and appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court in Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar.
That court has now upheld the state ruling on two separate occasions. The case now sitting before it is the third appeal.
When the court declined to overturn the extension the second time, three conservative justices released a statement explicitly saying they could revisit the issue after the election. Justice Samuel Alito also issued guidance, at the request of Republicans, instructing counties to segregate any late-arriving ballots, in case they were later invalidated.
State officials say the number of ballots that arrived during this three-day extension are so few that invalidating them would not change the result of the election. Not all of those ballots have been counted, but so far the total is under 8,500 votes.
Philly’s attempt to claw back one of Trump’s rare wins
This lawsuit, filed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, stems from a victory the Trump campaign scored shortly after Election Day.
As the election was underway, the campaign sued, saying members of its staff who were tasked with monitoring vote-counting in Philadelphia had not been given enough access to observe the proceedings properly.
While they were allowed inside the convention center where ballots were being counted, they said they weren’t physically close enough to the election workers.
Initially, a Philly trial court dismissed the suit, known as Emergency Petition for Allowance of Appeal by Defendant the City of Philadelphia Board of Elections. But then a federal appellate court reversed the ruling, and said campaign observers should be allowed within six feet of ballot-counters. City officials are now attempting to have the decision reversed once again.
No ballots were invalidated as a result of the Trump campaign’s appellate court win, so regardless of outcome, this case won’t affect the outcome of the election.
The attempt to invalidate small numbers of ballots for technical reasons
A case filed in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court concerns the validity of 8,329 ballots that were cast in Philadelphia — a tiny fraction of the total votes in the city.
The Trump campaign itself makes the limitations of its claims in this case explicit.
“The Campaign does not allege fraud,” its filing says.
Instead, the campaign is trying to disqualify the ballots because of technical issues with the handwritten information on their return envelopes — for instance, some are missing dates, addresses, printed voter names or some combination of those errors.
The city commissioners who run Philadelphia’s elections and have jurisdiction over decisions like these decided to count those ballots. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas upheld their decision, so the Trump campaign is now trying to get the higher court to overturn it.
The Trump campaign is also pursuing similar suits that would affect even smaller numbers of ballots in several other Pennsylvania counties.
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