WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and his allies pressed their claims Thursday that election officials have allowed ballot fraud to infect the counting process in the battleground states poised to decide the presidency, but they offered no evidence of irregularities and met with two immediate defeats in court.
In Georgia, a local judge in Chatham County, home of Savannah, denied the Trump campaign’s effort to disqualify about 50 ballots that a Republican poll watcher claimed may have arrived after the 7 p.m. deadline on Election Day. In court, the poll watcher offered no evidence that the ballots had arrived late, and county election officials testified that they had arrived on time.
And in Michigan, a Court of Claims judge said she would deny the campaign’s request for an emergency halt to the counting of votes in the state. She noted that the request made little sense, given that the counting has essentially been finished in the state, with former vice president Joe Biden ahead by about 150,000 votes. He has been declared the winner of the state by national news organizations. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office described Trump’s request as an “attempt to unring a bell.”
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign announced its intent to file a lawsuit in another state where counting is continuing apace: Nevada. At a chaotic news conference in Las Vegas, campaign officials said that they plan to file a suit in federal court to stop the counting of what they called “improper votes.”
The threatened legal action was part of a barrage of lawsuits that the president’s campaign has filed since Election Day, seeking to slow the vote count as Biden’s totals steadily increase. So far, they have threatened legal challenges or demanded recounts in five states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada.
The campaign also joined in a lawsuit against Maricopa County, home of Phoenix, claiming that large numbers of Republican ballots were invalidated after voters used Sharpie pens to mark their choices. The complaint was filed on behalf of two voters, one of whom, the suit alleged, was denied a second ballot after a poll worker canceled the first one because a machine couldn’t read it. State and local election officials have said repeatedly that Sharpies are preferred for filling out ballots and that there is no evidence they cause difficulties in the scanning process.
The Maricopa County attorney’s office wrote to the state attorney general’s office Thursday saying that no ballots were rejected at the county’s voting centers and that when ballots cannot be read, voters are given the option of casting new ones.
In a call with reporters, Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer accused Trump’s campaign of filing “meritless” lawsuits meant to misinform the public and disrupt the vote count.
“This is part of a broader misinformation campaign that involves some political theater,” he said, saying the Trump camp has provided no evidence of wrongdoing.
But the president repeated unsubstantiated claims about fraud throughout the day, pushing a line of attack he has pressed throughout the campaign.
“All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud,” he tweeted in a message tagged by Twitter as misleading. “Plenty of proof — just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!”
Trump’s supporters demanded that the count continue in Arizona, meanwhile, where Biden held a healthy lead Thursday but where hundreds of thousands of ballots remained uncounted.
The president’s allies touted a minor legal victory in Pennsylvania, where a state appeals court on Thursday allowed GOP poll watchers to observe the counting of ballots from six feet away. The decision prompted election officials in Philadelphia to stop counting temporarily to accommodate the observers; the count had resumed by midafternoon.
The decision is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the vote count. Observers are not permitted to challenge the validity of ballots. The Trump campaign said in its brief that it was not trying to change this and “simply wants the right to observe.”
“Under the Constitution, the legislature has the right to make these laws, which they’ve made, and the judge just confirmed that they must be followed,” Trump campaign attorney Pam Bondi said at a news conference in Philadelphia. “So we plan on entering that building and legally observing the voting process.”
The legal jockeying drew competing rallies to the city streets: on one side, about 25 Trump supporters shouted, “Legal votes matter!” and “Trump!” Across the street, about 50 counterprotesters chanted, “Count every vote!”
The Trump team is engaged in half a dozen lawsuits in Pennsylvania, including those seeking to halt the counting of a small number of mail ballots whose voters were given the opportunity to correct errors. A new suit filed late Thursday seeks to disqualify 600 ballots in Montgomery County that had no secrecy envelopes as required by law.
The president sought to intervene in a Pennsylvania case already filed at the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to reverse a state court’s decision to extend the deadline for receiving mail ballots from 8 p.m. on Election Day to 5 p.m. Friday.
Although the Trump campaign claimed that the case “may well dictate who will become the next president,” the Democrats said that “is not remotely clear at this juncture.”
The Trump campaign said it would open another front in its legal war in Nevada. At a news conference Thursday morning at the Clark County elections department headquarters, Adam Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general and co-chair of the Trump campaign in the state, claimed without providing evidence that ballots from deceased people had been counted, and that “thousands” of people had voted despite moving out of Clark County during the pandemic. As of late afternoon Thursday in Las Vegas, no such lawsuit had been filed.
Laxalt ignored reporters’ questions asking for examples of the fraud he described. About 100 Trump supporters swarmed the news conference waving Trump flags and carrying signs reading “Stop the Steal.”
Trump’s efforts to block the counting of votes coincided with a painstaking process in four battlegrounds — Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania — that will determine the next occupant of the White House. In Georgia and Pennsylvania, Trump is ahead, but his lead has diminished with each new update of counted votes.
Top Biden campaign officials, while calling for patience as final ballots are being counted, continued projecting confidence that their candidate will soon be declared the winner of the presidential election.
“We are absolutely confident that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States,” campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said on a call with reporters, which included slides on how campaign officials think they will win at least four of the most hotly contested remaining states.
In Georgia, for instance, Trump’s lead had narrowed to fewer than 10,000 votes by early Thursday evening, with roughly 19,000 ballots left to count statewide. Biden was winning the late-counted ballots by large margins in part because they were concentrated in Democratic enclaves around Savannah and metro Atlanta, and also because they were mail ballots, which Democrats had used in greater numbers than Republicans.
The tightening margin in Georgia may lead to a recount request. If the margin is less than or equal to 0.5 percent of the certified results, a candidate can request a recount. There is no automatic recount in the state, and a candidate must request a recount within two business days after the certification, which is scheduled to take place by Nov. 20.
The president’s allies, meanwhile, appeared poised to open up a new front in their effort to secure the election for Trump. Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin urged Republican-controlled state legislatures to prepare to override the popular vote in their states and appoint their own slate of electors.
“REMINDER TO THE REPUBLICAN STATE LEGISLATURES, YOU HAVE THE FINAL SAY OVER THE CHOOSING OF ELECTORS, NOT ANY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, SECRETARY OF STATE, GOVERNOR, OR EVEN COURT,” Levin tweeted. “YOU HAVE THE FINAL SAY.”
Federal law empowers state legislatures to step in and appoint electors if an election has “failed” to produce a result. But what constitutes a “failed” election is the subject of much dispute — and would most certainly wind up in court if lawmakers in Arizona, Georgia or Pennsylvania — the three states with GOP legislatures — declared the election a failure.
Even if Republicans did appoint Trump electors in any of these states, state election officials could seat Biden’s electors on the basis of the popular vote. In that case, an obscure federal law called the Electoral Count Act would leave it to Congress to decide which set of dueling electors to seat.
If Congress deadlocks, as it might, given Republican control of the Senate and Democratic control of the House, the electors seated by a state’s executive branch — its governor or secretary of state — would prevail over those seated by the state legislature (though that scenario, too, would be likely to prompt litigation).
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Swaine reported from New York. The Washington Post’s Maura Ewing in Philadelphia, Tom Hamburger in Detroit, Matt Viser, Tobi Raji, Robert Barnes, Anna Brugmann, Aaron Schaffer, Maya Smith and Keith Newell in Washington, Ryan Slattery in Las Vegas, Hannah Knowles in Phoenix and Reis Thebault and Haisten Willis in Atlanta contributed to this report.