WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and his allies are taking increasingly frantic steps to subvert the results of the 2020 election, including summoning state legislators to the White House as part of a long-shot bid to overturn Joe Biden's victory.
Among other last-ditch tactics: 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.
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 U.S. elections.
“It's very concerning that some Republicans apparently can't fathom the possibility that they legitimately lost this election,” said Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who researches and teaches election law. “We depend on democratic norms, including that the losers graciously accept defeat,” he said. “That seems to be breaking down.”
Trump's own election security agency has declared the 2020 presidential election to have been the most secure in history. Days after that statement was issued, Trump fired the agency's leader.
“It's about trying to set up the conditions where half of the country believes that there are only two possibilities, either they win or the election was stolen,” said Justin Levitt, a constitutional law scholar and professor at Loyola Law School. “And that's not a democracy.”
The two GOP canvassers in Michigan's Wayne County said in a statement late 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.
In fact, Biden crushed Trump in Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Detroit on his way to winning Michigan by 154,000 votes, according to unofficial results.
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 after the revised vote to express gratitude. 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 Monday and also is split with two Democrats and two Republicans.
Trump appears intent on pushing the issue. He has invited Michigan's Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, to the White House, according to two officials familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly. The two have agreed to go, according to one official and it's not clear what the purpose of the meeting is.
The Michigan Legislature 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. But both legislative leaders have indicated they will not try to overturn Biden's win.
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.”
A few hours earlier, Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others had held a press conference to allege a widespread Democratic election conspiracy involving multiple states and suspect voting machines. Many of the allegations of fraud stem from poll watchers who filed affidavits included with lawsuits in battleground states aimed at delaying vote certification. Those affidavits lean into innuendo and unsupported suggestions of fraud.
For example, they refer to suitcases in a polling place, but make no suggestion that ballots were being secretly counted. There are allegations of ballots being duplicated – something routinely done when a ballot is physically damaged. There are claims that partisan poll watchers were too far away to observe well and therefore something fishy was probably going on.
Giuliani cited a few sworn affidavits that he said showed a vast Democratic conspiracy, but added that he could not reveal much of the evidence. One he cited was from Jessy Jacob, identified as a city employee in Detroit who said she saw other workers coaching voters to cast ballots for Biden and the Democrats.
A judge who refused to block certification of Detroit-area results noted that Jacob's claims included no “date, location, frequency or names of employees” and that she only came forward after unofficial results indicated Biden had won Michigan.
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.