Here Are All the Lawsuits the Trump Campaign Has Filed Since Election Day—And Why Most Are Unlikely to Go Anywhere
[This story has been updated to reflecting evolving news]
Joe Biden won the presidential election on Nov. 7 after the Associated Press called him the winner in Pennsylvania, pushing the former Vice President past the 270 electoral college votes needed to clinch the White House.
Less than half an hour after the news, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, alleged without any evidence that the electoral system in Philadelphia, which had contributing to Biden’s victory, was riddled with fraud. It was the latest indication that, even as Trump’s path to victory evaporates, his campaign will continue to fight the outcome in court.
In the past week alone, the Trump campaign blitzed state and federal courts with roughly a dozen new lawsuits, most attempting to halt the vote-counting process or disqualify tranches of ballots. The majority of the Trump campaign’s lawsuits were filed in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan—states where either Biden’s margin of victory is relatively slim, or where a winner has yet to be called.
While the campaign has shown no signs of slowing down this battle, legal experts say Trump’s chances of meaningfully challenging the election are virtually nil. Many of his campaign’s lawsuits filed this week have been dismissed on lack of merit, and the ones that have gained some traction are unlikely to change the outcome of the Presidential race.
“There’s literally nothing that I’ve seen yet with the meaningful potential to affect the final result,” Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School, told TIME in an email.
Judges have already tossed out or ruled against Trump campaign suits in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan.
The Trump campaign has also said it will demand a recount in Wisconsin, where the Associated Press called the state for Joe Biden. Requesting a recount in Wisconsin does not require a lawsuit. State officials, including former Republican Gov. Scott Walker warned that a recount was unlikely to change the electoral results. A recount in Georgia is pending.
In each state, we’ve listed all the relevant Trump campaign lawsuits, where things currently stand, and noted whether it’s likely to have any real impact on the outcome of the race.
Multiple legal battles over the Keystone State’s election laws were underway well before Election Day, but this week, the Trump campaign upped the ante. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in an interview that “there has been a lot of noise about litigation” but it has had “zero material impact” on the electoral process. “The count has continued. Legal votes are being tallied and soon the commonwealth will respect the will of the people and certify a vote,” he said. Since Tuesday, the campaign has filed at least five separate lawsuits, with mixed results:
1. To compel Philadelphia election officials to stop counting ballots.
A federal judge dismissed the request.
2. To compel state election officials to allow Trump campaign officials closer observation of the counting process.
A state judge ruled in the campaign’s favor, allowing campaign officials to observe the Philadelphia process from a six foot distance. Philadelphia election officials appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. On Nov. 9, the court agreed to hear the case. On Nov. 15, the state’s supreme court overturned the lower court’s ruling, ruling that the original rules the campaign was fighting were justified.
Levitt says this ruling will likely affect the pace of the count, rather the outcome. “Imagine a gymnasium, with observers lining the walls: to let the observers get closer, they’ve got to move the count closer to the walls and not be counting in the center,” he writes. Since people can no longer count in the center of the gym, “the count is going to move more slowly.”
3. To compel Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and all 67 counties to impose an earlier date for voters to show proof of identification if it was not on their initial ballots.
On November 12, the presiding judge ruled in favor of the campaign, writing that ballots cast by voters who had not provided supplemental identification by Nov. 9 could not be counted. Previously, that judge had ordered all counties to segregate those ballots while weighing whether to count them. The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to a query about the number of ballots pertinent to this order. Shapiro said on Twitter the ruling impacted “very few ballots.”
Local Republicans filed a separate suit against Boockvar in state court, alleging she subverted state law when she issued guidance telling voters with deficiencies on their mail-in ballots to cast provisional ballots, and trying to prevent those provisional ballots from being counted. A state judge denied that request, but ordered officials to segregate provisional ballots from voters who submitted deficient mail-in ballots before election day.
4. To compel the Montgomery County Board of Elections to stop counting mail-in-ballots
The campaign and Republican National Committee filed suit to halt the process of counting mail-in ballots in Montgomery County, one of the counties in suburban Philadelphia, alleging that the board of elections was counting 592 ballots that had not been placed in secrecy envelopes and was therefore not complying with requirements. Pennsylvania election data shows Montgomery county overwhelmingly voted for Biden.
On November 13, a judge denied the request from the campaign, and ordered that the county could count the ballots. At an oral argument for the case on November 10, the lawyer representing the campaign, Jonathan S. Goldstein, told the judge they were not accusing the county administrators or the voters casting these ballots of voter fraud.
5. To intervene in an already existing dispute before the U.S. Supreme Court about whether ballots the state received after 8 p.m. on Election Day should count.
The litigation is ongoing. Some legal experts are skeptical SCOTUS will take the case, while others say that even if the Justice do, their ruling is unlikely to change the outcome of the Presidential election. Pennsylvania election officials have said there are fewer than 10,000 ballots in this category, and Trump currently trails Biden by over 45,000 votes.
“I think that the court is going to be very hesitant to involve itself in the process in the most politically contentious context possible,” says Michael Dimino, an election law expert at Widener University in Pennsylvania. Joshua Geltzer, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, notes that the number of ballots that may fall in this category “appears increasingly irrelevant to the election outcome given the sheer vote numbers in that state regardless of those ballots.”
The backstory: After Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court extended the ballot receipt deadline to Nov. 6, state Republicans twice appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first time they were unsuccessful, and the second time the court declined to expedite the decision before the election, but left open the possibility of hearing it afterwards. On Nov. 6, Supreme Court Justice Alito, in response to a motion from Pennsylvania Republicans, ordered state election officials to segregate any ballots that arrived after election day. State officials had already ordered counties to segregate any ballots that arrived after Election Day, likely anticipating a future challenge.
6. To stop Boockvar and seven individual counties from certifying the election results
The campaign filed a 105 page federal lawsuit on Nov. 9 alleging state officials created a “two tiered” system to ensure Biden would win the state by allowing vote-by mail – a violation the constitution’s equal protection clause – and that the results should consequently not be certified. The seven counties named as defendants in the lawsuit – Allegheny, Centre, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia – all voted for Biden.
Litigation is still ongoing, and the Democratic National Committee has filed a motion to intervene. Legal experts have said it is unlikely the case will succeed. Hasen wrote in the Atlantic that the claims are “ludicrous.” On Nov. 13, two attorneys with the law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur withdrew from representing the campaign. On Nov. 15, the campaign filed an amended, narrowed, complaint that focused solely on voters that had been allowed to correct deficiencies on their ballots. On Nov. 16, the second group of attorneys representing the campaign withdrew from the case.
7. To stop Bucks County from counting mail-in ballots
The campaign had previously filed a lawsuit in state court on election day to stop Bucks County – a suburban county near Philadelphia where Biden narrowly won – from counting mail-in ballots, but the lawsuit was dismissed. The campaign filed another complaint on Nov. 8, alleging that the county accepted over 2,200 defective ballots. A conference is scheduled for November 17.
It is unclear if the majority of these ballots were cast for Biden or Trump, although Democrats in the state overwhelmingly voted by mail this year. But even if the court rules in favor of the campaign and throws out these ballots, it is unlikely to change the outcome. Biden leads Trump by 16,000 votes in the county, according to unofficial results.
With Trump narrowly trailing Biden in the state, the Trump campaign has backed two cases to impact the counting of ballots:
1. To impose an injunction on the automated signature-verification machines used in Clark County as ballots continue to be counted.
A federal judge rejected the request on Nov. 6, ruling that federal judges should not be involved in state election administration and there is no evidence Clark County is doing anything unlawful.
The backstory: The Trump campaign held a press conference on Nov. 5 introducing Jill Stokey, a Nevada voter who claimed that when she tried to cast a ballot, she was told someone had already cast a mail-in ballot in her name. She alleged that the signature verification technology used in Clark County, the most populous county in the state, enabled someone to cast a mail-in ballot in her name. Her lawsuit asserted, without evidence, that “lax procedures for authenticating mail ballots” had resulted in “over 3,000 instances of ineligible individuals casting ballots.”
Aaron Ford, Nevada’s Attorney General, called Stokey’s allegations “absurd.” “While the Attorney General’s Office normally does not comment on pending litigation, I feel compelled to dispel the misinformation being circulated to undermine the public’s trust in our election,” he said in a statement.
2. To compel state election officials to allow the public closer observation at a Clark County ballot-counting facility.
The Trump campaign, Republican National Committee, and a plaintiff, Fred Krause, filed a lawsuit before election day in state court seeking to halt the counting process in Clark County until they could observe the process.
A district judge rejected the lawsuit, ruling they lacked standing to bring the claims and had no evidence to back up their arguments. The plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court, which accepted the request to expedite the case, but denied the request for immediate relief. In a November 5 order, the State Supreme Court said the campaign and state Republicans had reached a settlement. According to local news, the settlement included expanding observation access, so that all counting tables would be visible to the public. On November 10, the campaign officially filed to dismiss the suit.
While the Associated Press called Michigan for Biden on Nov. 4, the Trump campaign and Republicans have continued to file lawsuits attempting, unsuccessfully, to stop the state ballot count. Biden currently leads Trump by approximately 148,000 votes. The state has seen at least three cases since Election Day:
1. To halt the counting of absentee ballots, on the grounds that campaign officials had not been given access to observe the process as required by state law.
Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens denied the campaign’s request on Nov. 6.
2. To halt the certification of election results in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold.
Judge Timothy Kenny denied the motion for injunctive relief on Nov. 6, saying there was no evidence that oversight procedures had not been followed.
“Chief Judge Kenny’s quick decision mirrors a decision yesterday by Court of Claims Judge Stephens – specifically, that, once again, the allegations are mere speculation,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Press Secretary Ryan Jarvi said in a statement. “The swift, clear and decisive opinion should put to rest the meritless claims that have been made in Michigan and other states around the country.”
The backstory: The case was not brought by the Trump campaign, but by a conservative group, the Election Integrity Fund, and sought to stop election workers in Detroit from “curing” absentee ballots that could not initially be read by a machine, a normal part of the ballot counting process. The case alleged that the work had not always been overseen by election inspectors from both major political parties, and that certification should be delayed until inspectors could review the process.
3. To halt the certification of election results because of voter fraud
The campaign filed a federal lawsuit on Nov. 10 against Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan board of state canvassers, and Wayne County (where Detroit is located), alleging that the results should not be certified because the defendants “allowed fraud and incompetence to corrupt the conduct of the 2020 general election.” The campaign said in its complaint that they have over 100 sworn affidavits from election challengers to prove these allegations. An examination of the affidavits found no evidence of fraud. The majority alleged they faced intimidation when trying to raise objections, and were frequently admonished to stay within six feet of election officials.
In Georgia, where the on-going count suggests an extremely tight race, the Trump campaign has filed one suit:
1. To disqualify about 53 ballots.
A poll watcher in Chatham County reported seeing a stack of late ballots that may have arrived after the 7 p.m. Election Day deadline get mixed in with ballots that had arrived on time.
A Superior Court judge in Chatham County rejected the suit on Nov. 5 after hearing testimony from county officials that the ballots had, in fact, arrived on time. “There is no evidence that the ballots referenced in the petition were received after 7:00 p.m. on Election Day,” the court found.
Fox News and the Associated Press have declared Biden won the state, but other networks have held off, deeming the race too close to call. On November 7, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit in state court alleging voters’ ballots had been rejected because they contained “bleeds,” splotches” and “stray marks.” These allegations appear similar to claims circulating on social media that ballots would not be counted if voters filled them out using a Sharpie marker. Election officials have said these claims are false. A lawsuit with similar allegations was filed in the same court system by a group of voters who were represented by a conservative legal fund on Nov. 4; plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit on Nov. 7. They did not provide a reason for dismissing the case. On Nov. 13, the campaign’s attorney filed a notice of mootness, acknowledging the lawsuit was unlikely to change the outcome.
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