WASHINGTON (AP) — President 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 Democrat 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.
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.
The moves are not expected to change the outcome of the 2020 election, where Biden has now received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history and has clinched the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
But the president’s constant barrage of baseless claims, his work to personally sway local officials who certify votes and his allies’ refusal to admit he lost are likely to have a lasting negative impact.
“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 Thursday they lacked confidence that the election was fair and impartial. “There has been a distinct lack of transparency throughout the process,” they said. But election officials have said there has been no evidence of impropriety or fraud in Michigan.
Trump’s allies have homed in on the way that the president’s early lead in Michigan and some other states on Nov. 3 slipped away as counting continued, casting it as evidence of something nefarious.
But a massive influx of mail-in ballots owed to the pandemic leaned largely to Biden, and those votes were the last to be counted. So it appeared Trump had an edge when he really didn’t. In fact, Biden crushed Trump in Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Detroit, by a more than 2-to-1 margin on his way to winning Michigan by some 146,000 votes, according to unofficial results.
Earlier this week, the county’s two Republican 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 evening after the revised vote. 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; it also is split between two Democrats and two Republicans.
Trump appears intent on pushing the issue. He has invited Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader 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 leaders have agreed to go, according to one of the sources, but they haven’t commented publicly, 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 victory. But both legislative leaders have indicated they won’t try to overturn Biden’s win.
“Michigan law does not include a provision for the Legislature to directly select electors or to award electors to anyone other than the person who received the most votes,” Shirkey’s spokeswoman said last week.
At a press conference Thursday in Washington, Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others alleged a widespread Democratic election conspiracy involving multiple states and suspect voting machines. But election officials across the country have said repeatedly there was no widespread fraud.
Many of the allegations of fraud stem from volunteer poll watchers who filed affidavits included with lawsuits in battleground states aimed at delaying vote certification. Those affidavits include allegations of ballots being duplicated — something routinely done when a ballot is physically damaged — and claims, with no proof, 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.
Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis, who joined Giuliani at Thursday’s event, said more evidence would be forthcoming and that Trump’s allies would have more success in courts going forward. So far, most of their legal actions have been dismissed.
Chris Krebs, the Trump administration election security official fired last week, tweeted: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”
In Pennsylvania, where the Trump campaign is challenging the election results in federal court, a legal team led by Giuliani suggested in a filing Wednesday that the judge order the Republican-led state legislature to pick delegates to the Electoral College. A judge canceled an evidentiary hearing in the case.
In Arizona, the Republican Party is pressuring county officials to delay certifying results. The GOP lost a bid Thursday to postpone certification in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous.
Biden won Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, and Maricopa County put him over the top. The county performed a hand count of some ballots the weekend after the election, which showed its machine counts were 100% accurate. The same was found Wednesday during routine post-election accuracy tests.