Updated Nov 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's stalling legal strategy

Illustration of a statue of Justice wearing a red tie as a blindfold

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Trump campaign legal team is throwing everything at the wall in battleground states — a last-ditch effort to use the courts to freeze time in states where President Trump was ahead (but keep counting in key places where he appeared behind).

Why it matters: None of the legal actions was poised to change the outcome, but the effort could delegitimize the 2020 election in the eyes of millions of Trump supporters even if the final math based on legitimate counts show Joe Biden the winner.

The big picture: The lawsuits themselves aren't raising issues big enough to turn the election in Trump's favor, and the claims they do make are often failing in the courts.

  • “It’s difficult to see the long-term winning strategy behind these lawsuits," Republican elections attorney Ben Ginsberg told Axios. "To mix metaphors, it looks like throwing the kitchen sink at the wall and see what sticks.”

Where it stands: Here’s a rundown of the specific arguments the Trump campaign is making in each state, and the latest developments in all of that litigation.

Arizona: The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit Saturday alleging that Maricopa County incorrectly rejected votes cast by in-person voters on Election Day — hours after Biden was projected to become the 46th U.S. president.

  • Arizona Secretary of State Kaite Hobbs, a named defendant in the legal action, told 12 News it seems to be a "repacked" version of a lawsuit that was dropped earlier on Saturday on the use of Sharpies to complete election ballots in Phoenix.

Pennsylvania, Part 1: The Trump campaign is making several claims in Pennsylvania, in both state and federal courts, and has won some partial victories.

  • One suit in federal court asked for a halt to vote-counting in Philadelphia until GOP election monitors gained more access to the process. A state court ruled earlier in the day those monitors had to be able to get closer to the action.
  • Republicans are also challenging state rules that gave voters extra time to fix certain errors on their mail-in ballots — for example, complying with ID requirements. Those ballots have to be set aside while the courts debate whether they can be counted.

Pennsylvania, Part 2: The only legal challenge so far to raise a bigger constitutional issue is the effort to block Pennsylvania from counting mail-in ballots arriving after Election Day.

  • There’s already a case pending at the Supreme Court about whether state election officials had the authority to extend the vote-counting deadline beyond Nov. 3, and the Trump campaign this week sought to participate in that suit.
  • It’s a real controversy, and one in which four of the high court’s conservative justices have already tried to get involved. But its outcome would only matter if Pennsylvania is the tipping point state for Biden, and if the margin of victory is smaller than the small number of late ballots.
  • "I don't think it is going to be a tremendous impact on the race," Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said on CNN.

Michigan: A state judge dismissed the Trump campaign’s Michigan lawsuit yesterday.

  • The suit sought to stop the state’s vote counting, alleging election monitors didn’t have enough visibility into the process. The judge said the complaint was based on hearsay and noted the counting was nearly complete anyway.

Georgia: The campaign also lost this one Friday.

  • Its lawsuit said election monitors weren’t sure how well election officials in one county were segregating late-arriving ballots, which can’t be counted in Georgia. The county said it was following the rules. A judge dismissed the case.

Wisconsin: The campaign said it will request a recount there — but as of late Thursday, neither the Trump campaign nor the state Republican Party had filed any election-related litigation.

Nevada: The Trump campaign also announced they would be suing in Nevada, claiming widespread voter fraud. The suit was filed late Thursday and includes one voter's allegation that she attempted to vote in person, but was told she had already cast a ballot by mail.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details on the Arizona lawsuits.

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