'Stay calm' v lawsuits: How Biden and Trump are handling finishing the election count

As former VP steps up transition planning, presidential studies professor warns country’s ‘metro-rural’ divide ‘is changing our politics’

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Friday 06 November 2020 01:37
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'The vote is sacred': Biden says he has no doubt he has won but democracy requires patience

Donald Trump has mounted a string of court cases across the country in a last-ditch bid to swing the election towards him and claimed without evidence that the vote in some states has been “rigged” – as Democratic challenger Joe Biden closed in on victory.

The president and his legal team used lawsuits to attack the integrity of the voting process as they made claims of widespread voter fraud, despite there being no evidence of any interference. 

Projections last night showed the former vice president currently holds 264 electoral college votes – 270 are needed to take the White House – with his camp saying they were “bullish” and “confident” that he will become the 46th president of the United States. 

But Mr Trump has made a series of unsubstantiated claims that he is being cheated out of the presidency – attacking election officials and blaming a conspiracy of “big media, big money and big tech”.

In an extraordinary speech at the White House on Thursday evening, the president said: “If you count the legal votes, I easily won. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

He claimed Democrat officials had never believed they could win the election “honestly”.

Mr Trump added: “That’s why they did the mail-in ballots where there's tremendous corruption and fraud going on.

“That’s why they mailed out tens of millions of unsolicited ballots without any verification measures whatsoever.”

Mr Trump provided no evidence to back up his claims of election fraud during the 15-minute press conference, which several news networks in the US cut away from.

Ever worried as much as about chaos-spawning political optics and manoeuvrings as they are about sowing calm, the president and his aides are mounting a dizzying legal and public relations effort in a handful of still-competitive swing states – and on Twitter.

“All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud. Plenty of proof – just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!” the president tweeted on Thursday.

In a remarkable tweet that featured a sitting president of the United States blatantly calling for some votes by Americans not to be counted in a free election, he wrote: “STOP THE COUNT!” That came, however, as his camp lost lawsuits in Georgia and Michigan trying to stop vote-counting.

The Associated Press already has called Michigan for Mr Biden, and it projects the president leads by around 13,000 votes with thousands largely from Democratic-leaning counties still uncounted. 

Votes also were still being counted in  still-uncalled Nevada, where its six electoral votes could, if it is declared next, hand the former vice president the White House. Officials in Pennsylvania sent mixed signals about whether their state’s 20 electoral votes could be awarded to a candidate on Thursday or Friday – or if their threshold would not be available to the AP until the weekend.

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Mr Biden could even have AP’s call of Arizona in his favor, and its 11 electoral votes, rescinded if enough GOP votes come in and still win the presidency if he takes Pennsylvania.

As he and his team studied the electoral math, the contrast in the message put out by his opponent was striking, with Mr Biden firing off this tweet: “Be patient, folks. Votes are being counted, and we feel good about where we are.” Later, he delivered brief remarks, urging the country to “stay calm”, while expressing confidence he will win and saying: “We’ve got to count the votes.”

‘Trash cans’

As the two candidates huddled with the legal and political teams at the White House and in Wilmington, Delaware, their lawyers and top campaign officials were trading barbs and legal challenges – all as the Trump team lost two court battles and were unable to halt vote-counting in any state with one of their challenges.

Adam Laxalt, a former GOP state attorney general in Nevada, alleged during a press conference from Las Vegas on Thursday the campaign has heard about illegal ballots being found in “trash cans in apartment buildings” and alleged that some residents there received “18 ballots sent to their homes”.

But he and other Trump officials who spoke did not provide a shred of evidence, nor did they take assembled reporters’ questions. They urged reporters to direct their questions at local officials in Las Vegas; Joe Gloria, the Clark County registrar of voters, later told reporters he is unaware of any illegal ballots being counted.

Still, the Trump legal team made clear for the second consecutive day that the strategy they intend to pursue both in court and in the public relations battle is to make the Biden campaign and local officials prove a negative: that there has been no voting fraud.

“We knew these were unclear. We were told signatures would save us all from fraud,” said Mr Laxalt. “We have not been able to observe these signatures or challenge a single mail-in ballot … We’re asking the judges to go through all the irregularities to stop the counting.”  

He and other Trump surrogates in recent days have used a rhetorical tactic their boss has used for several years: say something is happening and is real, provide no evidence, then suggest it is up to his foes to prove him wrong.

They are doing so despite elections experts for years disputing Republicans’ claims that widespread voter fraud happens every time Americans cast ballots. But such assessments, which have been around for years, did not stop Mr Trump from making alleged voter fraud a major plank of his 2020 re-election message.

‘Victory is imminent’

Jason Miller, a campaign aide, griped about “magical sacks of ballots popping up in corrupt Democrat localities”. Like his colleagues and boss, he provided not a piece of evidence.

The Biden team, meantime, tried to project confidence and a calm demeanor.

Jen O’Malley Dillon, the Democrat’s campaign manager, said his camp is “bullish” on winning several outstanding swing states.

“Our data shows Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States,” Ms O'Malley Dillon told reporters on a video conference call that included a presentation slide that boldly declared this: “Victory is imminent – we are on the verge of winning 270 electoral votes.”

Should Mr Biden indeed win the election, he will lack a mandate to push legislation through Congress. Mr Trump is on pace to win around 70m votes. Though Mr Biden has clinched the popular vote and currently has over 50 per cent of the national vote, the country’s political divisions are as deep as ever.

Political analysts don’t see that changing anytime soon, especially with former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney saying he expects his former boss will remain a very vocal political player and on the short list to run again in 2024.

“The geographic sort of metro-rural is changing our politics, and defining the actual nature of our polarization,” says Guian McKee, an associate professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “If we hope to find a better politics in the aftermath of this horrible year of 2020, we must start by understanding the nature of our divisions.”

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