Can Trump stop Biden becoming president? Legal experts explain

2 weeks ago
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Joe Biden is now president-elect, but Donald Trump insists he is fighting on, and claims the election is “far from over”.

The Republican alleged he was the victim of interference from “phony polls” along with “big media, big money and big tech” after his campaign launched a series of legal challenges in key states.

He tweeted: “I easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with LEGAL VOTES CAST. The OBSERVERS were not allowed, in any way, shape, or form, to do their job and therefore, votes accepted during this period must be determined to be ILLEGAL VOTES. US Supreme Court should decide!”

Each of the states where Mr Trump has launched legal action have either been won by Mr Biden or are being narrowly led by him.

Since 9 November, the Trump campaign and other Republicans have filed new cases every day.

Here, Sky News looks at the Trump campaign’s legal challenges and asks experts if they are likely to succeed.

Which states has Donald Trump launched legal action in?

Georgia

Mr Biden is leading by 14,057 votes in Georgia, which has prompted a recount, by hand. City officials have endeavoured to finish the count by 20 November.

The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit to require Chatham County, which includes the city of Savannah, to separate and secure late-arriving ballots to ensure they are not counted.

They were challenging 57 absentee ballots.

However, a Superior Court judge rejected the lawsuit last week after county officials testified that the ballots had arrived on time.

The court found no evidence the ballots had been received after the deadline of 7pm on election day.

But the Trump campaign is now claiming four dead people’s names were used to vote and Republicans in Georgia have released the obituaries of those people, but have not provided evidence their names were used.

Nevada

The Trump campaign asked for emergency relief to stop the counting of “improper votes” in Democrat-leaning Clark County, home to Las Vegas, and said it was filing a federal lawsuit.

It said it had evidence that “thousands of people” cast ballots who no longer live in the state or are dead.

Election officials count ballots in Wisconsin
Image: Election officials count ballots in Wisconsin

The Trump campaign also said people have taken other voters’ mail-in ballot papers and voted falsely under their names, with others sending “up to 18 ballots”.

In a news conference, Republican officials introduced Jill Stokey, a voter who claimed she had been turned away from casting her vote because someone had already voted in her name.

Nevada election officials later said Ms Stokey had in fact been turned away because she had already voted once.

The lawsuit has since been rejected, finding no evidence Clark County did anything unlawful, and the state is projected to be won by Joe Biden with 97% of the votes counted.

Pennsylvania

At least five lawsuits have been filed in Pennsylvania, the deciding state that managed to push Mr Biden over the line to take the presidency.

The suits called for:

  • Ballot counting to be stopped. This was dismissed by a federal judge
  • Republican “poll watchers” to be allowed closer observation of the counting process. A state judge ruled in the Trump campaign’s favour, although Philadelphia election officials have appealed the decision to the state’s Supreme Court. The case is ongoing, although is unlikely to affect the result
  • State officials to impose an earlier date for voters to provide proof of identity if it was not on their initial ballots. This case is also ongoing
  • Montgomery County to stop counting mail-in ballots, alleging 600 votes were not placed in secrecy envelopes. Although this is ongoing, data shows the county had overwhelmingly voted for Mr Biden
  • Intervention over whether ballots received after 8pm on election day should count. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could take this case, but some legal experts say any ruling would be unlikely to change the outcome of the election. The state has been ordered to keep those ballots separate, but counting was not blocked.

Wisconsin

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the campaign would request an immediate recount of the vote in Wisconsin.

He cited “reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results”.

Wisconsin was narrowly won by Mr Biden, but a recount could still happen after the 17 November deadline for officials to review votes passes.

There was a recount in Wisconsin in 2016 but it only changed about a hundred votes.

Michigan

The Trump campaign lost a lawsuit to halt vote-counting in Michigan two days after the election.

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Trump says election is ‘major fraud’

The courts also rejected a suit calling for a halt to the vote certification process in Detroit.

Joe Biden won Michigan by 2% but two legal challenges have been filed in the state, one on 11 November in federal court and another in state court, with both claiming to include specific, detailed allegations of alleged fraud and misconduct by poll workers at the TCF Center in Detroit.

One person making the claims is a former assistant attorney general of Michigan and another is a TCF Center poll worker.

Arizona

Mr Biden narrowly won the traditionally Republican state by 11,434 votes.

The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit alleging poll workers allowed voters to cast defective ballots which should have been fixed on the spot.

This appears to be based on poll workers allegedly overriding electronic alerts of “overvotes” on submitted ballots, and also with alleged problems with voters using permanent markers to fill in blanks on paper ballots.

Election officials say these claims are false, and even without a victory in this state Mr Biden would still have won the election.

People queuing to vote in Lansing, Michigan
Image: People queuing to vote in Lansing, Michigan

What have the experts said?

Lawrence Douglas, law professor and author of Will He Go? Trump And The Looming Election Meltdown In 2020

Professor Douglas told Sky News: “The lawsuits seem frivolous without any real chance of materially affecting the outcome of the election.

“The only thing they can do is delay matters and further muddy the waters – which might be Trump’s aim in the first place.”

Professor Robert Tsai, law professor at the American University Washington College of Law

He said: “From my examination of the lawsuits so far, they look like a bit of a desperation ploy.

“The margins are not particularly close anywhere except Nevada and as those counts are still trickling in, it looks like they’re going Biden’s way.

“If you look at the substance of the lawsuits that have been filed, they are mostly alleging under state laws that there has perhaps been inappropriate or insufficient access to polling stations – but these have been thrown out pretty consistently so far.

“I don’t see thousands of votes changing or being thrown out from what I’ve seen.”

Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles

Professor Levinson said the Trump campaign was “throwing theories at a wall to see if anything sticks for long enough to muck up the waters”.

She added: “There is no consistent strategy there.”

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US lawyer says Trump legal action ‘shaky’

Edward Foley, specialist in election law at the Moritz College of Law

Mr Foley said the cases might have merit but only affected a small number of ballots and procedural issues.

He added: “But merit in that sense is very different from having the kind of consequence that Bush v.Gore did in 2000.”

Carol Laham, partner in Wiley Rein LLP’s nationally-recognised Election Law & Government Ethics Practice

Ms Laham told Sky News: “Every state has its own requirements for the conduct of the election in that state, and the Trump campaign must prove that the election is not being conducted in accordance with the state requirements.

“If the campaign has sufficient evidence to prove the violation alleged then it has a chance of being successful on the merits.”

David Weinstein, former assistant US attorney for the southern district of Florida

Mr Weinstein told Sky News: “They all have a long shot to get anywhere here.”

He added: “As far as recounts go, it’s not even close in any of these states.”

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