Why everybody’s talking about Donald Trump’s US election legal threats

President tweets series of baseless fraud accusations amid string of court challenges

Donald Trump at a press conference in the early hours of election day
President tweets series of baseless fraud accusations amid string of court challenges
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With Joe Biden needing to win just one more state to take the White House, an increasingly desperate Donald Trump last night launched a volley of tweeted allegations of voter fraud as his legal team jumped into action.

The president prematurely declared victory in the election early on Wednesday morning, before claiming that a surge in support for Biden in key swing states was the result of fraudulent counting practices.

The increase in Biden’s vote share came as mail-in postal ballots were counted, but the Trump campaign has launched legal action against the counting in Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

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Twitter storm

After Trump’s early leads began to shorten as mail-in ballots - the majority of which were submitted by Biden supporters - were counted, the president claimed his Democratic opponents were “trying to steal the election”.

“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key states, in almost all instances Democrat run and controlled,” he tweeted. “Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE.”

He also claimed that a Supreme Court ruling protecting the counting of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania “will allow rampant and unchecked cheating”, adding: “We have claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (which won’t allow legal observers) the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina, each one of which has a Big Trump lead.”

Trump is correct when he says that at the time of writing he held considerable leads in each of these states, but millions of votes were still due to be counted. As a result, Twitter has flagged up the president’s comments as “misleading about an election or other civic process”.

What legal action has Trump already taken?

In a “series of rapid-fire announcements throughout the day”, Trump campaign officials announced plans to ask courts to halt vote-counting until more access is granted for Republican observers in Michigan and Pennsylvania, The Washington Post reports.

The incumbent’s lawyers have also sought to intervene in litigation pending before the Supreme Court over Pennsylvania’s extended deadline for mail ballots.

Meanwhile in Georgia, the Trump campaign is suing election officials, alleging that ballots arriving after the 7pm deadline “may have been mixed in with eligible ballots and improperly counted”, says the newspaper says.

Team Trump yesterday filed a suit to require all Georgia counties to separate any and all late-arriving ballots. The campaign has cited one Republican poll observer in the state who reportedly “witnessed 53 late absentee ballots being illegally added to a pile of votes in Chatham County”, adds the BBC.

But legal experts say this suit has little chance of succeeding in court, while Al Jazeera suggests that “Trump’s legal efforts will amount to little more than a last-ditch effort to try and find a way to victory as the president’s path on the electoral map narrows”.

His team has already sued to attempt to halt the counting of mail-in ballots in Nevada, requesting further access to the counting process. The Supreme Court of Nevada denied the suit.

What can Trump actually do?

Trump’s gripes with the integrity of the vote count have been widely denounced as “baseless” by news outlets. And CNN is warning that the president’s actions “undermine US credibility” across the globe.

Few pundits doubt that most of Trump’s legal challenges are likely to be thrown out by any high court. However, one avenue remains open to the president: state-wide recounts.

As per US electoral law, candidates are able to file a formal request for a recount if certain criteria are met. These criteria vary from state to state.

The Trump campaign has said the president will formally request a recount in Wisconsin, which most observers called for Biden on Wednesday evening. If current numbers hold, Trump also meets the criteria to request recounts in Georgia and Nevada, but not in the key states of Pennsylvania or Michigan.

In the 2016 election between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Wisconsin was the subject of a recount after Trump won the state by a very small margin. The recount saw Trump’s lead extended by 131 votes.

The San Francisco Chronicle says that the Trump campaign’s post-election lawsuits this time round are “giving us flashbacks to 2000” too, when a highly controversial Florida recount took place during the battle for the White House between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush.

Bush won the state by just 537 votes from a total of six million cast - a 0.001% margin, thought to be the smallest in US history. A recount could have swung the result in Gore’s favour, but was halted by the Supreme Court after a lengthy legal battle, handing Bush both the state and the election.

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