President Donald Trump is casting doubt on the integrity of vote counting and warning he will deploy squads of lawyers when polls close on Tuesday, as his latest attempts to tarnish the democratic process deepen a feeling of national nervousness hours before Election Day.
The President’s maneuvering, as he fights to the last moment to secure a second term, is taking place ahead of a court hearing in Texas Monday morning on a Republican request to throw out 127,000 drive-thru votes in a key county. The case is one of a growing number of GOP legal gambits to stick up vote counting or reject ballots and comes in the midst of new concerns that the Postal Service, after reforms initiated by its new pro-Trump CEO, may struggle to deliver a deluge of mail-in ballots before counting deadlines.
Fears are also growing that the President might try to declare victory before all the votes are counted as he and Democratic nominee Joe Biden launch a final-day swing through the battleground states that will decide one of the most significant elections in modern US history. Their sprint is taking place as the coronavirus pandemic – that Trump has denied and downplayed – begins to rage out of control across most of the country. The situation further complicates life for millions expected to head to polling places on Tuesday to join the record 95 million citizens who have already cast an early vote.
Biden is leading in national polls and by a narrower edge in many key states and has multiple paths to victory. Trump’s route to the required 270 votes is thinner but still viable, which means either candidate could win. Trump’s campaign is counting on a surge in Election Day turnout from his supporters to fuel the President’s path to reelection.
In an extraordinary departure from American political tradition, Trump has been contending for months that the election is “rigged” against him, has made bogus claims that mail-in voting is corrupt and has refused to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power.
On Sunday, the President stoked fears of a disputed election that could have corrosive long-term effects by raising the bogus argument that results not declared on an election night were somehow illegitimate. Many US elections have gone past midnight on Election Day. It is common for some states to take several days to finalize vote counts.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” Trump said in the pivotal state of North Carolina, which he is battling to keep in his column despite demographic changes that give Democrats hope.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when people or states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over because it can only lead to one thing, and that’s very bad. You know what that thing is. I think it’s a very dangerous, terrible thing,” Trump told reporters.
In another ominous comment, the President said that when voting was over in states like Pennsylvania, “We’re going in with our lawyers,” after railing against a Supreme Court decision that left in place for now a decision by Pennsylvania’s top bench to allow the counting of ballots up to three days after Election Day.
Elections are, notwithstanding, not decided by time limits – they depend on all the votes being counted. Some states and counties don’t start counting mail-in votes until Tuesday, and much of the time the process is more complicated than counting in person ballots, implying that the post-election period will be protracted. Some of the most urgent battlegrounds, similar to Pennsylvania and Michigan, have warned it could be several days before a final result can be declared.
In the latest high stakes legal imbroglio, a federal court in Texas will hear a suit filed by a group of Republicans to invalidate almost 127,000 ballots at drive-thru facilities in Harris County, an intensely Democratic area that surrounds Houston. The Texas Supreme Court denied a comparable petition on Sunday. The showdown is taking place against a backdrop of a dramatic Democratic push to capture Texas, a long-term Republican bastion, without which the President almost certainly couldn’t win a second term.
Also in Texas, the FBI has opened an investigation into a caravan of vehicles driven by Trump supporters allegedly bugging a Biden-Harris campaign bus on Friday.
In a separate vote counting case in Nevada, a judge is set to run Monday on a GOP lawsuit seeking to halt early counting in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, over the stringency of signature-matching computer software and how closely observers can watch votes being counted.