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 sense 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 jam up vote counting or reject ballots and comes amid 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 crucial 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 margin in many key states and has multiple paths to victory. Trump’s route to the required 270 votes is thinner but still viable, meaning 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 arguing for months that the election is “rigged” against him, has made false 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 false 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 crucial 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 as soon as 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, however, not decided by time limits – they depend on all the votes being counted. Some states and counties do not start counting mail-in votes until Tuesday, and in many cases the process is more complicated than counting in person ballots, meaning that the post-election period will be protracted. Some of the most crucial battlegrounds, like 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 nearly 127,000 ballots at drive-thru facilities in Harris County, a heavily Democratic area that surrounds Houston. The Texas Supreme Court denied a similar 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 harassing a Biden-Harris campaign bus on Friday.
In a separate vote counting case in Nevada, a judge is set to rule 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.
Concern over premature victory declaration
As the election nears, concern is growing about what could be a chaotic and confusing election night – given the unusually high proportion of early and mail-in votes owing to the pandemic.
Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on “State of the Union” that she was concerned that Trump could try to declare victory in her state if Election Day voting tallies showed him with a lead before early and mail-in votes were counted.
“I think that’s a very real possibility and that’s why we are trying to make sure that everyone in the press understands the volume of votes that are coming in is like nothing we’ve ever seen before and it is going to take time to count,” she said.
“And it’s more important that we get a count that is accurate than a count that is fast and might not be accurate.”
A Trump campaign advisor told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Sunday that his team will not hold back on claiming a win if it looks like the President is heading for victory, looking at the “current count” and “remaining count” of ballots on election night.
Just because a candidate declares victory it does not mean the election is over, but such a move could be used to create a false political reality to build momentum behind subsequent legal challenges. The President has already said he expects the election to end up in the Supreme Court, and rushed to get Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett confirmed before the election to bolster the conservative majority on the top bench.
The virus that dominated the election is tightening its grip
Tuesday’s moment of destiny will unfold as the novel coronavirus emergency surges out of control all over the nation, in the wake of record daily infection rates and with the number of deaths climbing toward 1,000 per day.
The President on Sunday night hinted that he could seek to dismiss Dr. Anthony Fauci after the election after rejecting the admired infectious diseases specialist’s science-based recommendations on the pandemic.
Biden will campaign Monday in Ohio – a late addition to his target list – and Pennsylvania, the state of his birth that could be the tipping point if the election is close. Trump will mount a hectic trip aboard Air Force One through North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in a last-ditch effort to save states he won four years ago and block Biden’s route to the White House.
Biden argues that Trump’s denial and neglect of a pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans and is getting worse by the day should deny the President reelection.
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“The truth is, to beat the virus, we first got to beat Donald Trump. He is the virus,” Biden said in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Both Biden and Trump have paths to victory
The Democratic nominee heads into the final day of campaigning with a big lead in national polls and ahead in sufficient swing states to allow multiple routes to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, including through the Sun Belt and the Midwest.
“We feel very confident about our pathways to victory,” Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Biden is hoping that wins in states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia or North Carolina could send an early signal on Tuesday night that he is heading for victory.
Trump, while trailing Biden, also has a clear, if narrower, chance to get to 270 electoral votes that relies on him sweeping through a swath of battlegrounds he won four years ago with what his campaign promises will be a huge Election Day turnout. The President cannot afford to drop states like Florida, Georgia or North Carolina and then must battle Biden in the Midwest — the decisive territory in his victory over Hillary Clinton, where he is struggling by comparison four years later. Still, the President is within striking distance in some swing state polls and Democrats are haunted by the idea that he could yet again defy expectations and pull off a stunning Election Day comeback.
Trump misleads on the virus and casts shadow over election night
The President spent a weekend of splenetic campaigning redirecting responsibility for his mishandling of Covid-19, blaming doctors for inflating death tolls and claiming Biden would clamp new lockdowns on the country if he won.
At a rally in Florida on Sunday night, Trump’s crowd started a chant of “Fire Fauci” when the President complained that everyone heard too much about the pandemic.
“Don’t tell anybody but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” the President said. Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. He is respected all over the world and played a major role in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Ebola. In a Washington Post interview published Saturday, Fauci said that the US “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” for the feared winter spike in Covid-19 cases that is now materializing, contradicting Trump’s claims the disease will imminently disappear.
Trump started his day Sunday in snowy Michigan, before traveling through Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and balmy Florida in an exhausting swing that exemplified his stamina but also his defiance – and that of his big crowds – of social distancing measures his own government recommends to stop the spread of Covid-19.
He again claimed falsely on Sunday — at a rally in North Carolina — that the US was “rounding the turn” in its fight with the virus and that vaccines that he had at one point hoped to roll out before the election were “right there.”
Biden on Sunday sought to convince Black voters, who are historically more likely to vote on Election Day, to show up in the numbers he needs in cities and suburbs to make up for Trump’s dominance of the rural heartland.
“Every generation has to fight to keep the democracy. I never believed we’d have to fight this hard though,” Biden said.