President Donald Trump and his allies are taking increasingly frantic steps to subvert the results of the 2020 election, including summoning state legislators to the White House as part of a longshot bid to overturn Joe Biden's victory.
Among other last-ditch tactics: personally calling local election officials who are trying to rescind their certification votes in Michigan, suggesting in a legal challenge that Pennsylvania set aside the popular vote there and pressuring county officials in Arizona to delay certifying vote tallies.
Election law experts see it as the last, dying gasps of the Trump campaign and say Biden is certain to walk into the Oval Office come January. But there is great concern that Trump's effort is doing real damage to public faith in the integrity of U.S. elections.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, one of Trump's most vocal GOP critics, accused Trump of resorting to “overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election.”
Romney added, “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.” Trump's own election security agency has declared the 2020 presidential election to have been the most secure in history. Days after that statement was issued, Trump fired the agency's leader.
The increasingly desperate and erratic moves have no reasonable chance of changing the outcome of the 2020 election, in which Biden has now received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history and has clinched the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
But the Republican president's constant barrage of baseless claims, his work to personally sway local officials who certify votes and his allies' refusal to admit he lost is likely to have a lasting negative impact on the country. Legions of his supporters don't believe he lost.
“It's about trying to set up the conditions where half of the country believes that there are only two possibilities, either they win or the election was stolen,” said Justin Levitt, a constitutional law scholar and professor at Loyola Law School. “And that's not a democracy.” The two GOP canvassers in Michigan's Wayne County said in a statement late Wednesday they lacked confidence that the election was fair and impartial.
"There has been a distinct lack of transparency throughout the process,” they said. But there has been no evidence of impropriety or fraud in Michigan, election officials have said.
Trump's allies have homed in on the way that the president's early lead in Michigan and some other states on election night slipped away as later votes came, casting it as evidence of something nefarious.
But a massive influx of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic leaned largely to Biden, who encouraged his supporters to vote by mail, and those votes were the last to be counted. So it appeared Trump had an edge when he really didn't.
In fact, Biden crushed Trump in Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Detroit, by a more than 2-1 ratio on his way to winning Michigan by 154,000 votes, according to unofficial results.
Earlier this week, the county's two Republicans canvassers blocked the certification of votes there. They later relented and the results were certified. But a person familiar with the matter said Trump reached out to the canvassers, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, on Tuesday evening after the revised vote to express gratitude for their support.
Then, on Wednesday, Palmer and Hartmann signed affidavits saying they believed the county vote “should not be certified.” They cannot rescind their votes, according to the Michigan secretary of state. The four-member state canvassing board is expected to meet Monday and also is split with two Democrats and two Republicans.
Trump appears intent on pushing the issue. He has invited Michigan's Republican legislative leaders, Senate Majority Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, to the White House, according to two officials familiar with the matter who were not authorised to speak publicly.
The two have agreed to go, according to one official, but they haven't commented publicly, and it's not clear what the purpose of the meeting is.
The Michigan Legislature would be called on to select electors if Trump succeeded in convincing the state's board of canvassers not to certify Biden's 154,000-vote victory in the state. But both legislative leaders have indicated they will not try to overturn Biden's win.
“Michigan law does not include a provision for the Legislature to directly select electors or to award electors to anyone other than the person who received the most votes,” Shirkey's spokeswoman said last week.
During a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday, Biden said Americans are “witnessing incredible irresponsibility, incredibly damaging messages are being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions." He added, “I just think it's totally irresponsible.”
Earlier, Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others had held a press conference to allege a widespread Democratic election conspiracy involving multiple states and suspect voting machines. But election officials across the country have said repeatedly there was no widespread fraud.
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