Trump Campaign's Longshot Legal Challenges Unlikely to Swing Presidential Election, Analysts Say
President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, early Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The series of lawsuits the Trump campaign has announced in multiple states amount to longshot legal arguments focusing on thin claims or affecting such a small portion of votes that they wouldn't decide the presidential election, several legal analysts say.
The lawsuits have often tackled issues that would be relatively inconsequential to the vote results, such as asking for expanding access to observers already allowed to monitor ballot processing, or challenging a very small number of votes in which voters who sent in absentee ballots with defects were contacted ahead of time.
On Thursday, the Trump campaign announced a court victory in Philadelphia after a judge said observers could stand closer in watching the canvass proceedings -- a result that would not affect votes themselves and did not make major changes to the observation already allowed.
At times, the lawsuits have contested ballots that number in the double digits, which would be hundreds, if not thousands, of votes shy of potentially swinging any state's result.
In practical terms, the lawsuits mostly have the effect of fueling the Trump campaign's baseless attempts to undermine public faith in the validity of the election process as President Donald Trump seeks to stay in office.
"Admitting defeat is not a plausible reaction, so soon after the election, so they throw a lot of Hail Mary lawsuits at the wall and hope something sticks," said longtime Republican elections lawyer and CNN contributor Ben Ginsberg. He said these types of suits aren't indicative of a campaign that's feeling optimistic and is instead scrambling.
"I think much of the litigation is a long shot and unlikely to succeed," Franita Tolson, a law professor at USC Gould School of Law and CNN contributor, said.
She pointed to a lawsuit in Georgia, where the Trump campaign announced Wednesday night over a poll worker mixing unprocessed and processed absentee ballots. That might have the potential to affect few votes, she said.
"I suspect that a big goal of this litigation is, in the short term, to change the narrative" from a potential Biden win to a conversation about election mismanagement or even fraud, Tolson said.
Another law professor and CNN contributor, Rick Hasen, said the lawsuits appeared to be more aimed at public relations than initiative serious litigation.
"These lawsuits so far are not tackling any major problem that would seem to call overall vote totals into questions," he said.
Justin Levitt, another elections expert and law professor, called some of the suits, like one in Michigan, "laughable."
"One says (they) didn't put people by absentee dropboxes, so stop the count. Huh?" he said.
Even a Republican-appointed federal judge in Pennsylvania cast doubt on the validity of a suit from Republicans on Wednesday, when they challenged fewer than 100 ballots that absentee voters corrected in a county outside Philadelphia.
At a hearing Wednesday morning, the judge, Timothy Savage, did not rule but he suggested the lawyer for Republican canvass observers was seeking to disenfranchise votes. He noted the lawsuit appeared to have other problems in its arguments.
Some legal challenges in Pennsylvania from the Trump campaign were quickly dismissed on Election Day, with Trump touting his appeals of those losses apparently as new cases on Wednesday.
For instance, a Philadelphia Election Day judge shot down a Trump campaign case over ballot processing access, writing that "observers are directed only to observe and not to audit ballots" and deciding that the city's board of elections complied with the law. Another Election Day challenge from the Trump campaign to the ballot observation process in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, also near Philadelphia, was dismissed by a judge, though Trump is now appealing, according to Pennsylvania court records.
Lawyers for the Trump campaign sued in Nevada on Tuesday, too, claiming that their observers were not given enough access to all aspects of the ballot-counting process, from opening the ballots, to machine and manual signature checking, and duplicating spoiled ballots. A Nevada judge denied the GOP challenge to the early voting process in the heavily Democratic county.
"If this last-minute suit were successful, it would require a major change in how (Nevada) processed absentee (ballots) to determine if the signature on the ballot matched the voter's prior signature on file," said Richard Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University and CNN election law analyst.
"Courts are typically unwilling to let plaintiffs come in the door so late in the day and ask for major changes to a process that's already well underway," he said.
However, one suit, the petition before the US Supreme Court on Pennsylvania's ballot deadline, may be a more serious litigation challenge. It challenges the validity of potentially several thousand votes cast in good faith by voters, but received by officials after the election through the mail.
For this case to make a genuine difference, however, Pennsylvania would need to be the deciding state for the election, and the margin of difference between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would need to be several tens of thousands of votes.