President Trump’s belligerent promise to fight the election outcome in court on Friday crashed into skeptical judges, disheartening mathematics from the Electoral College and a lack of evidence for his fraud claims.
On a day that began with a vote count in Georgia and Pennsylvania that shifted in favor of Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s campaign said, “This election is not over,” as the Republican National Committee announced that it had sparked a “teams court challenge” in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And Trump’s forces have appointed a new general to lead the effort, hardened conservative political fighter David Bossie.
But none of the dozens of lawsuits they had filed in battlefield states seemed to be gaining ground in court. And in any case, none seemed likely to give Mr. Trump the edge he would need in the vote count in the states that will determine the outcome.
In seeking to sow widespread doubt over the legitimacy of the election, Mr Trump and his surrogates appeared less focused on substantive legal arguments that might hold in court than on strengthening the president’s political narrative, unsupported by the facts. , that he was somehow stolen from a second term.
The most high-profile milestone of the day came when Republicans in Pennsylvania asked the United States Supreme Court to step in and require state election officials to separate ballots that arrived after the day. of the ballot to prevent them from being counted in the total of critical swing states.
But the decision was almost entirely for the show: Pennsylvania is already separating those ballots, count them separately and do not include them in the announced vote totals. The secretary of state, despite objections from Republicans and Mr Trump, said they could be counted if they arrived at 5 p.m. on Friday, according to a state court ruling. A state official said these ballots numbered in the thousands but not in the tens of thousands.
Their lack of progress in stopping the count or arguing for large-scale electoral fraud has left Mr. Trump and his team increasingly dependent on the political salvation of recounts – which seemed likely to take place in Georgia, in Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin, but which rarely result in large variations in the number of votes.
Trump’s effort could be boosted by the state legislatures of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, both of which are controlled by Republicans. In Wisconsin, Robin Vos, the speaker of the State Assembly, ordered a legislative committee “to use its investigative powers” to conduct an election review, again raising the specter of fraud election without offering specific evidence.
In Pennsylvania, the two main Republicans in the legislature called on Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, to conduct “an immediate audit” of the election.
At the same time, allies President openly suggested an extreme measure: use baseless allegations of Democratic wrongdoing to pressure Republican-controlled state legislatures in key states to send pro-Trump voters to the Electoral College, regardless the results of the popular vote.
Biden campaign officials have said they will respond to any challenges Mr. Trump has brought but said they are confident none of the cases they have seen so far look likely to loosen Mr. Biden’s grip on the presidency.
“The Republican claims are absolutely baseless and have failed and will continue to fail in court,” said Bob Bauer, senior advisor to the Biden campaign. “They serve no purpose other than to echo Donald Trump’s discredited and shameful attack on the democratic process.”
In a statement, Republican Party chief counsel Justin Riemer said, “We are focused on protecting the integrity of the vote and making sure all legally cast ballots are counted,” but he didn’t was not made available for further comment on the details of the party’s strategy.
Trump’s intensive effort was the end of a long-planned emergency in which the president planned to challenge any possible loss by claiming the voting system was “rigged” against him. The campaign was backed by a strong pro-Trump media ecosystem, with Mr. Trump’s own social media accounts at its center, amplifying his misrepresentation.
As the legal push failed to make any substantial progress this week, it took on an urgent, sometimes desperate tone.
Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, said on Twitter on Thursday, “I really hope the @ FBI / @ DOJ gets on board immediately.”
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich echoed the president’s son on Fox News, calling for the jail of poll workers and greater involvement of Attorney General William P. Barr.
But in the days following the election, Mr Barr and the Justice Department remained largely silent. After initially echoing Mr. Trump’s warnings about electoral fraud, Mr. Barr hushed up his statements and Mr. Trump complained to aides about the ministry’s lack of action.
But an outside support group, True the Vote – one of the most prominent proponents of the false rhetoric that “voter fraud” is rampant in the United States – has sought to help Mr. Trump build his case. On Friday, he announced that he had formed a $ 1 million “Whistleblower Defense Fund” to “urge” witnesses to move forward with charges of embezzlement.
No state saw more legal activity than Pennsylvania, where the Trump campaign and local Republicans filed at least half a dozen lawsuits just before and after polling day.
The case that had the potential to affect the most votes was the one filed Friday in the Supreme Court seeking an order that would require Pennsylvania election officials to separate ballots arriving after election day from other ballots. In its emergency request, the party acknowledged that the secretary of state’s office had already ordered election officials to do so, but said it had no way of knowing if they had complied.
Republicans fought unsuccessfully against the Secretary of State’s decision to allow Pennsylvania election officials to count the mail-in ballots that arrived at their offices on Friday provided they had postmarks from the polling day or before. The Supreme Court has twice missed opportunities to rule on the dispute, although the case is still technically pending, giving judges a chance to weigh in if they saw reasons to do so.
But even if the court took the case and ruled in favor of the Republicans to erase all the ballots in question – the votes on the mail-in ballots went overwhelmingly to Mr Biden – that would not affect the current vote totals. , which does not include ballots received after polling day. As of Friday night, Mr. Biden had a lead of about 17,000 votes in Pennsylvania.
Other lawsuits in Pennsylvania sought to eliminate votes resulting from a decision by Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to allow county officials to give voters a chance to correct errors in their rejected ballots or to vote. in place.
A federal judge dismissed one of those cases on Friday in Montgomery County, near Philadelphia, two days after hinting in a hearing that he saw the effort as a step to deprive voters who were following the instructions of the state.
But even if this case had been successful, it would only have affected 93 votes. Likewise, in Michigan, a judge dismissed a Republican lawsuit challenging the state’s vote count, noting that the count had already effectively been completed and dismissing some of the evidence as based on hearsay.
Frustrated supporters of the president like radio host Mark Levin have called on Republican legislatures in states, including Pennsylvania, to use their constitutional authority to send a delegation of pro-Trump voters to the Electoral College, regardless of the popular vote .
Asked at a press briefing on Friday whether the state’s Republicans would do so, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman replied: “We want to stay in the tradition that the winner of the popular vote wins. the election. ”
Even though the state’s Republicans could legally make such a decision – lawmakers “just can’t ignore the popular vote,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said – it was an extreme example of the efforts some supporters were making. of Trump seem ready to go.
In several states, Mr. Trump was challenging state voting rules, effectively seeking to overturn votes cast in accordance with official guidelines.
Nevada Republicans on Thursday night called on the Justice Department to open an investigation into electoral fraud involving 3,000 ballots, a move Democrats said was based on “completely fabricated” claims.
The Justice Department has refused to address the issue publicly, but its guidelines generally prevent criminal investigations into election-related matters until the results are completed.
Local Republicans have included the allegation in a lawsuit they have filed in federal court asking for a change in how Clark County, Nevada conducts its tally. A judge dismissed the case on Friday night, when the vote count showed a 22,000 vote lead for Mr Biden.
Michael S. Schmidt, Katie Benner and Adam Liptak contributed reporting.