Election 2020: A look at the Trump campaign election lawsuits and where they stand

Marliyn Nieves/iStock
Marliyn Nieves/iStock

By MEREDITH DELISO, CATHERINE THORBECKE, and MARC NATHANSON, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — In the days and weeks following the 2020 election, the Trump campaign has been filing lawsuits in battleground states where the race has been extremely close.

Here’s a quick look at where the legal action stands.

Pennsylvania

The Trump campaign and its legal team have pursued several legal actions in the state.

The day after Election Day, the campaign filed a lawsuit alleging that observers were not allowed to “meaningfully” watch the vote count in Philadelphia County. A Pennsylvania judge on Nov. 5 granted the Trump campaign’s request to observe Philadelphia poll workers as they process the remaining mail-in ballots.

The city of Philadelphia promptly filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

Alleging that its poll watchers were not being allowed to properly observe the vote count, as previously granted, the Trump campaign filed a federal lawsuit the evening of Nov. 5 intending to stop the Philadelphia vote count. A judge ultimately denied this request.

The Trump campaign filed another lawsuit the same day in state court alleging that Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar illegally extended a deadline for mail-in voters to supply any missing ID requirements from Nov. 9 to Nov. 12. A judge ordered the Pennsylvania State Department to further segregate any mail-in ballots with missing voter ID information provided after Nov. 9. In a rare legal win for the Trump campaign, on Nov. 12, an appellate judge ruled that Boockvar lacked the authority to issue guidance to change the deadline, and enjoined the state’s boards of elections from counting any ballots that have been segregated.

Also the same day, the campaign’s legal team filed a motion to join a pending lawsuit brought by the Pennsylvania GOP seeking to challenge a three-day mail ballot deadline extension that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld late last month.

In response, Pennsylvania Democrats and Boockvar asked the Supreme Court to deny Trump’s request to formally join the case. In a filing the evening of Nov. 5, Boockvar argued that Trump has not provided any justification for being added at this stage.

On Nov. 5, the Trump campaign filed a petition in Montgomery County seeking to invalidate nearly 600 absentee and mail-in ballots that lacked complete address information. On Nov. 13, a judge denied the petition, noting that the ballot instructions do not inform the voter that their address is required or that its omission will invalidate their ballot.

On Nov. 6, Pennsylvania Republicans sought an emergency order from the Supreme Court mandating that late-arriving ballots not be counted. The state Republicans argued in the filing that Broockvar’s guidance that the ballots are not showing up in the tallies is nonbinding on county boards and claims that 25 of 67 Pennsylvania counties haven’t indicated whether they are abiding by it and in fact segregating the late-arriving votes.

“Without an immediate order from this Court, [Republican Party of Pennsylvania] could lose its right to ‘a targeted remedy’ if the State Supreme Court’s decision is ultimately overturned,” they wrote.

Later that day, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an order requiring that all Pennsylvania county boards of election segregate late-arriving mail ballots, pending further order from the high court.

On Nov. 7, after Biden became the apparent winner of Pennsylvania — and, as a result, the apparent president-elect — Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, vowed to file a lawsuit Monday to challenge the conduct of elections officials in the state. Giuliani alleged that the Trump campaign was deprived of the ability to watch the ballots being processed. He said the campaign would make similar allegations in other states that could lead the campaign to make the case of a “massive nation-wide lawsuit.”

Later that Saturday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro informed the U.S. Supreme Court that, contrary to Republicans’ stated concerns, all of the state’s counties have been complying with the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s guidance to segregate late-arriving mail ballots. The move seemed to suggest that Alito’s order late Friday was not necessary since the counties were already doing the segregation.

On Nov. 9, the Trump campaign filed a catchall lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania asking the court to prohibit the state from certifying the election — or at least the over 680,000 mail-in ballots cast in Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit focuses on the mail-in ballots processed in the Democratic-leaning counties of Allegheny and Philadelphia, and argues that Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar “created an illegal two-tiered voting system” that subjected in-person voters to “greater burdens or scrutiny” than those who voted by mail.

A contingent of the nation’s largest public interest and civil rights groups on Nov. 10 asked a U.S. District Court judge to allow them to join the state of Pennsylvania in fighting the Trump campaign’s latest lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause were among the groups saying they represent some 50,000 voters who cast ballots by mail. A federal judge has set oral arguments in the case for Nov. 17 and an evidentiary hearing for Nov. 19.

Until then, the Trump legal team asked the court on Nov. 12 for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring the defendants from certifying the results of the general election. The campaign argues that if the vote count continues, the results will be certified by the Dec. 8 “safe harbor” deadline — before the court can rule on this case. “Plaintiffs could lose their opportunity for meaningful relief entirely if the vote total is certified, since it is not clear what remedies would remain after that point,” Trump campaign lawyers wrote in their memo.

Meanwhile, Boockvar filed a motion on Nov. 12 to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that much of the case has already been decided in earlier state and federal cases. “The Court should deny Plaintiffs’ desperate and unfounded attempt to interfere with that process, and should dismiss the Complaint with prejudice,” the secretary concluded in the memorandum.

On Nov. 11, the Trump campaign filed six new cases in Pennsylvania. Five were brought in Philadelphia County and asked a judge to throw out more than 8,000 ballots they say meet technical deficiencies, such as missing street addresses or no date next to the signature. Each case focuses on a different category of ballot that the county agreed to count. A sixth case, filed in nearby Bucks County, asks the court to toss out 2,880 ballots that they argue are invalid due to late arrival and other defects.

On Nov. 13, a judge denied all five of the Philadelphia County lawsuits, affirming the count of a total of 8,329 absentee and mail-in ballots.

In opening arguments Nov. 17 in a Philadelphia federal court, Giuliani alleged that a systematic effort by the “Democratic machine” in Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties served to denied poll watchers the chance to observe vote counting up close, with the result that “1.5 million votes were entered illegally” — “way more than enough to overturn the results of the election,” Giuliani said.

Longtime Democratic Party attorney Mark Aronchick argued that the Trump campaign provided “no specifics,” saying of their amended complaint, “There are no numbers in here.” But Trump campaign attorney Linda Kerns argued that the Pennsylvania Secretary of State had created two separate, unequal sets of voting rules across the commonwealth, which violates the constitutional right to have all votes counted equally. Judge Matthew Brann, an Obama appointee, concluded the hearing without a ruling to dismiss the case, and allowed the Trump campaign to file a second amended complaint the following day.

On the same day, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the Trump campaign’s claim that election officials had failed to provide campaign observers “meaningful” access to monitor the counting of mail-in ballots.

The court, on a vote of 5-2, found that elections officials followed the law in providing the Trump campaign sufficient access to the workers who were opening mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania simply has no requirements that say how close the observers need to be placed to watch the process, the court found — a ruling that could undercut the Trump campaign’s ongoing case in federal court.

Georgia

The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit along with the Georgia Republican Party on Nov. 4 in Chatham County seeking to order the county to compile, store and account for all ballots received after the state’s deadline of 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Chatham County Judge James Bass dismissed the suit during a hearing on the following morning, citing a lack of evidence that the ballots referenced in the petition were received after the deadline.

Michigan

On Nov. 4, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in state court asking that vote counting stop until courts can enforce rules that permit campaign observers to watch the ballots being opened and counted. The campaign alleged that poll watchers were being denied close-up access to observe vote counting at locations in Detroit.

A judge in Michigan said the afternoon of Nov. 4 that she would deny the plea, largely on the basis that the counting there is already largely done.

On Nov. 6, Judge Cynthia Stephens issued her formal order denying the Trump campaign’s request to halt counting in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, specifically citing the lack of evidence and detail provided by the campaign.

“As stated on the record at the November 5, 2020 hearing, plaintiffs are not entitled to the extraordinary form of emergency relief they have requested,” she wrote.

On the weekend after Election Day, a lawsuit was filed in Detroit by two poll observers, also known as “challengers,” alleging a wide range of fraud claims. The suit, which includes affidavits signed by five poll challengers and one City of Detroit employee, asks officials to “void the election” and order a new one in Wayne County.

On Nov. 10, the Trump campaign filed a new lawsuit seeking to halt the certification of election results in Michigan until the campaign can ensure it was fair. It includes affidavits from over 100 polls challengers who allege instances of fraud across the state. Many of these have already been publicly debunked by state officials.

On Nov. 16, the conservative nonprofit True the Vote, a Houston-based conservative advocacy group dedicated to “securing” American elections, withdrew four cases it had filed to support Trump’s allegations of election improprieties. The group, which had set up a hotline and claimed to have a $1 million fund to pay “whistleblowers” with information about voter fraud, released a statement acknowledging the “difficult decision to dismiss our current lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.”

“While we stand by the voters’ testimony that was brought forth, barriers to advancing our arguments, coupled with constraints on time, made it necessary for us to pursue a different path,” the organization said.

On Nov. 19, the Trump campaign announced it had voluntarily dismissed its Nov. 10 lawsuit seeking to halt the certification of election results in the state, “as a direct result of achieving the relief we sought: to stop the election in Wayne County from being prematurely certified before residents can be assured that every legal vote has been counted and every illegal vote has not been counted,” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a statement.

The decision came after the two Republican members of Wayne County’s four-person board of canvassers filed affidavits seeking to rescind their votes to certify the county’s election results, a day after they had voted to approve the certification. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson subsequently confirmed plans for a statewide risk-limiting audit of the election and local performance audits of individual jurisdictions.

Arizona

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee filed a motion Nov. 5 to intervene in an Arizona lawsuit that raises issues with the use of Sharpies on ballots in Maricopa County and other regions of the state. The case was brought by a woman who claims that a voting machine failed to properly read her vote after she was provided a Sharpie to fill out her ballot at her polling place.

A judge ordered parties in the case to decide on a path forward and present it to her on Nov. 6.

The plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit without prejudice the following day, court records show. The Arizona secretary of state and Maricopa County elections officials have repeatedly said that Sharpies do not pose an issue for the tabulation equipment.

In a new lawsuit on Nov. 7, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee alleged that votes were improperly rejected, bringing up similar issues as the dismissed Sharpie lawsuit. They claimed that “potentially thousands of voters across Maricopa County were disenfranchised by systematic improper tabulator overrides.”

On Nov. 13, the campaign dropped the suit after it was determined that the number of votes in question wouldn’t be enough to affect the state’s results.

Nevada

On Nov. 5, the Trump campaign announced it was filing a lawsuit in federal court in Clark County over voter fraud. The lawsuit, filed later that day by Nevada GOP groups, alleged that “lax procedures for authenticating mail-in ballots over 3,000 instances of ineligible individuals casting ballots.”

The lawsuit sought injunctive relief directing poll workers to manually check all ballot signatures and to allow for “meaningful access” to ballot counting.

A Nevada district court judge denied the emergency request on Nov. 6. Judge James Gordon said he didn’t think the plaintiffs came to the court with “sufficient evidence” to get what is required of the “extraordinary relief of an injunction” that would get him to “dictate how Clark County should do their job.”

On Nov. 8, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp held a press briefing outside the Clark County Election Department, where they provided a number of anecdotal stories of voter fraud.

Among the unverified allegations were repeated complaints about the machine used to verify voter signatures and charges that Republicans were denied the right to vote. The pair also claimed that hundreds of dead people voted in Clark County. However, they said they had no legal action to announce at that time.

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer, Cheyenne Haslett, Alex Hosenball, Kendall Karson, Adam Kelsey, Soo Rin Kim, Allison Pecorin, Olivia Rubin, Benjamin Siegel, Matthew Mosk, John Santucci, Michelle Mendez and Matthew Fuhrman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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