Trump renews claim he ‘won the election’ and will pay $3 million for partial recount in Wisconsin – as he blames ‘harassment’ for Michigan Republicans’ U-turn to certify Biden victory in Detroit
- On Tuesday, two Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refused to certify election results showing Biden had won the district by 148,000 votes
- They claimed they were concerned about poll books in certain Detroit precincts that ‘were out of balance’
- Their decision excited many conservatives across the country who believed it could delay or even derail Biden’s bid for the White House
- Trump tweeted: ‘Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!’
- But just minutes later, the two Republican board members flip-flopped, and agreed to certify the vote count
- They did so after being blasted on a Zoom call by several Democrats, including prominent Michigan businessman Ned Staebler
President Donald Trump renewed his claims Wednesday that he ‘won’ the election despite President-elect Joe Biden getting millions more votes than he did – after suffering a public reversal in Michigan on an effort to disregard the vote count.
He also claimed that the embarrassing reversal in Michigan, which saw the Republican members of the Wayne County canvas board refuse to certify the results from Detroit, until they backtracked hours later in the face of outrage and accusations of racism, was because they were ‘screamed at and viciously harassed.’
The initial refusal had been seen as a first step towards Trump having the Republican-held Michigan legislature ignore the election results and seat its own Electoral College electors, who would back him – but the sudden about-face left that door closed to Trump and certified instead a Joe Biden victory in Wayne County, and by extension Michigan.
After the tweetstorm, the Trump campaign announced it will pay $3 million for a partial recount in Wisconsin, where he lost to Biden by more than 20,000 votes. The funds would pay to recount votes in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, which went heavily for Biden.
The two counties ‘were selected because they are the locations of the worst irregularities. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. transferred $3 million to Wisconsin to cover the estimated cost of the recounts,’ according to the Trump campaign, following reports that it would cost nearly $8 million to recount the entire state. They include the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, and both are Democratic strongholds.
Recounts in Wisconsin and across the country have historically resulted in very few vote changes. A 2016 presidential recount in Wisconsin netted Trump – who opposed it happening – an additional 131 votes.
The recount in Georgia was set to finish later Wednesday with officials there saying it was on course to show no change to the outcome of a Biden victory.
But the tweetstorm and the recount move showed that Trump is not giving up on his belief that he can overturn the election results.
Trump claimed he ‘won’ the election during his early morning speech hours after the polls closed on Election Day, but at other times has said he will ‘win’ once court cases are litigated.
The president claimed he ‘WON’ the election, renewing claims of fraud and that the election was ‘rigged.’ He retweeted a New York Times graphic thread, which indicated Trump grew his vote from 2016 – but President-elect Joe Biden grew Hillary Clinton’s by more
Trump also called it a ‘rigged election’
Trump also complained about a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court against his campaign
On Wednesday morning, he he president retweeted a map from the New York Times showing that he won 10.1 million more votes than he got in 2016, including in areas with a majority of Hispanic voters. Trump and his top aides have regularly pointed to his raw vote totals, even while claiming the election was ‘rigged.’
Trump added in all-capital letters: ‘AND I WON THE ELECTION. VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY!’
What the Times graphic didn’t note is that Democrat Joe Biden has received nearly 6 million more votes than Trump, eclipsing Hillary Clinton’s win over Trump in the national popular vote (a statistic that carries significance but does not determine the winner).
If Trump were to click on the Twitter thread, he would see that the second post said Biden exceeded Hillary Clinton’s vote total by 12.6 million votes, performing better in urban and suburban counties. Biden also enjoyed ‘desertions’ from the ‘GOP white middle class,’ according to the tweets.
Twitter noted after Trump’s claim that he won that ‘multiple sources called this election differently’ – a reference to calls by Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, the Associated Press, and the New York Times.
On that score, he has suffered repeated setbacks as he did at the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Trump suffered a publicly awkward defeat when two Republicans on a Wayne County elections board refused to certify the vote that included Detroit.
Their decision not to certify hundreds of thousands of votes drew a brutal rebuke from a poll watcher in a zoom session – but also praise from the president on his Twitter account.
‘Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!’ Trump gleefully tweeted shortly after 9 pm Eastern.
But just minutes after he vouched for the effort that Trump critics were calling part of a slow-motion coup, the two election officials flipped and agreed to certify the election results.
Trump revisited that issue Wednesday, retweeting a report on the stunning turnaround after they voted to certify the results.
‘Wrong! At first they voted against because there were far more VOTES than PEOPLE (Sad!). Then they were threatened, screamed at and viciously harassed, and were FORCED to change their vote, but then REFUSED, as American patriots, to sign the documents. 71% MESS. Don’t Harass!’ Trump wrote.
The two Republican officials performed their dramatic back-flip after being blasted by a Democratic poll watcher.
Monica Palmer and William Hartmann – who serve as the two Republican members on the four-person Wayne County Board of Canvassers – sparked outrage on Tuesday when they initially declared they would not sign off on their district’s ballot count which had Joe Biden ahead by 148,000 votes.
The pair were subsequently lambasted in a Zoom meeting by Ned Staebler, a prominent Michigan businessman who worked as a poll watcher in the large county, which encompasses the city of Detroit.
‘I just want to let you know that the Trump stink, the stain of racism that you have covered yourself in, is going to follow you throughout history,’ Staebler raged, noting that the pair specifically refused to certify results in Detroit, which has a population that is around 80 percent black.
He pointed out that the pair appeared to have no qualms in certifying results from a nearby city which was 95 percent white, despite the fact there were larger discrepancies between votes cast and counted in that area.
Monica Palmer and William Hartmann – who serve as the two Republican members on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers – have spectacularly back-flipped and decided to certify the election results in their district, after initially voting not to
The pair were lambasted in a Zoom meeting by Ned Staebler, a prominent Michigan businessman who worked as a poll watcher in Wayne County (pictured)
Staebler further referenced that Hartmann and Palmer had previously certified a primary election earlier this year which had larger discrepancies than those found in the November 3 presidential election.
‘You will forever be known in southeastern Michigan as two racists who did something so unprecedented that they disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of black voters in the city of Detroit, because they were ordered to,’ Staebler raged.
‘Just know when you try to sleep tonight that millions of people around the world on Twitter know the names William Hartmann and Monica Palmer as two people completely racist and without an understanding of what integrity means or a shred of human decency.’
‘The law isn’t on your side, history won’t be on your side, your conscience will not be on your side and, Lord knows, that when you go to meet your maker, your soul is going to be very, very warm.’
Shortly after Staebler’s stinging rebuke, both the Republicans back-flipped, agreeing to sign off on the ballot count in Wayne County and delivering a crushing blow to President Trump in his quest to contest the outcome of the election.
Hartmann and Palmer looked a little stunned after being blasted on the Zoom call by Staebler
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump and other Republicans were overjoyed at news Hartmann and Palmer had initially refused to sign off on the election results.
Many believed the act would embolden other conservative officials in key states to take similar action, potentially delaying or preventing Biden from becoming President.
‘Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!’ Trump gleefully tweeted shortly after 9 pm Eastern.
But just minutes after that tweet, Hartmann and Palmer spectacularly flip-flopped and agreed to certify the election results.
Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday night that Michigan’s Wayne County had ‘refused to certify the presidential election results’ – just minutes before they actually did so
Trump gleefully tweeted about what looked to be a massive win for him in Wayne County – before two Republicans changed their votes
Election workers process absentee ballots at the Detroit Department of Elections Central Counting Board of Voting the day after the election
According to The Detroit Free Press, their certification is contingent on having ‘the Michigan Democratic Secretary of State conduct an independent comprehensive audit of all of the jurisdictions in the county that recorded unexplained discrepancies between the number of absentee ballots recorded as cast and the number of absentee ballots counted.’
The Democrat members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers have agreed to that action.
Staebler was not the only person on the Zoom call to condemn Hartmann and Palmer.
Others say their decision not to sign off on the ballot count it as ‘a dangerous attempt to overthrow the will of voters’.
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, a well-known pastor and head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, called the Republican county canvassers a ‘disgrace.’
‘You have extracted a black city out of a county and said the only ones that are at fault is the city of Detroit, where 80 percent of the people who reside here are African Americans. Shame on you!’ Anthony said at a meeting, which was conducted virtually over Zoom.
Palmer said she was reluctant to certify the vote count as poll books in certain Detroit precincts were out of balance.
In response, Jonathan Kinloch, a Democrat, said it was ‘reckless and irresponsible’ to not certify the results.
‘It’s not based upon fraud. It´s absolutely human error,’ Kinloch said of any discrepancies. ‘Votes that are cast are tabulated.’
Jonathan Kinloch – a Democrat on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers – is pictured
Allen Wilson, who serves as the second Democrat on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, is pictured with Senator Chuck Schumer
In this Nov. 4, 2020 file photo, a Republican election challenger at right watches over election inspectors as they examine a ballot as votes are counted into the early morning hours at the central counting board in Detroit
However, Kinloch was heartened after the Republicans reversed course and agreed to certify the election results.
‘It restored my faith in the fact that yes, government does work, that yes, the people can make a difference,” he told The Detroit News.
The city’s mayor, Mike Duggan, was also happy with the outcome.
‘Glad to see common sense prevailed in the end,” he told the publication, adding that the two Republican board members would have committed ‘an historically shameful act’ if not for their U-turn.
STATE-BY-STATE: WHERE TRUMP IS SUING AND HOW IT’S GOING
BIDEN MAJORITY TRUMP NEEDS TO OVERTURN: 82,092
On Monday after Election Day, the Trump campaign filed their big shot at overturning all mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, claiming that Democratic and Republican counties did not administer them in the same way; instances of fraud; and that poll watchers could not see them being counted. On that basis, they say, the results should not be certified on November 23.
The case faces an uphill struggle. The largest law firm involved in it, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, quit.
The Supreme Court has already allowed mail-in ballots to be issued in Pennsylvania, and the claim of poll watchers not seeing them being counted had failed before when a Trump agreed that a ‘non-zero number’ of Republicans had observed the count in Philadelphia.
The new suit provided no actual evidence of fraud. It did include a claim by an Erie mailman that he had heard his supervisors talking about illegally backdating ballots; he was said to have recanted that claim when questioned by U.S. Postal Inspectors.
Trump’s campaign then filed a motion to intervene in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a decision from the state’s highest court that allowed election officials to count mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday’s Election Day that were delivered through Friday after Election Day.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on the Friday night before Election Day ordered county election boards in the state to separate mail-in ballots received after 8 p.m. EST on Election Day.
Pennsylvania election officials have said those ballots were already being separated.
The justices previously ruled there was not enough time to decide the merits of the case before Election Day but indicated they might revisit it afterwards.
Alito, joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, said in a written opinion that there was a ‘strong likelihood’ the Pennsylvania court’s decision violated the U.S. Constitution.
Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar has said late-arriving ballots are a tiny proportion of the overall vote in the state.
Rudy Giuliani unveiled a ‘witness’ to his claims – a Republican poll watcher – at his infamous press conference outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping. But the man, Daryl Brooks, has not been included in any legal papers. He was previously convicted of exposing himself to underage girls.
Amid a series of chaotic moves among Trump’s legal team, the president tasked Giuliani with overseeing his efforts. The former New York mayor appeared in federal court Tuesday, Nov. 17. He wove together a sweeping claim of a fraud conspiracy allegedly carried out by Democrats, saying there was a ‘widespread nationwide voter fraud.’ He added: ‘They stole an election.’ But Giuliani also acknowledged to the federal judge Matthew Brann that, ‘This is not a fraud case.’ The Trump campaign had shaved numerous allegations from its initial filing, now arguing that there had been constitutional violations because some counties allowed voters to ‘cure’ their mail-in ballots while others did not. ‘This is just disgraceful,’ said Mark Aronchick, representing the Allegheny County Board of Elections, in the county that includes Pittsburgh.
Even as Giuliani was in court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the Trump campaign, 5-2, after the Trump camp argued that election observers weren’t allowed close enough to observe the electoral count and did not get ‘meaningful access.’ The 5-2 decision ruled that Pennsylvania counties could determine the particulars of election observers, and that state law only required they be ‘in the room’ when votes are counted. Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis blasted the ruling and said ‘We are keeping all legal options open to fight for election integrity and the rule of law.’
Even the two dissenting justices in the state’s highest court wrote that the idea of tossing out ‘presumptively valid’ ballots based on ‘isolated irregularities’ was ‘misguided.’
BIDEN MAJORITY TRUMP NEEDS TO OVERTURN: 9,543. RECOUNT IS LEGALLY IMPOSSIBLE
Trump’s campaign said the Saturday after Election Day it had sued in Arizona, alleging that the state’s most populous county incorrectly rejected votes cast on Election Day by some voters.
The lawsuit, filed in state Superior Court in Maricopa County, said poll workers told some voters to press a button after a machine had detected an ‘overvote.’
The campaign said that decision disregarded voters’ choices in those races, and the lawsuit suggested those votes could prove ‘determinative’ in the outcome of the presidential race.
It is a modification of an earlier suit which was submitted and then withdrawn claiming that Trump voters were given sharpies to mark their ballots and claiming this made them more prone to error. The ‘sharpie-gate’ claims have no basis in fact, Arizona’s secretary of state says.
On Thursday Nov. 12, a judge savaged the affidavits produced to back the case as ‘spam’ and a Trump lawyer said they were not alleging fraud in any form.
On Nov. 13th, lawyers for the Trump campaign dropped a lawsuit seeking a review of all ballots cast on Election Day amid the daunting vote margin. The Biden camp had called the suit ‘frivolous’ and a ‘waste of time.’
Amid the setbacks, the state GOP asked a judge to bar Maricopa County from certifying the election results. A judge was scheduled to hear the motion Wednesday, Nov. 18, with a looming Nov. 23 deadline for state certification of election results. An audit in the vote-rich county found not ballot discrepancies there.
One claim that President Trump blasted out to his Twitter followers alleging that Dominion voting machines and software were part of a nationwide scheme to ‘delete’ Trump votes and ‘switch’ votes from Trump to Biden never made it into legal filings by his campaign lawyers.
BIDEN MAJORITY TRUMP NEEDS TO OVERTURN: 33,596
A voter, a member of the media and two candidate campaigns sued Nevada’s secretary of state and other officials to prevent the use of a signature-verification system in populous Clark County and to provide public access to vote counting.
A federal judge rejected the request, saying there was no evidence the county was doing anything unlawful.
Trump campaign officials have also claimed evidence that thousands of non-residents have voted but have not sued.
The Trump campaign filed a new lawsuit Tuesday Nov. 17, two weeks after Election Day, claiming irregularities, suing on behalf of Trump electors in Carson City. The campaign claimed 15,000 people voted despite moving out of state. Following earlier claims some people labeled ‘out of state’ were found to be military voters stationed outside of Nevada. It revisited allegations that a machine used to verify signatures was not reliable. The suit asks a judge to either declare Trump the winner or nullify the results and prohibit the appointment of state electors. It also states that 500 provisional ballots got included in totals without being resolved.
One suit targets a Democratic elector who says she is a homeless veteran, seeking to avoid the state’s electors to Trump and disregard the vote.
BIDEN MAJORITY TRUMP NEEDS TO OVERTURN: 14,028
The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in state court in Chatham County that alleged late-arriving ballots were improperly mingled with valid ballots, and asked a judge to order late-arriving ballots be separated and not be counted.
The case was dismissed on November 5, finding there was ‘no evidence’ ballots referenced in the suit came in after the state’s deadline, and no evidence Chatham County failed to comply with the law.
The two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, called for the GOP Secretary of State to quit claiming there were election irregularities Monday. They offered no evidence and he scoffed: ‘That’s not going to happen.’
A suit by Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, who supports Trump and who represented Richard Jewell in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomb case, is seeking a court order to prevent Georgia from certifying its results, and calling for mail-in ballots not to be included in totals. He is seeking to throw out a March 6, 2020 consent agreement reached by the Georgia secretary of state and the Democratic Party. The decree put in place procedures for verifying ballot signatures.
A group of four voters voluntarily withdrew their suit after arguing in a complaint to exclude votes from eight counties, saying ballots were cast illegally.
Three Trump campaign claims of dead people ‘voting’ in Georgia turned out not to be true.
Georgia undertook an automatic recount due to the closeness of the margin, and conducted a hand count as part of an audit. Officials were expecting to announce the result Nov. 18. Although the count uncovered additional tranches of ballots, it was not expected to change the result.
BIDEN MAJORITY TRUMP NEEDS TO OVERTURN: 148, 152
On Monday Nov. 9 Trump filed a federal case alleging fraud and then later a separate demand that the votes are not certified on November 23.
In the first case, one witness – possibly misgendered by the Trump lawyers – claimed that they had been told by another person that mysterious ballots arrived late on vehicles with out of state plates and all were for Biden; that they had seen voters coached to vote for Biden; and that they were told to process ballots without any checks.
It also included poll watchers and ‘challengers’ who said they could not get close enough to see what was happening.
A federal judge has yet to issue any response on when and how it will be looked into. The Trump campaign also filed the same case again to the wrong federal court on Thursday Nov. 12 for no apparent reason.
Trump’s campaign last Wednesday filed a lawsuit in Michigan to halt the vote count in the state. The lawsuit alleged that campaign poll watchers were denied ‘meaningful access’ to counting of ballots, plus access to surveillance video footage of ballot drop boxes.
On Thursday 6, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens dismissed the case, saying there was no legal basis or evidence to halt the vote and grant requests.
The Trump campaing also asked a court to stop canvassing boards in Michigan and in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, from certifying the results.
A week after filing its federal case, the Trump campaign had yet to serve Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson with a copy of its complaint.
U.S. District Judge Janet Neff gave the campaign a Nov. 17 deadline or face dismissal ‘for failure to diligently prosecute this case.’
There was drama the evening of Nov. 17 when two Republican officials refused for a time refused to certify the results from Detroit. They backtracked hours later in the face of outrage and accusations of racism. President Trump hailed them online for their ‘courage’ Tuesday night, but they flip-flopped minutes later and agreed to certify the result. The initial refusal had been seen as a first step towards Trump having the Republican-held Michigan legislature ignore the election results and seat its own Electoral College electors who back Trump, in a bid to force a contested election into the Congress.
BIDEN MAJORITY TRUMP NEEDS TO OVERTURN: 20,565
On Nov. 18th, the Trump campaign paid $3 million to get a partial recount in two Wisconsin counties, Milwaukee and Dane, that went heavily for Joe Biden. The request came hours before a deadline Wednesday.
The race was close enough, with a difference of more than 20,000, that Trump could request a recount, but was required to pay. Counties must complete their work by December 1.
Past recounts have had only marginal impacts on the final count. A recount of the 2016 presidential election netted Trump just 131 additional votes, with a victory margin of 23,000. That recount was requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and opposed by Trump.
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
The U.S. Postal Service said about 1,700 ballots had been identified in Pennsylvania at processing facilities during two sweeps on Thursday after Election Day and were being delivered to election officials, according to a court filing early Friday.
The Postal Service said 1,076 ballots, had been found at its Philadelphia Processing and Distribution Center. About 300 were found at the Pittsburgh processing center, 266 at a Lehigh Valley facility and others at other Pennsylvania processing centers.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington is overseeing a lawsuit by Vote Forward, the NAACP, and Latino community advocates.
Sullivan on Thursday ordered twice-daily sweeps at Postal Service facilities serving states with extended ballot receipt deadlines.
TRUMP’S POSSIBLE ROADMAP TO KEEPING THE WHITE HOUSE
Donald Trump does have a precarious – and politically explosive – path to keeping the White House. To do it he needs to get Joe Biden’s wins in a series of states set aside.
With his claim that the Supreme Court would do that looking to have evaporated, instead he has to use the procedures of the Electoral College to turn it round.
And he needs to do it in a lot of states: if Georgia and Arizona stay on track for Joe Biden, he will have 306 votes, far above the 270 needed. Trump appears to be taking legal action, or intending to, in six states: Pennsylvania, with 20 Electoral College votes; Georgia, with 16; Michigan with 16; Arizona with 11; Wisconsin with 10; and Nevada with six.
He needs to get at least any two of the larger three states plus one more state to go Republican to get Biden under 270.
Here is how he might manage it:
STEP ONE: GET COURTS TO PUT HOLDS ON CERTIFYING THE VOTE IN TARGET STATES
The vote is not official until it is ‘certified’ – that is officially declared valid – which happens later in November. Georgia certifies on November 20, and Nevada and Wisconsin are last on December 1.
Trump is already trying to get certification put on hold in Pennsylvania and Michigan, claiming large-scale irregularities.
OR: GET AN ‘AUDIT’ REQUESTED OR EVEN BETTER ORDERED – AND KEEP IT GOING PAST CERTIFICATION
Michigan Republican state senators have asked for an ‘audit’ claiming that allegations of irregularity need to be looked into. This could be a useful tool if courts don’t come through: at the very least it would allow Republicans to say they don’t trust the certification because it has not been audited.
STEP TWO: KEEP THE CERTIFICATION ON HOLD PAST DECEMBER 8
This is the ‘safe harbor’ deadline when all election disputes must be resolved. If they are not fully played out, whoever has a court ruling in their favor at this point keeps that result. So if Trump has certification on hold in target states, he has a chance to flip them to him starting now.
STEP THREE: GET REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES TO AGREE TO APPOINT THEIR OWN ELECTORS
You were not voting for the president directly: you were voting for electors to the electoral college. But the Constitution does not say that electors are winners of a popular vote. Instead the Constitution says: ‘Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.’ In the early 19th century, states rapidly moved to make the appointment of the electors the result of the popular vote; by 1832 South Carolina was the only holdout. It stuck with that approach until secession.
So Republicans in at least three and possibly more states would have to decide that because the results are not certified – or because they claim they don’t trust the certification because of an audit or the lack of one – that they can take back control for themselves. They would argue that because the results aren’t certified or trustworthy, it’s up to them to work out the will of the people.
Then – undoubtedly in the face of huge public protest – they would appoint Republicans who will vote for Trump.
This has happened in recent history: in 1960 Hawaii had disputed elections and sent two slates of electors.
STEP FOUR: SWEAT IT OUT WHEN GOVERNORS APPOINT THEIR OWN ELECTORS
All three of the biggest target states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – have Republican legislatures and Democratic governors. So now the governors could simply appoint their own electors – voting for Biden – and say that their votes are what counts on January 6, when the Electoral College is counted and record in Washington D.C.
STEP FOUR: SURVIVE A SUPREME COURT CHALLENGE TO THE REPUBLICAN ELECTORS
Such a dramatic change would go to the Supreme Court. It has never directly ruled whether states could do that: in 2000, three of the five justices who gave the election to Bush over Gore said that state legislatures had complete control – but that is not a precedent. Now Trump’s fate would be in the hands of nine justices, three of whom he appointed and one of whom – Clarence Thomas – said that legislatures are in charge.
Democrats would of course argue that the governors’ electors are the right ones, and a titanic battle would play out. If Trump wins – again in the face of likely huge public protest – he is on to the final stage.
STEP FIVE: HOPE THAT THE PENNSYLVANIA REPUBLICAN SLATES DON’T GO FAITHLESS
If Pennsylvania is one of the states to ignore the popular vote, Trump needs its 20 Republican electors to stick to the plan – but the state allows faithless electors. So all, or even some, could make a difference in an already mathematically fraught bid to keep the presidency. But assuming he has enough votes not going to Biden, it is on to Washington D.C.
STEP FIVE: MAKE IT TO JANUARY 6
This is D-day for the plan: The newly-sworn in Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes. The vice-president, Mike Pence, presides, over a joint session. Normally the ‘certificates’ showing how each state voted are opened in front of the vice-president, the count is recorded and with a bang of the gavel, the electoral college winner is officially declared.
Now Trump needs Republicans in the House and Senate to work together. A member of the House and a senator can jointly object to a state’s certificate when it is opened. The last time this happened was in 1877, which caused a months-long crisis, ended by compromise and followed by the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
This time the 1887 rules come into play. If there is an objection, they split into the House and Senate and there are two hours for debate. This has only happened once, in 2005, when a tiny number of Democrats objected to Ohio’s vote count. But it was voted down overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.
And finally, the vote count is in alphabetical order, so Arizona will be the first battleground state where all this could be tested.
STEP SIX: MAKE SURE THE RULES ARE IN YOUR FAVOR
As the Trump ships enters uncharted waters, one issue is unresolved: how do you work out what a majority of the Electoral College is? That seems simple but it might not be. If the House and the Senate come to different conclusions on a state with rival slates of electors, then the question is what happens next.
The most likely answer is that they are simply removed from Biden’s total but not added to Trump. But does that mean the states still count in the Electoral College? The 1887 law is not clear: it seems to suggest both options are available, so Congress might have to try to decide – or Pence as president of the joint session could rule.
If Congress goes for the shrinking college, that favors Biden unless Trump has Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – all the states being targeted by Trump. But if it stays at 538, then Biden could well lose without Trump actually winning: once it falls below 270, there is no majority and therefore it is up to the House to decide.
STEP SEVEN: KEEP MITT ROMNEY, SUSAN COLLINS AND LISA MURKOWSKI ON TRUMP’S SIDE (AND HOPE PENCE CAN VOTE)
If Trump is to win, he has to have the Republicans in the Senate vote for Arizona’s Republican slates as the first order of business.
This is where the Georgia Senate race comes into play.
If the Georgia runoffs are decided and Democrats take both seats, Pence would have to tie break in Trump’s favor – if that is allowed. The rules say he is president of the joint session. But they are unclear on whether he retains his tie-break power as president of the Senate. The two roles are not identical and the 1887 law appears to give him a passive, rather than active, role in the session – more like the chief justice presiding over Trump’s impeachment trial than a regular Senate session.
But if Republicans get one or both Georgia seats, the Senate will be 51-49 or 52-48, which means that any rebellion by Republicans is extremely dangerous. Assuming that Pence has a tie-break, it would take only two or three rebels to end Trump’s run. There are three obvious candidates: Mitt Romney voted to impeach him, Susan Collins owes him nothing after he refused to campaign for her, and he has called for Lisa Murkowski to be primaried.
STEP EIGHT: WATCH A DEBATE WHICH HAS NO PRECEDENT
The 1887 law sets some ground rules for how the House and the Senate debate which slate of electors are valid. They have to decide what the true vote was at the safe harbor deadline – back on December 8 – and which slate of electors were appointed in line with state law. So the debate should – in theory – not be partisan but a determination of which side is valid. In principle, that could mean different outcomes for different states. But assuming that a Arizona goes Trump’s way in the Senate and Biden’s way in the House, that state is tied – and then it’s on to a new constitutional crisis.
STEP NINE: NOW IT’S GETTING REALLY MESSY – COULD THERE BE TWO PRESIDENTS
The law says that Congress can’t move on to the next state until debate is resolved over the one in question. But it also says that the meeting cannot be dissolved until all states are decided.
So the whole proceeding could be deadlocked at Arizona. And as long as it remains deadlocked, there is a looming deadline of January 20 – at which point Pence and Trump are out of office anyway. In that scenario, Nancy Pelosi becomes president automatically at noon.
However, Pence could break the deadlock on Arizona by ruling that the votes are not to be counted at all, and debate can resume on the next item.
Democrats clearly would not agree. In that scenario, it is impossible to say what would happen. They could walk out, say the debate is not resolved – which it would not be – and therefore Pelosi would be sworn in on January 20.
But Pence can then rule that the debate in fact is going on even without Democrats, run through the votes with only Republicans and come up with a Trump victory: meaning two rival presidents both claiming they are in charge. Both can be sworn in at noon on January 20, with only one with their personal items in the White House.
What happens then is impossible to say: the Supreme Court could try to rule between them, or the military might have to decide who is commander-in- chief.
THE OTHER STEP NINE: KEEP DEBATING (ALTHOUGH WHY WOULD DEMOCRATS WANT TO?
Of course Democrats could stick with the debate and keep going, debating each state as they go along.
If Trump overturns six states’ votes, it is inevitable that Democrats lose, regardless of the rules. If he has fewer states, he will want the 538 figure kept in play to get Biden into a minority. This highly unlikely step gets to neither having a majority in the Electoral College.
STEP NINE: THE HOUSE DECIDES – TRUMP HAS DONE IT
If Trump and Biden end up here this is safer ground: the House has decided before. It does not vote under normal rules. Instead each state delegation gets one vote and has to decide among the delegation how to allot it.
So going by current House results, 27 states have Republican majorities, and all Trump has to do it get a simple majority of them. Trump has triumphed – but it is an exhaustingly long process to get back on the platform on January 20 to be sworn in.
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