The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Karl Rove Signals GOP Donors To Push Rewrite Of Election Laws

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Hours after President Biden declared that "democracy has prevailed" during his inaugural address, longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove urged Republicans to pressure GOP election officials to create "a model election code" and change the two voting options that led to the 2020 presidential election's record turnout.

"Republicans should...encourage GOP secretaries of state and state lawmakers to develop a model election code," Rove wrote in a January 20 commentary for the Wall Street Journal titled "The Republican Future Starts Now."

"The job of proposing electoral reforms shouldn't be based on the unsupported claims of widespread fraud peddled by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell," Rove continued. "Instead, the goal should be to suggest measures that restore public confidence in our democracy. How do states with extensive mail-in and early voting like Florida and Texas get it right?"

Rove's commentary comes as Republican-majority legislatures in battleground states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona have proposed bills or convened hearings to review the laws that allowed people to vote early in person or with mailed-out ballots in 2020.

"Whenever Karl Rove writes a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the history of it suggests that Democrats should pay careful attention," said David Daley, author of Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. "Because the Wall Street Journal is where Republicans can signal to their donor class their key projects."

In March 2010, Rove penned a Journal commentary openly discussing the GOP's REDMAP project, which targeted 107 state legislative seats that "would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats." REDMAP succeeded, creating GOP majority legislatures and congressional delegations in the otherwise purple states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Alabama.

The website of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model bills for social conservatives and economic libertarians, has not yet promoted election reforms on its website. However, ALEC linked to the Conservative Action project, which posted a defense of the GOP lawmakers who opposed certifying the Electoral College slates from Arizona and Pennsylvania. The expanded use of voting via mailed-out ballots and early voting must be examined, it said.

"The 2020 election was conducted in an unprecedented manner: largely by mail, and in a way that overwhelmed the capacities of many states. It is not at all unreasonable to review the manner in which votes were counted," said the Conservative Action Project memo, which was signed by more than 100 activists and organizations. "Indeed, if the goal is to restore faith in future elections, then a comprehensive review and analysis to determine what went wrong, what went right, and what is in need of reform should be a critical next step."

Daley, whose prior book, Ratf*cked, profiled REDMAP and its impacts on the past decade's political battles and extreme politics, said Rove's commentary was a warning sign.

"Whenever Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal, it not to be a public intellectual but to put ideas in front of the Republican donor class," he said. "It fits perfectly with much of the Republican strategy on voter suppression."

"So much of it sounds reasonable," Daley continued, referring to the suggestion that a model election code be developed and embraced. "How can you be opposed to a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission that is going to step back and ensure that our elections are free, fair, and secure? Except, that's not actually their intention, because we just had an election that was free, fair, and secure. And [Sens.] Hawley and Cruz and 130-plus Republicans in the House voted to decertify [the popular vote results and Electoral College slates from] Pennsylvania and Arizona—even after a Republican governor [in Arizona] signed off on certification."

Already, Republican legislators in 2020 battleground states held hearings where they are badgering statewide election officials —some elected Democrats, some career civil servants — about decisions they took last fall that made it easier to vote with absentee ballots.

For example, on Thursday in Pennsylvania, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, was pressed by Republican representatives for advising county election officials to count the returned mailed-out ballots of people who forgot to put their ballots in a secrecy sleeve. The state's Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the "naked" ballots should be disqualified.

"You disagree with the decision that was rendered by the Supreme Court?" Rep. Ryan McKenzie, a Republican, asked Boockvar.

"It doesn't matter whether I disagree with a decision rendered by the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court's rule governs," she replied. "But what I would say is, and maybe this is part of your question, do I think that is the right approach for voters for making sure that every eligible voter's vote counts? No, I'd love to see the legislature change that law and say, 'Look, if a voter makes a mistake that does not have anything to do with their eligibility or their qualifications, such as a naked ballot, that vote should still count."

The Thursday legislative hearing was one of 14 that are slated in Pennsylvania to review voting laws and administrative rules that were in effect during the 2020 election. A separate GOP-sponsored proposal would create districts for electing state Supreme Court judges. If put into effect, it could become a judicial gerrymander to recast Pennsylvania's appellate courts—including the Supreme Court.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

The Lies That Drove Trump’s Mob Still Linger

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Eight days ago, allegations of illegal and fraudulent voting in Pennsylvania and other swing states where President Trump lost led his supporters to storm the Capitol. The mob came after a Trump rally, where the president recited numerous falsehoods that long have been debunked.

It was a stunning spectacle. More than a dozen Republican congressmen rose and condemned the violence. Then, as if the cause of the rampage lay elsewhere, they opposed certifying Pennsylvania's votes by reciting many of the same allegations that Trump uttered that day—atop innuendo that Democrats had widely cheated.

"To sum it up, Pennsylvania officials illegally did three things," said Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC). "One, they radically expanded vote by mail for virtually any reason. Two, they removed restrictions when a ballot could be sent in. And three, they removed signature verification on those very ballots."

Budd did not mention that Pennsylvania's Republican majority legislature had approved the election reforms that laid the ground rules for 2020's election. Nor did he note that the Republican National Committee had pushed Pennsylvania's Republicans to vote with absentee ballots—and hundreds of thousands did.

Instead, Budd and other Republicans said that the election was illegitimate because Democratic officials—such as Pennsylvania's secretary of state—issued rules to make it easier for voters and election officials to manage in a pandemic. They said the Constitution had been violated because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had agreed with those steps. Only state legislatures could set election rules, they said, making a novel argument that ignored decades of election law and court rulings.

"I rise in support of this objection and to give voice to the 249,386 men and women of Ohio's 6th Congressional District," said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, "who have had their voices silenced by the rogue political actors in Pennsylvania, who unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered voting methods to benefit the Democratic candidate for president."

"Secretaries of state and state supreme courts cannot simply ignore the rules governing elections set forth in the [U.S.] Constitution," he fumed. "They cannot choose to usurp their state legislatures to achieve a partisan end, Constitution be damned."

These representatives were joined by others who said that Trump's mob was "shameful," "unacceptable" and "un-American." Yet they went on to recite many of the same claims that Trump made before his mob acted. These claims filled the 60-plus lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies since the election—claims federal and state judges have overwhelmingly rejected as baseless and lacking in evidence.

Had these Republicans learned anything from the rampage? When the debate ended well past midnight, 138 Republicans voted to reject Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes. Their dissents did not stop the chamber from accepting the state's Electoral College votes. Nor did it prevent a joint session of Congress later that morning from certifying Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 election's winners.

Yet the 138 votes, and the slippery arguments or misrepresentations that preceded them, are a dark sign of the times. When one-quarter of House members either lack sufficient knowledge of how elections are run or cling to specious arguments to overturn results, the undercurrents driving Trump's mob are still present. Looking ahead, voting rights advocates are starting to see these sentiments resurface as a new wave of anti-voting legislation in red-run state legislatures.

"We're deeply concerned the post-election lawsuits are now morphing into state-driven voter suppression schemes," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, speaking during a press briefing during Georgia's runoffs on January 5. "These lawsuits failed universally… Now we see lawmakers seeking to exploit this moment [and] institute new restrictions on measures such as [repealing] no-excuse absentee voting."

Clarke is partly referring to a proposal by Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to reel in absentee voting. The 2020 election had overwhelmed local election officials, he has said, adding that future voting options needed to be streamlined. Record numbers of Georgians voted by mailed-out ballots in 2020, which was part of the wave that elected two Democratic U.S. senators and delivered a surprising Biden-Harris victory.

Raffensperger had been attacked by Trump as a RINO—Republican In Name Only—and pressured by Trump on January 2 to alter the certified vote count so Trump would emerge as the victor. On Thursday, the Trump campaign withdrew its suits in Georgia on the eve of scheduled court hearings. Raffensperger issued a detailed press release that noted Trump folded just before his legal team had to present evidence of illegal voting and rigged elections.

"On the eve of getting the day in court they supposedly were begging for, President Trump and [Georgia Republican Party] Chairman David Shafer's legal team folded Thursday and voluntarily dismissed their election contests against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rather than submit their evidence to a court and to cross-examination," the secretary's release began.

"However, even in capitulation, they continue to spread disinformation," it said. "The President's legal team falsely characterizes the dismissal of their lawsuits as 'due to an out of court settlement agreement.' However, correspondence sent to Trump's legal team prior to the dismissals makes perfectly clear that there is no settlement agreement. The Trump legal [team] voluntarily dismissed their lawsuits rather than presenting their evidence in court in a trial scheduled for tomorrow in front of Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs."

The statement said that the "withdrawals came after Secretary Raffensperger sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday containing point-by-point refutation of the false claims made by the President and his allies. Late last night, Congress accepted Georgia's slate of electors without objection, as no Senator joined in [Republican] Congressman Jody Hice's objection to Georgia's electors."

Few Republicans probably read Raffensperger's memo as they sought shelter from Trump's mob. However, in the other chamber, Georgia's Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock a day before, said she could no longer oppose her state's certification of the presidential vote. The storming of the Capitol had changed her mind. The same could not be said of nearly one-third of the House.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

What Really Happened In Those Historic Georgia Runoffs -- And Why

Georgia voters are on the verge of sending two new Democratic senators to Washington as the finale of a presidential election season that has historically recast Georgia's political identity and will yield a Democratic Senate majority with a new mandate for Joe Biden's presidency.

Rev. Raphael Warnock was 40,000 votes ahead of Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbent, with more than 98 percent of an estimated 4.5 million ballots counted by early Wednesday. With most of the uncounted ballots in metro Atlanta counties, where 75-to-80 percent of an increasingly diverse electorate voted Democratic, Georgia is sending a Black minister to the U.S. Senate, a major historical achievement.

"We were told we couldn't win this election, but tonight we proved that, with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible," Warnock told his supporters after midnight. "I am so honored by the faith that you have shown in me, and I promise you this: I am going to the Senate to work for Georgia, all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for."

Shortly before 2 AM Wednesday, the other Democrat in a runoff election, Jon Ossoff, pulled ahead of Sen. David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, as returns came in from populous metro Atlanta counties. While some rural counties had yet to finish reporting their counts, election officials said the majority of the remaining votes would favor Democrats.

"Yes, that's correct," Gabriel Sterling, a top state election official and a Republican, told CNN late on Tuesday, discussing the remaining uncounted votes. "It's really an irony because in the '60s and '70s, that [Atlanta region] was the hotbed of the Republican takeover in Georgia."

"We fully expect" to win, the Ossoff campaign said in a statement. "The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon's performance has been dominant."

Warnock's margin of victory exceeded the state's legal threshold for a recount. However, the Perdue-Ossoff race could be headed for a recount if its margin was less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast. With 98 percent of the votes counted early Wednesday, Ossoff was ahead by nearly 13,000 votes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told CNN that he estimated that 4.5 million votes were cast in the recount, making the recount trigger about 22,500 votes. The last votes to be counted will be 17,000 overseas and military ballots that can arrive as late as Friday, he said.

Early on Wednesday, Perdue's campaign issued a statement claiming that they won and said it would use "every available resource and exhaust every recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted." If no recount were triggered, Perdue would have few options.

A Historic Finale to 2020

Should both Democrats prevail, the impact on the nation's political life and federal governance cannot be underestimated. On virtually every major issue that Democrats care about, the Biden administration would have been met with resistance had the Senate remained a Republican-led body. Once Georgia's senators are seated, the body will have a 50-50 split between parties, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be a tie-breaker, giving Democrats control over the Senate agenda, committee assignments and administration's appointees, including judges.

Those ramifications will play out after the Trump administration leaves office on January 20. On Wednesday, the Trump administration and its allies are expected to try to block Congress's certification of the 2020 Electoral College votes. Trump's allies will claim that the 2020 election was stolen, as they have in 63 lawsuits that have been filed in state and federal courts to challenge the results in swing states where Trump lost. Trump and his allies have lost all but one of those lawsuits, often due to lack of vote fraud evidence.

On Tuesday night, Trump and several high-profile supporters—his White House spokeswoman and a Fox News host—tweeted the Georgia runoffs were fraudulent. Their claim was baseless because while there were some election administration problems on Tuesday, no observer or credible source reported any vote-forging chicanery. Every top statewide official in Georgia, including the governor and election director, is a Republican. If anything, the state has been very aggressive in investigating voter fraud in 2020. It has found almost no wrongdoing.

Trump's antics should not detract from the historic achievement seen in Georgia. The state emerged as a national political battleground in November after Biden's surprise victory. The apparent victory of two Democrats in a runoff that set voter turnout records affirmed that its political landscape was undergoing historic change. The heart of that transformation was the result of years of effort by grassroots organizing led by the Black community, but more recently expanding into other communities of color and the state's newest residents.

Some pundits outside Georgia will credit Trump's attacks on the state's election system and top elected officials—for not manipulating the count to ensure that he won—as the top reasonwhy insufficient numbers of Republicans did not vote in the runoffs. But that analysis is not the full story. The runoffs had near-presidential election turnout levels, which showed that Georgians in both parties were engaged. What the Trump-centric analysis omits are the unprecedented efforts by communities of color to unite to turn out voters in November and in the runoffs.

Old-line groups, such as the Georgia county-level NAACP chapters, found themselves working with tech-savvy organizers who had tens of thousands of volunteers from across the country. Frontline groups were supported up with post card, phone bank and texting campaigns. In the state's urban and rural communities, Black sororities, fraternities and community organizations partnered with new groups of younger activists and organizers. While the Senate runoffs set records for spending on political advertising, the grassroots efforts turned out voters across the state. In short, for the first time in many years, Georgians could see their votes mattered.

In coming days, there will be numerous analyses and reports affirming these trends. On CNN early Wednesday morning, campaign data analysts noted that Biden's 12,000-vote victory over Trump was a floor, or a baseline, for Democrats to prevail in a statewide race. With 150,000 or more votes yet to be counted, Warnock's margin was more than three times that size.

Smart analysts like CNN's Harry Enten noted that Warnock didn't just win in Atlanta's suburbs—where many moderate Republicans voted for Biden. Warnock's percentages in rural counties often was equal to, or exceeded Biden's percentages, by several points. Warnock's campaign, like many grassroots groups, targeted and turned out overlooked voters of color. Those rural counties are still mostly run by elected white Republicans, but their political complexion is changing as non-white voters are discovering that they have power.

While the coming days may see partisan Republicans accuse Georgia's election officials of running fraud-ridden Senate runoffs and even file litigation to challenge the results, there's little indication that those efforts will succeed. Trump's allies lost every lawsuit filed before Tuesday's runoffs. State law requires county officials to certify the results by January 15. The state must certify the election by January 22—two days after Biden's inauguration.

In Warnock's speech early Wednesday, he called on all participants in political life to start working together to help ordinary people solve life's problems.

"In this moment in American history, Washington has a choice to make; we all have a choice to make," he said. "Will we continue to divide, distract and dishonor one and other, or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Will we play political games while real people suffer or will we win righteous fights together, standing shoulder to shoulder, for the good of Georgia, for the good of the country?"

Details Of Trump's Georgia Extortion Scheme Provoke Calls For Criminal Probe

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

President Trump told Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he "needs" the Georgia Republican to immediately find enough votes for Trump to be declared the state's 2020 election victor. Raffensperger repeatedly refused to do so, telling Trump in an hourlong call on Saturday that he had lost the election and that his claims of illegal voting were ill-informed and based on bad data.

"I have to find 12,000 votes," Trump said, referring to President-elect Joe Biden's 11,779-vote margin that Georgia certified after counting the ballots three times. "What are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already."

"Mr. President, you have people that submit information and we have our people that submit information," Raffensperger replied. "And then it comes before the court and the court then has to make a determination. We have to stand by our numbers. We believe our numbers are right."

"Why do you say that?" Trump countered. "I mean, sure, we can play this game with the courts, but why do you say that? … I know this phone call is going nowhere other than, other than ultimately, you know. Look, ultimately, I win, okay? Because you guys are so wrong."

Their conversation was first reported by The Washington Post, which published the audio and a transcript, and may expose Trump to state and federal statutes that bar "criminal solicitation of election fraud," as the Georgia legal code puts it. The immediate impact of Trump's bid to recast 2020's election results will be in political circles. The call came days before runoffs in Georgia that will decide the U.S. Senate majority, and days before Congress will ratify 2020's Electoral College vote.

Trump's interference in Georgia, the state in 2020 with the slimmest margin between him and Biden, immediately revives the charges of election interference that led to his impeachment. Trump was impeached after tying foreign military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation in the business activities of Biden's son.

"We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state's lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place," said Bob Bauer, a longtime election lawyer and senior advisor to president-elect Joe Biden, after the call became public.

"Absolutely right," tweeted Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School constitutional scholar. "No choice. Failure to open a criminal investigation of this 'perfect' call would be an inexcusable dereliction of duty."

Trump will be holding a rally in northwest Georgia on Monday in a region where Republican voter turn out for the Senate runoffs has lagged behind the Democrat turnout in blue epicenters. On the call with Raffensperger, Trump threatened to release "a new tape" showing ballot box stuffing from a suburban Atlanta county that he called "devastating." How much Trump's attacks on Georgia Republicans will undermine GOP turnout on the runoffs is an open question. Trump's attacks on Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, have not helped the party's two Senate candidates, other Georgia GOP leaders have said.

Trump's extortion-laden phone call also adds an uncertain element to the growing swath of right-wing House and Senate members who planned to challenge the Electoral College slates in battleground states when Congress convenes to ratify the 2020 results. The call with Raffensperger revealed that Trump's post-election team has prepared new analyses to contest the accuracy of the votes in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The president boasted that these reports were done by accountants, which was a telling admission. It was not likely to be accurate as analyses done by former election officials and election administration experts.

Trump's Bullying

Trump dominated most of the call with Raffensperger. He started by saying that he "won" in Georgia and that "anywhere from 250-300,000 ballots were mysteriously dropped into the rolls." Trump said the center of the alleged illegal activity was in Fulton County, the largest jurisdiction in metro Atlanta. "We're going to have an accurate number over the next two days with certified accountants," Trump said.

Trump said "about 4,502 voters who voted… weren't on the voter registration list." He said, "You had 18,325 vacant address voters. The address was vacant and they're not allowed to be counted." He said that 904 voters had a post office box number, not an address. "You had out-of-state voters," he continued. "They voted in Georgia but they were from out of state." He said that "dead people voted, and I think the number is close to 5,000 people."

Trump said that his team found the dead voters "by going through the obituary columns in newspapers." He said that his team also reviewed U.S. Post Office data—presumably the national change of address database; which lists heads of households and not every resident. These kinds of data sources would not identify every legal voter in the state because they are not definitive.

Raffensperger listened and simply replied that these claims had been brought up in lawsuits and that none of them were found by judges to have a factual basis.

"Well, I listened to what the president has just said," the Georgia Republican said. "President Trump, we've had several lawsuits and we've had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. Um, we don't agree that you have won. And we don't—I don't agree about the 200,000 number that you mentioned."

After saying that his office has spent hours briefing Georgia legislators, Republican members of Congress, and done three vote counts—including an unprecedented hand count—Raffensperger and his staff rebutted most of Trump's scenarios.

"Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong," he said.

Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Trump campaign lawyers said that Raffensperger's office was not sharing all of the voter data that it had—and tried to pressure the secretary into providing it. Raffensperger's attorneys said the state was not obligated to share confidential information in its voter files. That data, such as Social Security numbers and other unique identifiers, is used to verify voter's identities and to ensure that no fraudulent ballots are cast.

Trump's attorneys did not like that response. At one point, Trump implied that Raffensperger could face federal charges for not assisting with Trump's review, which Trump kept saying would reveal massive illegal voting.

"You know what they did and you're not reporting it," Trump told Raffensperger. "You know, that's a criminal — that's a criminal offense. And you know, you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan [Germany], your lawyer. That's a big risk."

Trump also said that Atlanta counties were "shredding" ballots. Raffensperger's staff replied that their office had investigated and that those were ballots from prior elections. Federal law requires all election records be kept for 22 months.

"Mr. President, the problem you have [is] with social media – people can say anything," Raffensperger said, discussing the ballot-shredding charge.

"Oh, this isn't social media," Trump replied. "This is Trump media. It's not social media… Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side. I don't even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican."

"We believe that we do have an accurate election," Raffensperger responded.

"No, no you don't. No, no you don't. You don't have. Not even close," Trump said. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes… I'm notifying you that you're letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is more than we have because we won the state."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Best-Run Election In Decades — But Most Republicans Distrust The Result

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Angela Clark-Smith, a lawyer, started learning about the intricacies of observing elections when she was a member of the same sorority as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In 2020, three decades later, she was deployed by the Democratic Party of Georgia to observe the presidential election and, most recently, the processing of returned absentee ballots in its Senate runoffs.

"There's a process. It is very straightforward," Clark-Smith said during a break at an early voting center in an Atlanta suburb, where she praised poll workers and the process of verifying signatures on ballot envelopes and flagging problems for follow-up with voters. "Watching it was like watching a work of art."

Elections in Georgia are better run than those in many blue states. But as the state has become a national battleground following Joe Biden's narrow win there and during Senate runoffs that could return control of Congress to the Democrats, the artful process that Clark-Smith has seen and praised has become a "circus," she says.

Clark-Smith witnessed the turmoil that is tearing apart American democracy: where partisans do not understand the process; do not know what they are seeing as they view election administration up close for the first time; and are part of a tidal wave—nearly three-fourths of Republicans, according to an NPR poll conducted in early December—who don't trust that the 2020 election results are accurate.

"It went from a really dignified process to feeling it was like a circus," Clark-Smith said, referring to the Republican observers who came to watch the initial processing of the runoff's absentee ballots. "You had people who were jumping on tables and making accusations. There was this one man who said, 'We should count this vote!' And I'm like, 'Sir. It's a write-in vote for Mike Pence. He's not on the ballot! Relax… Sit down… Come on!"

A Deepening Democracy Crisis

American politics and elections have always had dark sides: Suspicions versus inquiries. Fictions versus facts. Conspiracies versus realities. Yet the darker impulses seem to be worsening. In every close presidential election since 2000, growing numbers of partisan activists and voters whose side lost are angrier.

The 2020 election stands apart because the president has been leading this truculence by making false claims to rally his base, raise hundreds of millions of dollars and dangle extremist courses to stay in power, such as recently floating a declaration of martial law. Trump's anti-democratic antics and sowing of wide distrust of electoral institutions are in a class by themselves. No foreign power has made as persistent an attack on American democracy.

There are other differences between 2020 and recent presidential elections that roiled voters. In 2000 and 2004, and then in 2016, voting rights reformers called out structural deficiencies—not fantasies. It was a real problem that all-electronic voting systems meant that ballots could not be recounted. It was a valid concern that central counting nodes could be tweaked by local election officials or their contractors to tilt outcomes, or theoretically infiltrated by computer hackers.

By 2020, some of these top criticisms had been addressed. Russian interference in 2016's presidential election was an unanticipated impetus to replace or shore up voting systems. Reformers' demands, such as using paper ballots and better vote count audits, were adopted. Other demands, mostly from progressives who could not accept that Republicans had again won, fell on deaf ears. Those demands, such as abandoning electronics in voting systems, have been seized by Trump backers.

What is more ironic from an election administration perspective, however, is that 2020's general election has been one of the best-run elections in years. The same can be said of the early voting for Georgia's Senate runoffs, which culminate in a January 5 election. The positive outlook on the 2020 elections is supported by facts, which Trump and his supportersignore as they make baseless claims to the contrary.

No election is flawless. That's especially true of presidential contests, such as this fall's election where 158.2 million people cast ballots in a national exercise staffed by 900,000-pluscitizen poll workers. There are always poll worker errors, uncounted votes and some people voting illegally. Most lapses are due to human error and do not affect the outcomes in major races. Those issues were seen in isolated instances in presidential battlegrounds this fall. Yet consider the objective measures about the larger contours of the 2020 general election.

Record numbers of voters participated—even in a pandemic. Automatic and online voter registration has never been as widespread. Voters had more options to cast ballots than ever: by mail, voting early or on Election Day. Never before have as many voters cast mailed-out ballots or voted early. Almost everyone cast paper ballots. More vote counts were double-checked by audits and recounts than ever. The counting process was widely streamed onlineand has never been as public. Georgia's presidential ballots were counted three times each using a different methodology—including an unprecedented manual count. Each count reaffirmed that Biden won. This catalog of election administration achievements is remarkable.

But it is also indisputable that these facts barely matter in some important circles. More than a few Americans, possibly tens of millions (if recent polls accurately represent the rest of the nation's 74 million Trump voters), will wince when Biden puts his hand on the Bible on January 20 to be sworn in. Some voters still expect that Trump will serve a second term. How these Trump supporters will react in the short and long run is not a trifle. Their response will impact what follows every major election, which are the lessons learned and the reform agendas for states and Congress.

When Mobs Are Swayed

When multitudes believe that elections cannot be trusted, democracy is in trouble. Those believers in 2020 include scores of Republican members of Congress, state attorneys general and legislators, all who signed onto pro-Trump lawsuits seeking to overturn the popular vote in their state—or more outrageously, in other states. Those lawsuits were filled with fabrications, shoddy analyses and lies that were overwhelmingly rejected by dozens of state and federal judges. Some of these same assertions have been recurring in GOP-led lawsuits targeting Georgia's runoffs. They are being rejected there as well. But these narratives have not disappeared from the court of public opinion, especially in right-wing media, whose audiences grow in response to baiting and fanning their fears and fantasies.

Many constitutional scholars believe that the country was lucky that Trump's lawyers overplayed their post-election cards. Had the 2020 election hinged on a single state, legal experts believe that the country could now be in a constitutional crisis. They doubt that a single state's laws and top officials could have withstood this White House's pressure to select—not elect—Trump as its Electoral College winner. Some Republicans in Congress, nonetheless, are still expected to challenge ratification of Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6. But a continuing Democratic majority in the House ensures that Biden will be sworn in as the next president on January 20.

The incompetence of Trump's legal team and its allies is one thing. Their power-hungry guile and ongoing effort to subvert the electoral process is another. And the willingness of more than 70 percent of Republicans to distrust the results, according to NPR's poll, is most disturbing of all.

Polls are imperfect snapshots of a slice of voters in any given moment. One can hope that the Trump team's ongoing failures to win election lawsuits will sink in and shrink the numbers who distrust 2020's results. But they probably will not, because these court defeats address false claims, not deeper feelings.

For example, in Georgia, the Republican lawsuits targeting the Senate runoffs have tried to disqualify hundreds of thousands of voters. The lawsuits cite a government database to posit that these voters are no longer state residents—rendering them ineligible to vote. But that database, the post office's national change of address file, was never intended to track voters. It mostly lists heads of households and addresses, not every person living at an address and every voter. Judges and county election boards have been rejecting the illegal voter claims. One result has been that the early voting turnout in the Senate runoffs has rivaled the general election. Accommodating high voter turnout is a sign of a well-run election.

But there's a disconnect. On one hand, those attacking the process in Georgia and disparaging the presidential results say that the electoral sky is falling. But quieter multitudes have found that it has been easier to vote in 2020, even during the pandemic. This is because there were more voting options in 2020: in person or via a mailed-out ballot, early or on Election Day. (Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a rare Republican who has stood up to Trump, said on December 23 that local officials are "overwhelmed" and called onthe state's GOP-led legislature to reinstate the requirement that Georgia voters need an excuse to get a mailed-out ballot. Democrats won't be pleased if that proposal gains traction in 2021.)

Normally, in years when the presidency changes party, the period between early November's Election Day and late January's Inauguration Day is a time when experts seek to influence a new administration. In the election fold, however, some of the biggest players have been notably quiet. Some privately say that the attacks by Trump and his allies are still a big and unfolding crisis—a bonfire that won't disappear until he leaves office. The harms being unleashed, at least among the voters who backed Trump, may take years to undo.

Nonetheless, there has been some talk among elections experts since November 3 about what to do next in Congress and state capitals. Many of these experts from different disciplines have suggestions on how to fine-tune the voting process. Constitutional scholars say that holes in 19th-century law must be filled so that another president cannot overrule a popular vote and have state legislatures select him for a second term. Voting rights lawyers want to ward off efforts to shrink voting options, such as Raffensperger's move to reel in Georgia's absentee ballot program. Those talks are happening as Trump and his allies keep attackingthe electoral process. But the full damage Trump has done to America's elections has yet to emerge.

Way Beyond Seeds Of Doubt

Why do so many people believe elections are stolen if their presidential candidate loses? There's no one answer. From an election reform perspective, the fact that the intricacies of election administration are not readily apparent—or self-evident to untrained observers—does not help. But when so many partisans have a predisposed view that ranges from suspicious, to paranoid, or even conspiratorial, it is clear that something deeper is going on to trigger these assumptions and impulses.

Brené Brown, one of America's best-known trauma experts, recently said in a New York Times podcast that the most aggressive Trump campaign t-shirts—those saying, "Fuck your feelings"—are overly defensive and are a reflection of people who are struggling rather than embracing some high-minded cause. Apart from how that emotional dynamic unfolds politically, it means that election officials and experts seeking to improve America's elections are facing hurdles that cannot be cleared solely by emphasizing facts, instituting best practices, and producing better evidence of vote counts. If the mistrust of elections is as deep as polls suggest, one must ask what solutions can address the underlying triggers, so elections are not collateral damage in a wider societal or cultural schism.

American elections are not perfect. In the 21st century, they are privatized as never before. They are overly complex, meaning that impassioned citizens who race to election centers to observe cannot readily grasp what they are seeing. The many stages of the process, from the starting line of voter registration to the finish line of certifying the vote count, take years to learn, appreciate and unwind. These steps and stages are not sufficiently self-evident, which fans conspiracies.

One might like to think that there is a silent majority of Americans who have figured out how to ignore the noise and vote in a pandemic—even in numbers that have not been seen before. One can look to Georgia and see such turnout in its presidential election and in the early voting in the Senate runoffs. One might hope that there were more Republicans, such as Georgia's secretary of state and governor, who said "no" to Trump's demand that they select him as their state's Electoral College slate winner—ignoring the results of the 5 million votes cast by Georgians.

But elections will always be about power. There is usually more than one reason why political leaders do anything. Raffensperger might be saying that he wants to end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia because county officials cannot handle the extra workload. That policy, should it be enacted before the 2022 governor's race, could undermine turnout. That impact may help a fellow GOP incumbent, Gov. Brian Kemp, who will be seeking reelection.

Is that an unduly cynical take? Perhaps. Or perhaps it shows why elections can become mirrors of societal distrust. Even if the process met challenges in 2020 and empowered record numbers of Americans to vote, some of the candidates seeking high office were less honest and less straightforward than the electoral process was. In 2020, the democratic process, if viewed apart from some candidates, might be better than ever. But American elections cannot be divorced from the candidates, especially not in the Trump era.

When America faces a leader with totalitarian impulses who thinks he can will his way into another term, it is also facing its greatest democratic crisis in decades. The passage of time always heals wounds, including political wounds. But what can be done to revive public trust in elections in the meantime is not just an open-ended question. Democracy's fragile skin has been stretched as never before, when tens of millions of voters say that they don't trust the results from the best-run election in years.

(Reporting for this article from Georgia was contributed by Sue Dorfman, a photographer with the Documenting Democracy Project.)

Georgia Runoff Turnout May Break Records As Suppression Tactics Fail

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Across Georgia, turnout in the opening week of early voting for two U.S. Senate runoffs has been robust and may even set records, despite ongoing Republican efforts to disqualify voters — efforts that courts keep rejecting.

On Thursday, two federal courts dismissed GOP lawsuits to challenge the state's processing of returned absentee ballots. The suits, filed by local and national GOP organizations, attacked procedures that had been created by Georgia's elected Republican officeholders, who have overseen Georgia's elections for years.

Read Now Show less

Decades of Inequality Shadow Voter Turnout in Rural Georgia

Commerce Street, once the heart of downtown Hawkinsville, Georgia, is easily overlooked. A visitor following state highways through the Pulaski County seat would glance at a row of faded brick buildings, awning-covered storefronts and dusty windows. Parking and getting out feels like stepping into an old postcard. In the sunlight's glare and morning quiet, you might not know that Black businesses were once barred from the street. Or that the Ku Klux Klan held some of its largest rallies in America nearby. Or that the street's cluster of Black-owned businesses is a small-town triumph.

Read Now Show less

Georgia Affirms Biden Victory In Third Count, Despite Trump's Call To Reject Votes

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The rapidly unfolding events in Georgia this past weekend showcased the lengths that President Trump will go to overturn the 2020 general election's popular vote, the depth of disinformation that he is pushing and many partisans are accepting, and the fortitude of a handful of Georgia's constitutional officers who did not bend under pressure.

On Monday, Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the recount found that Democrat Joe Biden had won his state's 2020 presidential election by nearly 12,000 votes. It was the third statewide tally of the presidential election, following a manual hand count of 5 million paper ballots after Election Day, and the Election Day tally. No other battleground state in 2020 conducted as thorough an examination to verify its vote.

Georgia's governor, Republican Brian Kemp, who served as secretary of state before being elected governor in 2018—a race that his opponent, Democrat Stacy Abrams, said was marred by voter suppression—has affirmed that he will certify the presidential results. Trump has repeatedly called on Kemp to convene a legislative session to select a pro-Trump Electoral College slate, rather than have the slate reflect Georgia's popular vote.

But as Trump made clear on Saturday at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, he will not stop trying to muscle his way to a second term—even if that means ignoring the popular vote, urging Republican governors in other swing states, such as Arizona, to convene special sessions to anoint him, and filing lawsuits that he hopes will end up before the Supreme Court, where he expects that conservative justices to elevate him to a second term.

The Valdosta rally, Trump's first major event since the November election, had attendees from across the county who supported Trump and fanned his unfounded claims of a stolen election. The event's advertised purpose was to promote Georgia's two Republican senators who face January 5 runoffs, where, should they lose, that body would return to a Democratic majority. But from the start, Trump said that he won, listed grievances, showed videos purporting to prove electoral theft, slammed skeptics in his party, and pledged to emerge victorious.

"We're all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they're all victims," Trump said 90 minutes into the rally filled with mounting cheers of "Stop the Steal" and "Fight for Trump." Trump leaned on podium, relishing the cheers and holding forth.

"The next great victory for our movement begins right here on January 5th [the Senate runoffs] and then we are going to win back the White House," he continued. "We're going to win it back. And we're going to win back the House in 2022. And then in 2024, and hopefully I won't have to be a candidate, we're gonna win back the White House again. A friend of mine said, 'Oh, don't worry about it, sir. You are way up in the polls, you'll win in 2024.' I said, I don't want to win in 2024, I want to go back in three weeks."

Trump's strategy is to keep pressuring any official who has authority to interrupt certifying their state's vote or impact their state's Electoral College slate to act on his behalf. He mocked Kemp for not being tough enough and encouraged Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), a loyalist, to run against Kemp in two years. He mused that maybe Arizona's GOP governor would be tougher, meaning he would be the first to convene a special session to select a pro-Trump slate.

Trump periodically returned to the rally's ostensible purpose, to boost the Republicans in the state's January runoffs, but not without repeating his desire to stay in power and modeling the tough-minded stance that he expected Republicans to take in this fight.

"If they [Georgia's incumbent Republican senators] get in—and add me to this group if you don't mind—we will be greater than ever before," Trump said toward the end to loud cheers. "America's destiny has just begun. We will not bend. We will not break. We will not give. We will never give in. We will never give up. And we will never back down. We will never ever surrender. Because we are Americans and our hearts bleed red, white and blue."

Trump's passionate attacks on the 2020 election are not just urging Republicans to override millions of legally cast votes and delegitimize Joe Biden's presidency before it has begun. He has weaponized the voting system in such a way that no matter what any election official says, including top Republican state officials in Georgia, election outcomes cannot be trusted.

Georgia is a red-run state where Republicans hold all constitutional offices and both legislative chambers. In the days before Trump's rally, Republican legislators convened hearings to build a case to reject the popular vote. Much of their rationale was based on what their party's largely untrained citizen election observers saw during the post-Election Day counting process. These observers thought they saw systemic breakdowns, which is a result of their unfamiliarity with election administration's intricacies and a process that often lacks transparency to be easily understood. But Trump observers were predisposed to believe that the process was rigged, that local election officials could not be trusted, that poll workers were part of a vast plan to steal the presidency. No one noticed that Republican officials had oversight of Georgia's elections—its technology, its procedures and eligibility rules—for years.

One of the witnesses who expected to testify before the Georgia Senate late last week was seen by this reporter during the presidential ballot hand count making unfounded claims of ballot forgery, ballot box stuffing and falsified counting. Yet there he was, issuing press releases with the same claims to legislators who seemed primed to override the popular vote.

Over the weekend, a handful of Republican state senators circulated a petition that they hoped would force Gov. Kemp to hold a special session. The petition claimed that every category of illegal election crime occurred due to "systemic failure."

Allegedly, votes were cast by felons, underage youth, non-state residents, residents of different counties and dead people, the petition said. Voter registrations illegally contained post office boxes, not street addresses, it said. Signatures on absentee ballot return envelopes allegedly had not been properly authenticated. Election observers could not see every step to validate ballots. The petition, needless to say, did not note that Georgia's 2020 elections were the first elections in two decades to use a paper ballot. Nor did it say that the state was the only 2020 battleground that counted its presidential votes three times.

The recent developments in Georgia suggest the 2020 election is not yet over. Despite the responsible steps by its secretary of state and governor to defend their electoral system and the popular vote outcome—even if it meant their candidate lost—the fight will continue.

One can expect more fights over Electoral College slates. There are deadlines that will be a focal point for more legal fights and partisan bluster—if not disinformation. States that certify their presidential results by December 8 cannot have those results overturned by Congress when it convenes on January 6 to ratify the Electoral College vote. (Each state's presidential electors meet on December 14 to officially certify the winner.)

On January 6th, one should expect some Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden's election. That would be no different than in 2004, when two Democrats, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Ohio Rep. Cynthia Tubbs Jones, rejected, George W. Bush's nomination. Their objections, citing GOP-led voter suppression, forced each chamber to debate for two hours. When the joint session reconvened, the Congress ratified Bush's second term.

It is unlikely that Trump will block Biden's presidency, as he keeps losing in federal court—including two more lawsuits on Monday.

"They want this court to substitute its judgment for that of two and a half million Georgia voters who voted for Joe Biden -- and this I am unwilling to do," said U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten on Monday, dismissing the latest litigation in Georgia to overturn the election's results, while issuing his ruling from the bench.

In Michigan, another pro-Trump lawsuit was rejected for similar reasons.

"Plaintiffs ask this Court to ignore the orderly statutory scheme established to challenge elections and to ignore the will of millions of voters," wrote U.S. District Judge Linda A. Parker on Monday. "This, the Court cannot, and will not, do."

Nonetheless, one should expect Trump's supporters to drag out the fight for Georgia's senate seats. Unlike the presidency, there are no congressional deadlines for seating senators. It could be months before the newest senators were seated, if the results were close and challenged. Recall that in Minnesota in 2008, the senatorial recount took six months to resolve before Democrat Al Franken was finally seated in mid-2009.

A similar trajectory in 2021 would keep a Republican majority in the Senate. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would remain majority leader. He would oversee committee assignments and the legislative agenda in the early months in the Biden presidency, even if the two Democrats in Georgia eventually prevailed.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Will Overlooked Voters Of Color Tip Georgia Runoffs — And US Senate?

Immediately after Joe Biden's surprise victory in Georgia, analysts parsing voter turnout patterns concluded that many of the state's conservatives and independents have had enough of President Trump. Many pundits affirmed that conclusion by noting that Sen. David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, had won more votes than the president in Atlanta's tonier suburbs, a weather vane for the GOP.

But civil rights groups based elsewhere in Georgia and their out-of-state allies saw a different pattern when studying 2020's voter turnout. Whether looking at Atlanta, which also contains lower-income areas, or across Georgia's 159 counties where towns look little changed from the mid-20th century, they saw that voters in many communities of color did not turn out in the volumes they had expected.

Read Now Show less

Disgruntled Trumpists Fomenting A New ‘Election Integrity’ Movement

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Georgia's Trump supporters are not giving up. On Saturday, scores massed outside the statehouse in Atlanta, a small sea of mostly men in red MAGA hats hoisting signs hurling accusations against Joe Biden and wearing campaign tee-shirts saying "STOP the STEAL."

It barely mattered that Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had certified Biden's unexpected nearly 13,000-vote victory one day before. Also irrelevant was Georgia's unprecedented manual hand count of presidential votes on 5 million paper ballots, which was more than any 2020 swing state has done since Election Day to verify its votes.

Read Now Show less

Why Georgia's Presidential Vote Is Going To A Recount

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that the state's 159 counties would do a full manual recount of its 2020 presidential ballots, where former Vice President Joe Biden was ahead of President Trump by 14,101 votes as of November 11.

"This race has national significance, national importance," said Raffensperger, surrounded by a dozen county election officials. "We follow the process and we understand the significance of this — for not just Georgia, but for every single American. At the end of the day, when we do a hand count, then we can answer the question of what was the final margin in this race."

Raffensperger's announcement diverged from what state election officials and their advisers were discussing earlier this week, when they were preparing for the next step in Georgia's vote-counting process. That step was a statewide statistical-based audit of a down-ballot race — such as public service commissioner — based on retrieving and counting randomly sampled ballots across Georgia to assess their new voting system's accuracy before certifying winners.

The full hand count would begin as soon as this weekend, Raffensperger said, and continue until the state's certification deadline on November 20. After certifying the results of all 2020 contests, the Republican secretary of state said that any candidate who was behind by less than 0.5 percent could then file for a recount under Georgia election law. That statewide recount, should it occur, would be done by scanning all of the paper ballots.

"We're doing this because it is really what makes the most sense," he said. "With the national significance of this race, and the closeness of this race, we have to run a statewide audit. This is the race that makes the most sense... We'll be following the process on that.

"Georgia's election system has come under the national spotlight since 2020's Election Day due to Biden's surprising unofficial victory over Trump and because its two U.S. Senate races did not have a winner with more than 50 percent of the vote, which triggered runoffs to be held on Jan.5, 2021. If the Democratic candidates win, the U.S. Senate's majority will revert to Democratic control, giving Biden a path to pass laws instead of issuing executive orders.

But before looking to who assumes power in 2021, Georgia—like most states—has to wrap up its 2020 election. That process involves several little-known steps, where local election officials reconcile vote totals and approve or reject problematic ballots to finalize their results. (That's called the canvass) Local results are reported to state officials, who certify the winners.

In 2019, Raffensperger — in part pushed by a federal court order — replaced his state's old voting system that was increasingly criticized for being unreliable because it left no paper record of votes cast apart from its electronic memory. (The state's new in-person voting system relies on touch-screen computers that print out a paper summary card of a voter's choices as text and QR (dot matrix) codes, which an electronic scanner then reads to count votes. The state also uses hand-marked paper ballots for its absentee voters. In 2020's general election, three-fourths of Georgia's 4.9 million presidential ballots were the computer-printed cards.)

At the same time that Raffensperger replaced Georgia's voting machinery, he pushed the GOP-controlled state legislature to update its election laws to add another step between the canvass and certification by county election boards. That additional step was counties must conduct a specific type of audit of their voting system to assess its vote-counting accuracy (called a risk-limiting audit or RLA). The audit must occur before finalizing the county's results.

In races with wide margins, an RLA is a streamlined process that can review a small number of randomly selected ballots because it relies on a probability-based formula to assess the tally's accuracy. RLAs typically look for 90 or 95 percent confidence levels in the reported results. But in races with very close margins, the volume of sampled ballots skyrockets, requiring what is essentially a full manual recount. That is the scenario that has unfolded in Georgia.

To date, Georgia has conducted four RLA pilots — small-scale test runs to fine-tune the process. One RLA was after the 2020 Democratic Party's presidential primary in Fulton County, a metro Atlanta suburb where Biden had 84 percent of the vote and his top challenger, Bernie Sanders, had 10 percent. Thus, the math involved only required examining 27 ballots in a race with 160,000 votes to achieve a 90 percent confidence level in the reported results.

But when the margins are close, such as Georgia's presidential election where, as of Thursday, Biden was ahead of Trump by 14,101 votes out of 4.9 million cast statewide, the audit becomes a manual recount—even though a recount is another legal stage in the process regulated by state election law. On Wednesday, Raffensperger said that Georgia's RLA law meant that a complete hand count was required in the race drawing the most scrutiny — the presidential election.

"It is actually an audit," he said, responding to a reporter's question. "It's all in one. It an audit, a recanvass and a recount, all in one, because it will be just really be a process that gets it all."

Georgia was moving through its post-election process like other states, Raffensperger said, but was under the media's glare because of Trump's apparent loss and the U.S. Senate runoffs.

"We're in the same place that Florida is, North Carolina [is], Texas [is]," he said. "The thing is, in those races, it's [the initially reported results are] not real close. In our case, there's 14,101 votes right now that separate the top [candidate] from number two. So therefore, all eyes are focused on that… but the other states are out there tabulating their absentee ballots."

Election experts said that hand count would fall along two lines: counting the presidential choice printed on 3.75 million ballot summary cards from in-person voting locations and counting 1.1 million hand-marked absentee ballots that were sent to voters via the mail.

On the ballot summary cards, the voter's choices are printed in dot-matrix QR codes and human-readable text. The human-readable text on the cards will not be ambiguous — although anti-computer voting activists have said that it is theoretically possible for hackers to change what's counted after a voter uses a touchscreen voting station and eyes their printed ballot. In contrast, local canvass boards would assess absentee ballots with problematic marks—such as crossed out votes or ovals that that had been sloppily filled out to determine voter intent.

While Trump's campaign is expected to deploy observers to possibly challenge some of the canvass board determinations, it was very unlikely that a manual hand count would result in changing the state's presidential election outcome — even though some discrepancies were likely to occur between the hand counts and previous computer counts, said David Becker, executive director of the non-profit Center for Election Innovation and Research.

"A 14,000-vote margin has never been overcome in a recount in American history," he said. "In fact, I don't think a 1,400-vote margin has been overturned in a recount in American history. 'Unprecedented' would be a kind was of talking about it [overturning the results], but it's well within the rights of the secretary of state, and the rights of the Trump campaign, to request [a full manual recount], and it can be very valuable from a transparency perspective."

Trump Lawsuits Are Too Little, Too Late, And Too Flawed To Affect Vote Counts

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The flurry of lawsuits hastily filed by President Trump's campaign and its Republican allies to stop counting votes and to disqualify absentee ballots has so far failed to make much headway—in contrast to disinformation that they are spreading to discredit the 2020 election.

Trump's propaganda, predictably, has drawn wide attention. Whether tweets falsely claiming he won and Democrats are stealing the election (which Twitter labeled with content warning notices), or his son Eric's fabricated video of ballots being burned (they were sample ballots, not real ones), or false statements by White House officials, these antics have been noted and debunked.

In contrast to this bombast, Trump's lawsuits filed since Election Day in states where the presidential results are not yet known have had limited success, but, more importantly, they do not appear to be game changers. The lawsuits are targeting small facets of the absentee ballots process. While court rulings may delay announcing the results and certifying winners, the suits are not poised to disqualify enough ballots to alter the race's outcome—not where he lags by tens of thousands of votes. Instead, many of Trump's suits have been filed late, and some are error-ridden.

"None of Trump's small bore lawsuits have been able to stop the count, and of course there is no basis to do so," wrote ElectionLawBlog's Rick Hasen on Thursday. "He and his supporters have been promoting baseless and dangerous conspiracy theories that Democratic elected officials are somehow 'stealing' the vote when all they are doing is counting the ballots."

Consider two of Trump's lawsuits from Michigan. The first lawsuit, against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, was filed late Wednesday afternoon and sought to stop the statewide counting of votes—just hours before the counting was done. The campaign's brief was filed by Mark "Thor" Hearne—a Missouri-based attorney who, in 2005, was one of the first Republicans to promote the false claim of widespread voter fraud. The suit claimed that Republicans did not have an observer "present at the absent voter counting place" in every jurisdiction, and these observers were not being allowed "to observe the video of the ballot boxes into which these [absentee] ballots are placed." On this basis, Trump wanted to stop Michigan's vote count.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens dismissed the lawsuit on Thursday, saying that it was filed as the last ballots were counted—too late—which made the procedural claims moot. The defendant, Benson, was the wrong person to sue, the judge said, because Benson doesn't directly supervise how the state's local election officials process absentee ballots.

This was a messy filing. Chris Sautter, an election attorney specializing in recounts who has worked for Democratic candidates for decades, said that a serious suit should have been filed on Tuesday, when the absentee ballot processing began. If there were issues with campaign representatives getting access to observe the process, the remedy was granting access, not stopping the count statewide, he said. And while the lawsuit said that Benson had a duty to instruct local officials, it never detailed that she had failed to do so, he noted. In other words, the Trump lawsuit was too general, too late, and had targeted the wrong defendant.

The Trump campaign filed a similar suit late Wednesday in Detroit seeking to stop the city's processing of a subset of absentee ballots—those that had to be duplicated because they were torn or stained—and seeking to halt certifying the city's presidential election results. Like the suit against Benson, this action came as the counting was ending and also named the wrong defendant. On Thursday morning, Trump's campaign filed papers to add Wayne County as a defendant, as it is the county—not the city of Detroit—that certifies election results.

On the specifics, the suit said that some absentee ballots were being duplicated by election officials without a Republican observer present. The duplication should stop, and all duplicated ballots should be "segregated" or set aside, it said, where presumably those ballots could be further examined and possibly challenged. Such a delay would slow down certifying Detroit's results.

What Trump's Detroit-centered lawsuit did not say was that the Michigan Republican Party had observers in the cavernous room where the city was processing and counting ballots. It did not say that the Republicans had raised issues surrounding the ballot processing that were being ignored. And it was filed after the counting was over, but still sought a restraining order to halt the process.

The Trump campaign's litigation in response to not winning in a landslide Tuesday appears to be messy and late. A similar lawsuit was filed in Nevada after Election Day seeking to stop that swing state's counting. The suit, too, claimed that Trump observers were being stymied. It was unanimously rejected by the state's supreme court. It didn't look like the Trump campaign planned on suing in Michigan or Nevada, Sautter said, despite Trump's threat to launch a wave of litigation.

But more importantly, the target of Trump's lawsuits—to disqualify a subset of absentee ballots, stop the counting process and delay certifying the results—was not going to add up to the tens of thousands of votes that Trump needs to win in key states. On Thursday, Trump trailed Joe Biden in Michigan by 147,000 votes, where his lawyers are seeking to challenge spoiled ballots that were duplicated.

That same assessment is likely in Pennsylvania, where Trump's lawyers were positioning themselves to challenge the absentee ballots that had been postmarked by Election Day, but can still arrive by mail through Friday, November 6. The Trump campaign on Wednesday filed a motionin the U.S. Supreme Court to join a suit over these late-returning absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. Late Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the Postal Service said that there were only 3,439 absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be delivered in Pennsylvania.

The big picture that emerges is that Trump's post-Election Day litigation strategy has not stopped the vote-counting process nor was it poised to implicate enough votes to overturn the results in swing states. Thus, if Trump cannot win a second term in the courts of legal opinion, he is seeking to discredit the process in the court of public opinion—where propaganda and disinformation make quicker impressions than real-life points of law.

Trump's rambling, grievance-filled statement late Thursday blaming the Democrats for trying to "steal" the election appeared to be the latest affirmation of this strategy.

"They are grasping at straws," Sautter said, speaking of Trump's litigation strategy before his speech. "They are trying to discredit the process by trying to say that the outcome cannot be trusted because there were too many flaws."

"They waited too long to complain," he continued. "If they didn't have enough people observing [in Detroit], they should have taken care of that beginning with Election Day. This lawsuit was filed late yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon. Now the counting is done. There's no evidence that any of this stuff adds up to anywhere near the margin."

There may be "a little bit of truth" in the Republicans' contention that they lacked sufficient numbers of election observers, Sautter said. But that lapse was their error, not the fault of the officials running the absentee ballot counting boards—a process that has been in place for years.

"A lot of this is too little too late," he said.

Federal Courts Invite Republicans To Challenge Absentee Ballots

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Two countervailing forces are competing to determine the outcome of the 2020 elections' highest-stakes contests before the close of voting on November 3.

President Trump and his Republican allies are pursuing a full-court press where their success hinges less on winning popular vote majorities and more on disqualifying volumes of absentee ballots via lawsuits to be filed after Election Day—if preliminary results in a few key states are close. The Democratic Party and their allies, meanwhile, have been pushing their party's more highly motivated voter base to continue their turnout lead seen in early and absentee voting, so Republicans cannot gain traction when they turn to the courts to disqualify late-arriving absentee ballots, or cite other technicalities to disqualify votes.

Read Now Show less

How Democratic Institutions Can Resist Trump’s Final Barrage Of Lies

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As President Trump jetted to 17 rallies mostly at regional airports in swing states in his sprint to Election Day, he has campaigned as he has governed. Trump reeled off countless untruths about every topic—perhaps most importantly, about voting and counting votes this November.

At a rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where 437,000 voters had requested absentee ballots and nearly 80 percent have been returned as of November 2, and the rest could arrive in the mail as late as Friday and still be counted if postmarked by Election Day, Trump smeared the Democratic-led city government. "Are they going to mysteriously find more ballots" after polls close, he said. "Strange things have been known to happen, especially in Philadelphia."

Read Now Show less

What Everyone Should Know About The Latest Election Cyberattacks

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Two weeks before Election Day, cybersecurity threats and related disinformation originating overseas and targeting the 2020 election briefly were front-page news.

Threatening emails to voters supporting Democrats were purportedly sent by the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump white nationalist group. State voter registration databases in Alaska and Florida were purportedly breached, and videos containing non-public voter information were posted online. As federal agencies blamed Iran and Russia, an anxious electorate faced more worries.

Read Now Show less

Federal Appeals Court Orders Minnesota To ‘Segregate’ Absentee Ballots

Reprinted with permission from Independent Media Institute

A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered Minnesota to "segregate" all absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, but arrive in the mail over the subsequent days. The decision was a stark warning the courts may end up disqualifying these votes in post-election litigation.

Read Now Show less

Bannon Wants To Cheat, But Doesn’t Know How Votes Are Counted

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

One of President Trump's most loyal propagandists is predicting that Trump will claim victory on election night as soon as he is ahead among Election Day voters. But that scenario is based on a misconception of how all ballots are counted and the early returns are compiled, according to election and legal experts.

"At 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock… on November 3, Donald J. Trump is going to walk into the Oval Office, and he may hit a tweet before he goes in there… and he's going to sit there, having won Ohio, and being up in Pennsylvania and Florida, and he's going to say, 'Hey, game's over,'" said Stephen K. Bannon, Trump's 2016 campaign CEO and former White House adviser, during a defiant speech on October 10 forum hosted by the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.

Read Now Show less