Joe Biden beat Trump by 68 percent to 30 percent in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, and he won the state more narrowly. The Wayne County Board of Canvassers is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and a majority is required to certify the election. The two Republican board members initially refused to certify the results, sending shock waves around social media and thrilling Trump and his advisers.
Ostensibly, the rationale was that the information in Detroit poll books wasn’t accurate enough to certify the vote. The state’s Democratic governor and secretary of state rushed to point out that the state’s own board of canvassers had the power to certify the results and award Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to Biden. Within a few hours, the GOP members of the county board had reversed themselves and voted to certify the results (though by Wednesday evening, they were trying to flip back again, after the deadline had passed).
The false claim that there were irregularities or fraud in some majority-Black cities with Democratic officeholders, and therefore all the ballots must be thrown out, is a common thread through many of Trump’s post-election lawsuits. For example, Republican electors in Nevada on Wednesday filed a complaint arguing that there was fraud there, and so the court should either (a) declare Trump the winner of the election in Nevada or (b) annul Nevada’s Nov. 3 election entirely and not allow the state to award its electoral votes. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, made a similar argument in federal court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday that the state must not be permitted to certify its election, essentially disenfranchising millions of voters.
There is, of course, no evidence to support Trump’s allegations of fraud. And the remedies Trump’s lawyers have been seeking — to throw out the election entirely — are not appropriate. If there is fraud, the usual response is to isolate fraudulent ballets and not count them — not to annul the election and overturn the will of the people.
The total incompetence of Trump’s legal team is only part of the reason for Trump’s inability to pull off a coup by throwing out enough ballots, though. Yes, it’s hard to imagine the administration that brought us the Four Seasons Total Landscaping news conference being able to pull off something so complicated. But the larger reason his self-coup is failing is that our democratic institutions are withstanding his onslaught.
Democratic institutions include the courts — which still require facts and evidence and demand that remedies be appropriate and that cases do not proceed unless the plaintiffs have standing and present a valid cause of action.
There are many recent examples. For instance, Republicans in Texas sought to invalidate nearly 127,000 legally cast ballots on the grounds that the method used by local officials (allowing voters to drive into the polling place as a precaution against covid-19) was illegal. Both the federal district court and Texas Supreme Court rejected the claim and held that the ballots must be counted. In Constantino v. Detroit, another challenge to the Wayne County board, two Republican poll challengers alleged fraud during the count on the grounds that they were not given a clear enough view of the counting. The remedy they sought was to block certification of every vote in the county. They lost.
In fact, of the nearly 30 lawsuits filed by Republicans with the goal of getting rid of ballots, only one, Trump v. Boockvar, succeeded — and that one merely codified preexisting guidelines and affected a small number of ballots in Pennsylvania.
Democratic institutions also include the press, which helped bring pressure to bear on the Republican members of the Wayne County canvassing board, Monica Palmer and William Hartman. The press also influences the national conversation by calling elections based on hard data and publicizing the data, making it harder for Trump to supplant the truth with his own false narrative.
Democratic institutions include the rules in place for conducting and monitoring elections. Elections are largely conducted by community members who step forward to do the work of administering and counting votes. State laws allow the public to observe polling places and the tabulating of votes. With tens of thousands of citizens engaged in the process, the election is truly owned and controlled by the people. In fact, it was election workers who put much of the pressure on Palmer and Hartman in the Wayne County canvassing board fiasco.
And democratic institutions include ordinary citizens like the residents of Wayne County, who insist that norms be respected, and who push back hard against rogue officials who might take steps to overturn a free and fair election. We’ve seen examples of this in the many witnesses — including registered Republicans — who testified against Trump in his impeachment hearing — and officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who recently denounced Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s efforts to pressure him into throwing out valid ballots to tip the scales for Trump.
Yes, many of our institutions have caved under Trump. Attorney General William P. Barr has politicized the Justice Department, and much of the Republican leadership is refusing to contradict Trump, even as he falsely claims he has won the election.
Enough of our institutions and norms, though, are holding out. As long as Americans remained engaged and vigilant, they will.