In Michigan, Republican lawyers lobbied the Wayne County canvassing board to consider evidence of alleged improprieties before certifying the vote. In Pennsylvania, GOP lawmakers were the target of social media campaigns demanding the appointment of electors who favor President Trump. And in Georgia, the Republican secretary of state defended the election and announced a hand audit of the results, despite calls by the state’s Republican senators for him to resign over alleged problems.
The efforts in these states — where Biden has won or is leading in the count — come as the Trump campaign struggles to amass genuine evidence of fraud that will pass muster in court. Republican lawsuits seeking to challenge the Nov. 3 election results so far have foundered, and affidavits cited as proof of election fraud in cities such as Detroit have failed to substantiate serious claims that votes were counted illegally.
While the Trump campaign’s lawsuits have so far been “summarily dismissed,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) said Wednesday that she is concerned the GOP may try to use baseless claims about irregularities or vote tampering to disrupt the certification of Biden’s win, depriving him of the state’s 16 electoral votes.
“It appears as though that is the strategy they are pursuing,” Nessel said on a call with reporters held by the nonpartisan Voter Protection Project. “We will do everything we can possibly do in the state of Michigan to ensure that that does not occur and that the slate of electors accurately reflects whoever received the most votes.”
Republicans appear to be intensifying their efforts in the state, lodging additional complaints against the vote count in court and in the realm of public opinion.
GOP lawyers urged the Wayne County canvassing board on Wednesday morning to wait to certify Biden’s victory there.
“There is extensive evidence of irregularities and illegalities that deserves more scrutiny,” said Charles Spies, an elections lawyer representing John James, a GOP Senate candidate who has been running behind incumbent Sen. Gary Peters (D) but has not yet conceded.
By Nov. 17, the county canvassing board — equally divided among Republicans and Democrats — will have to decide whether to certify the results. Until that date, a member of the board, William Hartmann, said Wednesday that he hopes to find answers to questions raised by Spies and others. He said it was “way too early to say” whether he would vote to certify the count.
The county board was meeting at the same time the Trump campaign filed a formal complaint in federal district court in Lansing challenging the state’s vote count and asking that the certification be delayed.
Accompanying the complaint were 238 pages of affidavits from 107 poll watchers who complained of various issues during the counting of the ballots, particularly in Detroit. A close examination of the affidavits, however, reveals that most cited concerns about the conditions under which ballots were being counted — how many Republicans were allowed in the room, how close they were allowed to stand to counting tables — rather than alleging improper ballots were counted.
Those that did allege problems with the ballots cited concerns only with a handful of votes. They sometimes appeared based on misunderstandings about the counting process.
In a separate state case, a pair of Republican poll watchers have raised concerns about absentee ballot-counting at Detroit’s TCF Center, alleging that workers counted ballots they should not have. Similar allegations about the Detroit counting center have already been raised in state court — where a judge rejected them — and in federal court, where no judge has ruled yet.
During oral arguments on Wednesday, David Fink — an attorney for the city of Detroit — said that officials at the counting center had done nothing improper. He said the repeated cases on the same topic were like the movie “Groundhog Day.”
“Unlike ‘Groundhog Day,’ which was funny, this isn’t funny at all,” Fink said. He told Judge Timothy Kenny that any ruling on behalf of the plaintiffs could delay the selection of Michigan’s electors — members of the electoral college who formally choose the president and vice president — and give encouragement to conspiracy theories driven by Trump.
Kenny said he would rule in the case by noon on Friday.
Election law experts said the most likely outcome in Michigan is still that Biden — who leads Trump by about 148,000 votes — is certified as the winner on Nov. 23. If electors did ultimately defy the will of Michigan voters to support Trump, the president still would not rack up the required number of electoral college votes to stay in office, assuming Biden wins other states in which he is currently leading.
The state’s 83 county canvassing boards are required to complete their certification by Nov. 17. If a county cannot agree to certify results, it is required to send data to the state canvassing board, which meets Nov. 23 to consider certification.
If that board reaches an impasse, state law directs the legislature to act. While that is a long-shot possibility that has never happened, Democrats are now beginning to express worry about it.
The Senate majority leader and the speaker of the state House, both Republicans, declined requests for comment Wednesday. However, the speaker, Lee Chatfield, tweeted recently that “whoever gets the most votes will win Michigan! Period. End of story. Then we move on.”
A person familiar with the speaker’s thinking said that he and other Republicans do not want the legislature to decide the vote in Michigan.
Nessel assailed the Trump campaign’s lawsuits and allegations of voter fraud as baseless, frivolous and racist. Though Biden’s margin of victory in some majority-White counties was larger than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s margin over Trump in 2016, Nessel said, Trump’s allies have chosen to focus on alleged problems in the majority-Black city of Detroit.
“Black people are corrupt, Black people are incompetent and Black people can’t be trusted — that is the narrative that is continually espoused by the Trump campaign and their allies in these lawsuits,” Nessel said.
In Pennsylvania, senior Republicans spent the weeks before the election trying to play down speculation sparked by state GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas, who was quoted in a September report in the Atlantic saying that appointing pro-Trump electors was “one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution.”
Responding to the article, Sen. Jake Corman, the Republican majority leader, said in a tweet that state law clearly defined how presidential electors were appointed and this “DOES NOT involve the legislature.” By law the governor — currently Democrat Tom Wolf — selects presidential electors based on the popular vote.
Corman and the state House majority leader later said in an opinion article for a local newspaper that the legislature “does not have and will not have a hand” in selecting the electors or deciding the election’s outcome.
But during the past week, party leaders have come under mounting pressure from Trump supporters and some in their own ranks to intervene. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) of Butler County, which Trump won by more than 30 points, raised the possibility of appointing electors in a Facebook post last week, adding that the legislature “must be prepared to use all constitutional authority to right the wrong” of supposed voter fraud.
Late Wednesday, the Trump campaign also filed legal challenges to roughly 8,330 mail ballots cast in Philadelphia over issues such as the voter failing to print their street address on the ballot envelope. Under state law, either campaign has until Nov. 23 to contest the result by filing a petition to state court signed by 100 voters who allege that the election was “illegal.”
As Republican efforts intensified in both Michigan and Pennsylvania, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) — who has bucked his party in defending the integrity of the state’s elections — sought to increase public faith in the outcome by announcing a hand audit of the presidential race. Biden leads by more than 14,000 votes in the state.
“This has national significance,” Raffensperger said Wednesday at a news conference. “We get that. We understand that. We follow the process and we understand the significance for not just Georgia but for every single American.”
Election officials will manually verify each of the roughly 5 million votes cast in the presidential election, amid unsubstantiated claims by some Republicans of widespread fraud and irregularities. The goal is to start the audit this week and complete it by Nov. 20, the deadline for the state to certify its results, officials said.
“We’ll be counting every single piece of paper — every single ballot, every single lawfully cast, legal ballot,” Raffensperger said.
State officials said Wednesday that the audit would essentially amount to a recount. Still, the losing candidate can request a recount of results if the margin is less than 0.5 percent of votes cast. Biden’s lead falls within that margin, meaning Trump can request a recount within two business days of the certification of statewide results. The recount would involve rescanning the ballots, which would have been already hand-audited, and state officials have said it could take about a week.
Raffensperger also made a pointed statement to those who have questioned the integrity of Georgia’s election, surrounding himself by local election officials and expressing his support and admiration for their work.
“At the end of the day, though, they’re following a process, and what they want is, they never want you to be able to question their integrity. That’s what we want everyone to understand — that we’re following a process. Integrity still matters,” he said.
Near the state Capitol in Atlanta, a group of two dozen Republican activists gathered to celebrate the fact that there would be a recount and to find out whether it would address their concerns about election integrity.
“Every county will recount every vote by hand,” said Garland Favorito, the 70-year-old founder of the group VOTER GA, or Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia. “That is a wonderful thing”
Celestine James, 55, said she personally filed a complaint over irregularities that she claimed she had seen in Savannah’s Chatham County, worrying that some ballots had been counted twice. But she was optimistic that a hand recount would uncover any double-counting, errors or fraud.
“We need to do the recount so we can put people’s minds at ease,” said James.
Rosalind S. Helderman, David A. Fahrenthold, Amy Gardner and Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Washington and David Weigel in Atlanta and Marietta, Ga., contributed to this report. Hamburger reported from Detroit.