President Donald Trump. Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Trump campaign announced a new 342-page lawsuit on Tuesday night challenging the election process in Michigan.
The lawsuit doesn’t make a single specific claim of voter fraud or electoral fraud but says the state’s votes shouldn’t be certified anyway.
Much of the lawsuit is composed of affidavits from GOP election observers. More than a dozen of them complained they were told to stay more than 6 feet away from ballot counters because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Justin Levitt, an elections expert, told Insider it wouldn’t make sense to invalidate the election results based on the arguments in the lawsuit: “It would be like demanding that because I was impeded from checking to see whether a car were parked over the metered time, we should blow up the car,” he said.
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The Trump campaign announced a new lawsuit Tuesday night, alleging widespread problems with the electoral process in Michigan, a state President Donald Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden by more than 145,000 votes.
The lawsuit, which has not yet been filed, says the campaign’s election observers were forced to stay more than 6 feet away from election workers in Wayne County — a social-distancing measure put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed more than 238,000 people in the US.
But the lawsuit alleges the distancing also meant “Republican challengers were not allowed to meaningfully observe the ballot counting process.” The lawsuit claims that, compounded with other irregularities with the ballot-counting process, means Wayne County didn’t properly follow Michigan’s election laws.
Trump’s campaign is asking a federal court to stop Wayne County — where Trump is behind by more than 323,000 votes, according to Decision Desk HQ data published by Insider, and which includes the city of Detroit — from certifying a swath of its votes until those irregularities are fixed and a number of the ballots are counted again.
The Trump campaign does not challenge the validity of Wayne County’s votes or allege a single case of voter fraud or electoral fraud.
Poll workers in Detroit on November 3. Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images
A victory in this lawsuit is unlikely to substantially change the state’s vote count and risk Biden’s electoral victory in Michigan, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, told Insider.
“You can’t throw out an election because you just guess that there might have been wrongdoing maybe, particularly when there’s no other reason to suspect any misconduct,” Levitt said. “I don’t believe Michigan law requires the election officials be supervised every step of the way by observers. Even if it did, that still wouldn’t be cause to overturn the actual votes cast.”
Even if Biden were to somehow lose Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, his projected victories in other states would still grant him enough electoral votes for the presidency.
The 342-page complaint includes dozens of affidavits from election workers working with the Trump campaign and Republican Party. Of those people who signed affidavits, 14 complained about the 6-foot rule, saying it was too far for them to properly observe ballot processing.
“On numerous occasions I was told by poll workers that I needed to stay six feet from them. When I asked if I could come closer because I could not see the screen to verify whether the voter and ballot numbers matched I was told I could not,” says a typical passage from one affidavit by a woman who identified herself as a Republican Party poll challenger.
Levitt, a former Justice Department official who oversaw voting-rights cases, told Insider that the complaints about access didn’t necessarily have merit, since the election has safeguards beyond just partisan observers.
“It’s up to elections officials in the first instance to test the validity of the ballots, and there are lots of safeguards beyond third-party observers to make sure election officials do their job,” he told Insider. “It does not follow that every procedural glitch means that you invalidate the election or toss out legitimate ballots.”
Other people who signed affidavits didn’t mention problems with standing 6 feet away
Three other people who signed affidavits for the lawsuit — Jeffrey Moss, Erik Duus, and Jeremy McCall — said they were asked to stand 6 feet away from election workers, but they did not say the distance prevented them from properly observing anything and suggested they were able to view irregularities from a distance.
Another person, Randall S. Champagne, said staying 6 feet away made it difficult for him to observe but that he saw irregularities anyway and wasn’t close enough to formally challenge them.
Marc Russell, another poll challenger, signed an affidavit saying he was told to stand 6 feet away from people but that the workers counting ballots were not. He didn’t say what problem he had with standing 6 feet apart from others.
Angela Marie Eilf testified in her affidavit that she was told she’d have to keep 6 feet of distance from others and properly wear a mask. She said she was “immediately concerned by these instructions” but did not say why. Her affidavit didn’t list any problems with the ballot-counting process.
One person, Mindi Tietz, alleged she was told she needed to stand 20 feet away from the people counting ballots.
Some of the people who signed affidavits for the lawsuit also made baseless speculations about irregularities, Reuters’ Brad Heath said.
Levitt told Insider that many of the claims represented in the lawsuit went beyond what partisan election observers are supposed to do.
“Just because the observers decide that’s their job doesn’t mean it’s so, any more than I can decide it’s my job to go out and issue parking tickets if I think I see a car parked over the metered time,” he said.
He said it wouldn’t make any sense to invalidate any ballots based on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Continuing my extended analogy, it would be like demanding that because I was impeded from checking to see whether a car were parked over the metered time, we should blow up the car (without any actual evidence that the car was in fact illegally parked),” he said.
Police and election officials as Detroit election workers count absentee ballots for the 2020 election. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images
The Michigan secretary of state’s office, which oversees the election process in the state, didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on Wednesday.
It’s not clear why the lawsuit hasn’t appeared in PACER, the database of federal court records, nearly a day after the Trump campaign announced it. The campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new federal lawsuit recycles several claims from a failed suit the campaign filed in a Michigan state court earlier in November. In that lawsuit, the campaign also alleged that the lack of access for some election observers violated the law. Judge Cynthia Stephens threw the case out, saying the allegations were too vague and that the ballot-counting process was over by that time anyway.
The new lawsuit is one of many Trump is bringing across the country to challenge the election results. In Pennsylvania, he filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s entire Electoral College count on similar grounds. And in the Supreme Court, he seeks to join a lawsuit that would disqualify the roughly 10,000 Pennsylvania ballots that were mailed in by Election Day but arrived at ballot-processing centers afterward.
In another earlier lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign sued over distancing measures for its election observers.
It won the lawsuit, successfully obtaining permission for the observers to stand no less than 6 feet away from poll workers.
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