HARRISBURG — President Donald Trump’s campaign filed lawsuits Wednesday in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, laying the groundwork for contesting battleground states as he slipped behind Democrat Joe Biden in the hunt for the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
“Bad things are happening in Pennsylvania. Democrats are scheming to disenfranchise and dilute Republican votes. President Trump and his team are fighting to put a stop to it,” the Trump campaign said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Gov. Tom Wolf called the lawsuit “disgraceful” and vowed to “fight like hell” to ensure that the vote continues.
“Our election officials at the state and local level should be free to do their jobs without intimidation or attacks,” Wolf said. “These attempts to subvert the democratic process are disgraceful.”
The governor said the assertion that the vote-counting hasn’t been transparent doesn’t hold water.
“Philadelphia has been streaming the process” over the internet, Wolf said. “Anybody can get it, I’m not sure how there’s a lack of transparency,” he said.
The new filings, joining existing Republican legal challenges in Pennsylvania and Nevada, demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted, and absentee ballot concerns, the Trump campaign said. However, at one Michigan location in question The Associated Press observed poll watchers from both sides monitoring on Wednesday.
The AP called Michigan for Democrat Joe Biden on Wednesday. Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia are undecided.
The actions reveal an emerging legal strategy that the president had signaled for weeks, namely that he would attack the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean his defeat.
Asking for recount
His campaign also announced that it would ask for a recount in Wisconsin, a state the AP called for Biden on Wednesday afternoon. Campaign manager Bill Stepien cited “irregularities in several Wisconsin counties,” without providing specifics.
Biden said Wednesday the count should continue in all states, adding, “No one’s going to take our democracy away from us — not now, not ever.”
Campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said legal challenges were not the behavior of a winning campaign.
“What makes these charades especially pathetic is that while Trump is demanding recounts in places he has already lost, he’s simultaneously engaged in fruitless attempts to halt the counting of votes in other states in which he’s on the road to defeat,” Bates said in a statement.
Election officials continued to count votes across the country, the normal process on the day following voting. Unlike in previous years, states were contending with an avalanche of mail ballots driven by fears of voting in person during a pandemic. At least 103 million people voted early, either by mail or in-person, representing 74% of the total votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.
Every election, results reported on election night are unofficial and the counting of ballots extends past Election Day. Mail ballots normally take more time to verify and count. This year, because of the large numbers of mail ballots and a close race, results were expected to take longer.
The Trump campaign said it is calling for a temporary halt in the counting in Michigan and Pennsylvania until it is given “meaningful” access in numerous locations and allowed to review ballots that already have been opened and processed.
There have been no reports of fraud or any type of ballot concerns out of Pennsylvania. The state had 3.1 million mail-in ballots that take time to count and an order allows them to be received and counted up until Friday if they are postmarked by Nov. 3.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a CNN interview the lawsuit was “more a political document than a legal document.”
“There is transparency in this process. The counting has been going on. There are observers observing this counting, and the counting will continue,” he said.
The Michigan lawsuit claims Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, was allowing absentee ballots to be counted without teams of bipartisan observers as well as challengers. She’s accused of undermining the “constitutional right of all Michigan voters...to participate in fair and lawful elections.” Michigan Democrats said the suit was a longshot.
Poll watchers from both sides were plentiful Wednesday at one major polling place in question — the TCF Center in Detroit, The Associated Press observed. They checked in at a table near the entrance to the convention center’s Hall E and strolled among the tables where ballot processing was taking place.
GOP lawyers had already launched legal challenges involving absentee votes in Pennsylvania and Nevada, contesting local decisions that could take on national significance in the close election.
In one appeal to a Pennsylvania appellate court, the Trump campaign complained that one of its representatives was prevented from seeing the writing on mail-in ballots that were being opened and processed in Philadelphia. A judge in Philadelphia dismissed it, saying that poll observers are directed to observe, not audit.
Pennsylvania, as predicted by political pundits throughout much of the campaign, has emerged as one of the final battleground states that could tip the balance to determine whether Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden gets the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the White House.
Biden made dramatic gains in Pennsylvania to close the gap in the advantage Trump had on election night, when in-person votes had been tallied and mail-in ballots had not.
Democratic voters had sought and used mail-in ballots at three times the rate that Republicans did. By 11:55 p.m. Trump led Biden by about 176,000 votes, with about 763,000 mail-in ballots uncounted.
‘Game is not over’
Earlier Wednesday, two of Wolf’s predecessors — Democrat Ed Rendell and Republican Tom Ridge — continued to urge voters to be patient as the state works to ensure all votes are counted.
“Last week, the Steelers were down at halftime and the Eagles were losing at halftime and they both came out victorious,” Ridge said. “The game is not over.”
Rendell said that it’s not uncommon for election results to be delayed.
“Somehow there is a myth that counting votes after Election Day is new,” Rendell said. “Most election counting continues for a day or two after the election,” he said.
The president’s campaign wasn’t alone in criticizing the Wolf administration’s handling of the election.
Republican leaders blasted Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar for making last-minute changes to guidance to counties. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said the actions amounted to “weaponizing” the Department of State to “tip the scales” to benefit Democratic candidates.
Corman specifically pointed to the state’s direction that counties could contact voters to allow them to correct mail-in ballots that would otherwise have been rejected.
“Clearly, the secretary was concerned about the results that were coming,” he said. “I think the governor should ask the secretary to step aside so that the people of Pennsylvania can have confidence in the integrity of the result, whether it’s Joe Biden, whether it’s Donald Trump,” Corman said.
Late Tuesday, Boockvar said she had no plan to step down.
Wolf’s office responded with a statement saying he still supports Boockvar and calling the criticism of her “a partisan attack on Pennsylvania’s elections.”
The Georgia lawsuit filed in Chatham County essentially asks a judge to ensure the state laws are being followed on absentee ballots. Campaign officials said they were considering peppering a dozen other counties around the state with similar claims around absentee ballots.
Trump, addressing supporters at the White House early Wednesday, talked about taking the undecided race to the Supreme Court. Though it was unclear what he meant, his comments evoked a reprise of the court’s intervention in the 2000 presidential election that ended with a decision effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush.
But there are important differences from 2000 and they already were on display. In 2000, Republican-controlled Florida was the critical state and Bush clung to a small lead. Democrat Al Gore asked for a recount and the Supreme Court stopped it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.