Michigan move: Is Donald Trump actively seeking to subvert the US election?

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There are signs that Donald Trump is shifting his post-election strategy from a refusal to accept defeat and obstructing the transition, to an active attempt to subvert the November 3 vote.

President-Elect Joe Biden won the election, and Trump lost. One by one his team”s legal challenges, evidence-free, are being thrown out of state courts. A second vote count in Georgia has confirmed the result of the first — that Biden won the state.

Yet the outgoing US president continues to make wild, misleading and unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud. And in what look like desperate, last-ditch tactics, he is seeking to block state election results from being officially confirmed for his Democratic opponent.

Joe Biden is given a comfortable majority by The Associated Press and multiple outlets with 306 Electoral College votes, to Donald Trump’s 232. AP only calls a state when it is fully confident the race has been won.

Michigan manoeuvres

Trump has called two Republican state legislators from Michigan to the White House on Friday, according to two sources not authorised to speak publicly, confirming reports in US media.

The purpose of the visit of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield is unknown, but there is concern that the president may put pressure for the state not to certify Biden as the winner.

Ahead of the meeting, Chatfield tweeted to say he would not apologise for taking the opportunity to meet the president.

Biden did win Michigan but the result is not yet official. With 99% of votes counted the Democrat has over 154,000 more votes than Trump.

Trump’s team have been exploiting a dispute over the count in one area — Wayne County — and the massive influx of mail-in ballots which flipped Trump’s earlier lead, to infer something nefarious.

Even before the election, fears were expressed that Trump might seek to sow chaos in defeat and subvert the vote, in particular by trying to get Electoral College votes cast his way, even in states where the people had voted for Biden.

Electors will typically back whichever candidate wins the most votes in their state. But if Trump succeeded in convincing Michigan’s board of canvassers not to certify Biden’s victory, the Republican-controlled state legislature would be called on to select electors.

Both legislative leaders called to Washington have indicated earlier they will not try to overturn Biden’s win. Otherwise, some commentators and legal experts believe constitutional checks and public opinion would make such an attempt highly unlikely to succeed.

A flurry of lawsuits

Donald Trump’s legal team have launched a scattering of legal challenges in battleground states won by Joe Biden.

  • Trump’s campaign sued in Michigan (16 Electoral College votes), saying that election officials had “allowed fraud and incompetence to corrupt” the results, observers had been denied access, and ineligible ballots counted. Another lawsuit sought to delay certification. Both cases were abruptly dropped. Biden’s lead is over 154,000.
  • Officials in Arizona (11 votes) have postponed certification in one county but the party lost a legal challenge in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous. Trump campaign lawyers acknowledged the small number of ballots at issue wouldn’t change the state-wide vote for Biden, who has a lead of 11,000.
  • An attempt to block the certification of election results in Georgia (16 votes) was thrown out of court. A challenge to the way the state handles absentee ballots was described by the deputy secretary of state as a “silly, baseless claim”. Biden is around 12,000 votes ahead.
  • In Nevada (6 votes), the Trump campaign is renewing a legal challenge that judges have already rejected. It cites counting methods, votes allegedly cast for dead people, a lack of observer access and illegal incentives given to American Indians. Biden’s lead is over 33,000.
  • The Trump campaign has claimed without providing evidence that Pennsylvania (20 votes) violated voters’ rights by allegedly allowing election fraud. In court, the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani made wild, unsupported allegations of a nationwide conspiracy by Democrats to steal the election. A judge cancelled a hearing but more filings are due. Biden leads by over 81,000.
  • In Wisconsin (10 votes), Trump’s team filed for a recount in Democratic strongholds, claiming without evidence that absentee ballots were illegally altered or issued and that government officials violated state law. A recount will take place and must be complete by December 1. Biden leads Trump by 20,000 votes and officials reiterated there was no evidence of irregularities.

What else have Trump and his team been doing?

A Michigan source said the outgoing president had reached out to two Republican canvassers who have tried to rescind their certification votes. In Arizona, the Republican Party is pressuring county officials to delay certifying results.

Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, held a long, rambling press conference on Thursday to allege a widespread Democratic election conspiracy involving multiple states and suspect voting machines. Chris Krebs, a cybersecurity chief fired by Trump, called it “the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”

Krebs was the director of the US body charged with election oversight which described the election as “the most secure in American history”. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cybersecurity unit said it had no evidence that votes were compromised or altered. Election officials across the country have said repeatedly there was no widespread fraud.

A week after the election the president fired his Defence Secretary Mark Esper, which led to several resignations within the department. They were replaced by Trump loyalists.

Experts say Trump has almost no chance of reversing the election. But his repetition of baseless claims that the race was rigged is undermining public confidence in the election system while instilling in his supporters the idea that Biden will be an illegitimate president.