With Election Results Unsettled, GOP Mobilizes Vast Network of Lawyers

November 5, 2020by Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Tyrone Johnson votes inside a tent at a shopping center parking lot on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Donald Trump's campaign asked Nevada's top court to halt ballots from being counted in Clark County amid disputes over the accuracy of its signature-matching technology and public access for election observers. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump promised to take the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans activated a massive network of attorneys in battleground states crucial to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, hoping to thwart the counting of thousands of early and absentee ballots.

Republican National Committee and Trump campaign officials told McClatchy that the scenario unfolding with a handful of Rust Belt and Southwestern states deciding the presidency was exactly what they had been preparing for over the course of a year. One source described it as “hand-to-hand combat” in legal battles over ballots that could decide the race.

“We have been planning for any post-election litigation and recounts for well over a year and are extraordinarily well-positioned,” Mandi Merritt, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee, told McClatchy early Wednesday morning. “With the help of our national network of attorneys and multiple firms retained across Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states, the RNC will continue to litigate as necessary should Democrats attempt to sue their way to victory.”

Republican attorneys have already laid the groundwork in several states that on election night proved highly competitive, including Pennsylvania and Nevada, where lawsuits were filed throughout the day on Tuesday. More filings are expected, and the RNC has committed to spending at least $20 million on legal efforts.

“We have thousands of volunteer lawyers at the ready in these and other battleground states, and our efforts will continue until election results up and down the ticket are final,” Merritt said.

As voting started in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Republicans filed a federal lawsuit to prevent Montgomery County from allowing voters who submitted ballots incorrectly to correct their mistakes. A federal judge scheduled a hearing on it for Wednesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Trump campaign and the Nevada Republican Party filed an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court to challenge the state’s signature matching system, saying that “the integrity of the election is at risk.”

Both lawsuits were part of a broad preelection legal strategy aimed at preventing absentee votes from being counted under most circumstances.

The Republican Party has already appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to exclude the counting of ballots that arrive after Election Day — an effort that has twice failed. But it also has laid a legal foundation in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina to challenge ballot receipt deadlines, ballot postage, ballot signatures, ballot boxes and several other mail-in or early voting procedures that were enhanced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

One GOP official said that the 40-odd cases that were fought before the election “allowed us to have battle-tested legal experience on these important issues, as well as retain dozens of state and national lawyers, in many crucial battleground states.”

“That will be critical to any post-election litigation efforts,” the official said.

But as votes were still being counted late into the night, outside conservative legal groups were holding their fire.

“It is too soon to know whether the election results will be inside the margin of litigation,” said Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project. “Unfortunately, because of an unready rush to mail-in voting and a torrent of litigation forcing voting changes mid-election, the states most likely to decide the presidential election are the least likely to deliver prompt results. The importance of an accurate, timely, and complete count of lawful ballots cannot be understated.”

The president vowed an aggressive legal fight in early Wednesday morning remarks from the White House, shortly after sending out a post-election fundraising email to supporters asking them to help “ensure we have a MASSIVE WARCHEST to protect the integrity of this Election.”

“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election — frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said before a gathering of supporters at the White House.

The president has said for weeks that he wanted to see an election result the night of Nov. 3, but state officials in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania warned for months that it could take several days to count early or absentee ballots because of provisional laws that prevented an early count.

“Our goal now is to ensure the integrity,” Trump said. “We want the law to be used in the proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Trump over the weekend offered prescient remarks indicating the party had plans for precisely the outcome that developed, where a tight race for 270 Electoral College votes comes down to uncounted ballots in the remaining battlegrounds.

“We’re going to go in the night of,” Trump told reporters in North Carolina on Sunday. “As soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers.

“We don’t want to have Pennsylvania, where you have a political governor — a very partisan guy — and we don’t want to have other states, like Nevada, where you have the head of the Democratic clubhouse as your governor — we don’t want to be in a position where he’s allowed to, every day, watch ballots come in,” he added.

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Francesca Chambers contributed to this report.

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(c)2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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