What Is Trump Challenging?

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 7, 2020

We all get that Team Trump thinks something is basically wrong about this election — other than results that have turned out to favor Joe Biden.

But the complaints — and the pushbacks to show that the gripes are baseless — seem unduly vague. It’s hard to know what exactly is being attacked by “fraud” charges, what the evidence is, and, frankly, what to do about them.

To make them legal complaints, of course, lawyers for Donald Trump’s campaign have had to go into court with an actionable case with evidence. Of the many, almost all have been thrown out at the start for lack of evidence.

A White House statement Friday seemed a softer restatement of Trump’s raw broadside against the sanctity of American election altogether from Thursday night. The statement said the White House wants to bring these complaints on behalf of elections in the future rather than over adverse vote totals for Trump himself — the exact opposite of what Trump has meant by his “Steal the Election” tweets.

But okay. What exactly are the complaints?

They seem to fall into three categories. First, Trump has consistently objected to the “legality” of mail ballots, when such votes can legally arrive, and whether there is sufficient voter identification check. Another group of legal actions has focused on procedural issues that do not affect vote totals, including assuring that Republican vote observers are in the room. A third seem to have no actual legal content — just partisan political baying about widespread fraud by Democrats or “the Biden family” or unnamed conspiracies among Democratic governors, the news media, pollsters and others.

Let’s Look

It’s so widespread that it seemed worth a look.

— Mail Ballots have been in wide usage around the country, but five states moved this year to send out ballot applications to all registered voters — not ballots, just applications — as a result of coronavirus fears. Ballots are controlled by varying state laws, but Team Trump has bound them together and denounced them; as a result, Democrats dominated the use of mail ballots as Republican supporters were advised to vote in person. Had he simply accepted them, his base would have used the mail too.

But then, Trump’s real goal was to suppress the vote, not criticize methodology.

Trump’s complaints that pockets of Biden votes appearing magically after Tuesday night’s voting were a function of when they were counted, of course. Ohio counted them first, Georgia and Pennsylvania last, and the changing of vote totals matched. The general judgment is that the Trump campaign fell victim to its own railing against the use of mail ballots.

Still, Republicans have filed their third try at seeking a U.S. Supreme Court decision on counting any mail ballots that arrived after Tuesday — an issue on which the Court tied, upholding a state decision to count those ballots.

As for fraud, Eric Trump, cited video of ballots being burned that actually were sample ballots sent to the trash, not actual ballots. And charges that people don’t always eliminate their old addresses affects the cleanliness of registration rolls, not votes.

— Procedural issues included a court complaint that Republican observers had not been let into a vote counting room in Philadelphia. In fact they were, and the judge handling the case basically threw up his hands and asked why there was a complaint. The solution was to move both Republican and Democratic vote counting observers closer to six feet from counting tables.

Another Pennsylvania court ruled on a complaint about issuance of provisional ballots if a mailed ballot turned out to lack a signature by ordering that any remaining provisional ballots be segregated for later judgment. It seems inconceivable that this significantly affects presidential vote outcomes in that state.

— “Fraud,” shout Trump supporters, which could mean anything, without any prescribed solution. Here’s one example: An unverified report circulating on the Web cites work by Steve Pieczenik, an “intelligence expert,” writer and one-time State Department employee who works with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, claims that this election was set up by Trump’s people as a “sophisticated sting operation” to trap the Democrats and the Biden crime family in irrefutable criminal fraud. Among other things, he says legitimate ballots were printed with special watermarks by the federal Department of Homeland Security. He asserts that the National Guard is being assigned in 12 states to determine ballots lacking the watermark, to “expose the entire Biden family and get them all convicted and sent to prison.”

Um, states print ballots, there are no watermarks, no National Guard involvement, and how the Biden family is involved is not clear. Nevertheless, “fraud” is a convenient slogan for those opposing a Biden win over Trump.

End of Day

Few of these complaints would change actual vote totals, which speedily were making Biden the election winner.

One pending effort could, and this conspiracy is in a couple of Republican majority state legislatures and the Congress. It seems to have the support of people like Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina and involves the legislature in Pennsylvania, for example, simply replacing electors sent by voters through the ballot with its own slate.

That could deny the official certification of the election results, and land the whole election in the House of Representatives, where a single vote by each state delegation would choose the next president.

Republican states outnumber Democratic ones, meaning this is a slick way to shelve both popular vote and Electoral College results, and plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis.

Of course, Team Trump apparently doesn’t see this kind of thing as “fraud” any more than they do screwing around with Postal Service changes that resulted in 300,000 undelivered ballots in multiple states.

It turns out that fraud, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.