- If President Donald Trump wants to use lawsuits to win the 2020 presidential election, he’ll need to make up a gap of about 45,000 votes in Pennsylvania.
- A Supreme Court case over late-arriving ballots could potentially throw out some votes that leaned toward President-elect Joe Biden.
- Even if Trump victorious on that front, there simply aren’t enough votes that would make up his loss margin in Pennsylvania.
- The USPS’s failure to deliver ballots in Pennsylvania quickly enough didn’t seem to have enough of an impact either. They recorded just a few thousand arriving late — far short of the numbers Trump would need.
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Even before media outlets called the 2020 presidential election for President-elect Joe Biden, President Donald Trump and his campaign were gearing for a fight.
They would go to the courts, they said, hoping to swing the election their way.
The campaign has filed about a dozen legal challenges over election rules in different states across the country. The heart of their strategy is a case pending before the Supreme Court, over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, the state that gave Biden enough electoral votes for victory.
Even if Republicans prevail in the case, it’s extremely unlikely that it would affect the presidential election results. And the much-feared delays in the US Postal Service likely won’t matter either.
Ballots in Pennsylvania are still being counted. But for Trump to claw back his lead, he’d need to win about 45,000 more remaining votes than Biden, according to DDHQ, and the margin is sure to increase between this sentence being written and you reading it.
The numbers just aren’t there for Pennsylvania
Normally, it could take weeks to get a high-profile case to the Supreme Court. The Trump campaign, if it believed it had an actionable federal lawsuit on its hands, would have to go through a federal district court, and then an appeals court, and then the Supreme Court.
In this case, they’re attempting to latch on to an existing Supreme Court case, brought by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court extended the 2020 election ballot deadline so that mail-in ballots would still be counted if they were postmarked by Election Day on November 3, but arrive at ballot processing centers by November 6. The state Republican party went to federal courts trying to rescind the extended deadline, arguing the state Supreme Court doesn’t have the authority to grant such an extension.
After failing at a district court and appeals court, Republicans brought the case to the US Supreme Court, which gave a 4-4 ruling. The deadlock meant that the federal appeals court ruling that upheld the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision would stand.
With Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump nominee, now confirmed to the Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Republicans appealed again, hoping the case will swing their way.
After the election, Trump filed a motion trying to join their case, though the Supreme Court hasn’t yet granted his intervention.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is “segregating” the ballots that arrived in the mail between 8 p.m. on November 3 and 5 p.m. on November 6, in case the Supreme Court ultimately decides to throw those ballots out.
It’s likely that Trump hopes the Supreme Court will force the state to reject those votes. Mail-in votes in the state leaned Democratic — unsurprising given Trump’s conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and vote-by-mail.
Even if the Supreme Court sides with Republicans, that doesn’t necessarily mean the segregated ballots will be disqualified.
“There’s a legitimate argument that the state, based on its high court, ruled that due to the problem of the Postal Service, there’s a need for the ballots to come in,” Richard Briffault, a Columbia Law School professor who studies election litigation, previously told Business Insider. “The Supreme Court declined to stop that but did not decide on the merits.”
The court may rule that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court didn’t have the authority to extend the mail-in ballot arrival deadline, but still conclude that voters didn’t do anything wrong, and therefore their ballots should be counted.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on how the Court would rule, but the argument that voters relied on the rules in place on and before Election Day — and should therefore have their votes counted — is very strong,” Dan Tokaji, the dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, told Politico.
If the ballots are thrown out, there probably aren’t enough to swing the election.
Remember, Trump would need about 45,000 outstanding votes to go his way. Boockvar has said that larger counties have reported a few hundred late-arriving ballots at most, and some smaller ones have reported getting zero.
“Unless it’s super close, I don’t see them making or breaking this one way or another,” Boockvar told CNN on Thursday.
The USPS didn’t do much to help Trump, either
Prior to the election, there was much concern over the speed at which ballots would be delivered.
Progressives worried that Louis DeJoy, the Trump-appointed postmaster general and longtime Republican megadonor, would slow down the mail, potentially affecting mail-in ballots that leaned Democratic.
Those worries did not materialize at a scale that would substantially affect the election. Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and a consortium of other civil rights groups, we have some transparency into how the USPS has handled election mail. Every day in court, the USPS has filed pages and pages of charts showing how much election mail it’s delivered in different areas of the country.
It has not all been smooth sailing. To speed up the handling of mail ballots, USPS officials testified, postal workers handled ballots in a way that circumvented the agency’s data recording process. They sometimes handed the ballots directly to ballot processing centers, skipping a step that would ensure they were recorded in the USPS’s official numbers.
All in all, it looks like the USPS delivered 150,000 ballots after Election Day across the country. Late deliveries aren’t necessarily a problem everywhere, since plenty of states accept ballots late as long as they were postmarked on time.
In Pennsylvania, the postal service counted 3,439 ballots arriving Wednesday and 1,459 arriving Thursday. Numbers for Friday aren’t available yet. That’s a lot of ballots, and they’re more precise than the numbers Boockvar talked about in her CNN interview.
But even if every single one of those votes were for Trump, they still wouldn’t be enough to swing the election his way.