- Anthony Zurcher
- BBC North America correspondent
About two weeks have passed since the initial announcement of Joe Biden’s victory in the US election, and Donald Trump still refuses to concede defeat. Does he have a plan to change this outcome?
The president’s legal strategy to challenge the election results appears to be on deaf ears within the country’s courts. The Trump team has yet to achieve a clear victory or provide evidence of widespread fraud, after filing dozens of lawsuits.
Trump’s chief attorney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said the campaign abandoned the legal cases it filed in Michigan, where Biden won more than 160,000 votes.
In Georgia, the state approved its results, which showed Biden a lead by 12,000 votes after a manual recount of about 5 million ballot papers.
While the doors to stay in office are closed, the president appears to be shifting his strategy to reverse the election results from a long-term legal battle to a longer political one.
A simplified guide to Trump’s strategy
Here’s what Trump might hope to do:
1. Preventing the certification process in as many states as possible, whether through lawsuits or encouraging Republican officials to challenge them.
2. Persuading Republican lawmakers in states in which Biden won by a narrow margin to dismiss the popular vote results as corrupt due to widespread fraud.
3. Lawmakers pushed to give their state votes in the Electoral College on December 14 in favor of Trump instead of Biden.
4. Doing the above within a sufficient number of states – such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – to increase Trump’s votes in the electoral college from 232 votes to more than 269, which he needs to win.
5. Perhaps his efforts will be successful if he is able to extract votes from the majority that Biden obtained within the 306 electoral college, because then the outcome will be decided in the House of Representatives, and although he is subject to the control of the Democrats, Trump will have an advantage as a result of some ambiguous legal rules.
What is Trump doing to achieve this?
Trump is putting pressure on people who can change whoever the state picks to president.
When Americans vote in the presidential election, they are, in fact, voting in a statewide rather than a nationwide race. They vote for the state electors (members of the Electoral College) who in turn vote for the presidential candidate. Usually these voters follow the will of the constituency. In Michigan, for example, all of them will vote for Biden, who won the state vote.
On Monday, a state council made up of two Republicans and two Democrats is scheduled to meet to count the votes and formally confirm that Biden has obtained all the state’s 16 votes in the electoral college.
The first sign of Trump’s attempt to pressure certain states to ignore the vote count came after reports that he had contacted two Republican officials who had refused to certify the election results in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city.
It is unusual for the US president to have direct contact with these two officials – who are junior party officials – from among the thousands of their counterparts.
However, officials eventually backed out of their refusal to certify the mandate’s findings.
Then these signs became clear evidence of intent, when Republican lawmakers in Michigan accepted a presidential invitation to visit the White House on Friday.
This news came out accompanied by reports of the president’s intention to find other ways to pressure the lawmakers of the crucial states to review – and possibly change – their results.
The bipartisan endorsement of the outcome of the states ’vote – a formal procedure in regular elections – became the latest battleground in the president’s attempts to retain power over the next four years.
Can Trump’s Attempts Succeed?
Not impossible, but the chances are very, very slim.
To start with, the president must flip the results in several states where Biden’s lead has ranged from 10,000 to more than 100,000. The situation is not the same as it was in 2000, when the dispute over the election result rested only in Florida.
What’s more, many of the states that Trump’s legal team is targeting – namely, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nevada – have democratic governors, who cannot sit idly by in the midst of everything that happens.
In Michigan, for example, Governor Gretchen Whitmer can remove the current state electoral council and appoint another that can certify Biden’s victory.
Democratic state governors can choose a list of Biden voters as opposed to those chosen by Republicans, and ultimately it is up to Congress to choose which team it will recognize.
However, this does not mean that Biden supporters are not anxious. Although the chances of this happening are similar to the chances of a meteor falling to the ground or lightning striking a person while winning the lottery, snatching victory from Biden at this moment would be a disastrous political event, so much so that the mere possibility of its occurrence is enough to cause consternation in the Democrats.
Is Trump’s strategy legal?
Trump has spent most of his time in the White House breaking with presidential norms and traditions. And it seems that the last days of his tenure will not be any different.
But just because Trump’s pressure on state election officials or lawmakers is unprecedented or controversial does not mean that it is necessarily illegal.
During the early days of the United States’ life, state legislators had wide powers in how to allocate electoral votes, and until now there is no constitutional requirement that dictates their commitment to the results of the popular vote. Since then, these powers have been restricted by allocating electoral college votes based on the results of the popular vote, while the pillars of the original system remain.
And if the president succeeds in persuading state lawmakers like Michigan to act on his will, the Democrats will surely file legal objections.
The law – at the national and state levels – is unclear, because this issue has rarely been disputed.
Can states retroactively change the laws that administer elections? Probably. But the final verdict will be up to the judges.
Has anyone tried before doing bthat؟
The year 2000 was the last election that witnessed close results and a battle over the electoral college votes, in which Democratic candidates Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush competed. The dispute was over one state, Florida, where the two candidates received a difference of several hundred. In the end, the US Supreme Court intervened and stopped the recount, and Bush became president.
If we want to know what happened in previous elections that witnessed legal disputes in several states, we must go back to 1876, when the race was between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tildon.
At that time, disputing election results in Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida resulted in none of the candidates obtaining the majority of the electoral college votes. The matter moved to the House of Representatives, which ruled in favor of Hayes, which had won fewer votes than his rival in the popular vote such as Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016.
What will happen if Donald Trump refuses to leave office?
If Trump’s attempts to change the election results fail, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, one minute after noon on January 20, whether or not Trump officially endorses.
Then the US military and security apparatus are entitled to treat the former president in the manner in which he would treat any individual unauthorized in his presence in a government facility.
“What he’s doing is outrageous, it’s sending incredibly destructive messages to the rest of the world about how democracy works,” Biden said at a news conference on Thursday.
Even if the president does not succeed, his scorched earth strategy to challenge election results sets a precedent for upcoming elections, and undermines the confidence of many Americans in democratic systems and institutions, according to opinion polls.