In the most contentious presidential election in the United States, even details such as where the observers of the elections should be positioned during the vote count are discussed in the courts.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed – with the prospect of many more before and after Election Day Nov. 3 – as both Democrats and Republicans try to resolve a process usually determined by citizen suffrage in court.
The lawsuits cover a wide spectrum, from whether it is allowed to carry weapons near polling places to more complicated issues that have already reached the Supreme Court.RELATED
“It’s an unprecedented level of litigation,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project. “There seems to be a desire to elevate everything possible. Possible misunderstandings or simple disagreements about the rules end up in court. It’s a very different feeling. “
Some 300 lawsuits have been filed in dozens of states across the country, and several dozen are pending resolution before election day. Many have to do with the alterations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused more than 227,000 deaths in the United States and some 8.8 million cases.
The campaigns of President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden have quietly recruited armies of lawyers preparing for the possibility of a protracted legal battle that reaches the Supreme Court.
In some places, Republicans have focused on observers, volunteers from parties long used in elections. They monitor the polling places and take note of possible problems in contesting the vote or the count.
The role of these vigilantes and challengers has garnered increased attention this year as Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations about the possibility of fraud due to the surge in votes sent by mail. Trump has urged his supporters to go to the polls and “watch very carefully”, raising fears that voters will be intimidated. He has falsely said that observers were “kicked out” from a polling place in Philadelphia, where he says “bad things” happen for which he has not produced evidence.
In Nevada, the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party went to court to try to stop the counting of Las Vegas-area ballots sent by mail. They say observers are not allowed to get close enough to workers and mach ines in the busy suburban Las Vegas polling place to contest signatures in the most populous and Democratic-leaning county in the state.
Jesse Binnall, a Republican and Trump campaign attorney, told a judge Wednesday that the recount process observed in Las Vegas prevents what he called a “significant opportunity” to challenge the validity of mailed ballots.
“You can challenge the ballots of people who vote in person,” Binnall said. “You can’t for people who vote by mail.”
Nevada Democrats have called the lawsuit “plain and simple” an attempt to suppress votes in the most diverse county in the state.
“Clark County is a (Democratic) blue county,” said state judicial official Gregory Zunino. “Frankly, they want to exclude as many ballots or signatures from Clark County as possible.”
In Michigan, a candidate for the state legislature has filed a lawsuit alleging that social distancing rules prevent poll watchers from fully monitoring the electoral process. The lawsuit was quickly resolved with the agreement that observers can come closer when they see fit.
For its part, the New Mexico Supreme Court has rejected a state Republican Party lawsuit that party challengers have been denied oversight of the initial ballot verification process.
In Philadelphia, the Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit demanding that its representatives be able to monitor people who register on the rolls or fill out ballots to mail at electoral offices in Pennsylvania, a disputed and crucial state for both candidates. A judge ruled that state law does not allow the presence of such representatives, and an appeals court upheld the ruling.
A judge in Michigan recently struck down the ban on carrying guns at polling places. And the lawsuits are multiplying: A man in Maryland sued the Harford County Board of Elections after his arrest last month for trying to vote without a mask on.
The lawsuits add to the confusion and uncertainty. Experts say challenges will multiply in the days after the election. But they can only prosper if they show evidence of actual violations.
“You know there will be lawsuits in part because the president has said since the last election that the election is fundamentally fair,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University School of Law and a former elections official for the Department of Justice. “But the fact that one can start a lawsuit claiming that the election was unfair due to ‘fraud, maybe’ is not something the courts will pay attention to,” he said.