The elections are over, but Trump won’t give up. He is now counting on the help of the courts. The US is threatened with a restless hangover, but the outcome seems pretty certain.
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It will be more than two months for Joe Biden to take office in January. Until then, a lot could happen – and if President Donald Trump had his way, until then the courts would step in to prevent Biden from entering the White House.
Trump and his Republicans have filed lawsuits in several states with limited results and want to demand recounts of votes. Biden’s lead in disputed countries is sometimes quite small. So could his victory be destroyed? It seems rather unlikely that Trump could still win through the legal process. An overview:
What role does the judiciary play?
In the US there are always many complaints. In the vast majority of election years, when a candidate had a good lead, one or two lawsuits failed to affect the outcome of the election. Furthermore, courts cannot rule on the outcome of the election itself, not even the Supreme Court in Washington, the Supreme Court.
State courts or higher authorities can rule on the legality of time limits, counting rules or the validity of certain results. However, the recounts are carried out by the local electoral authorities.
How realistic is Trump’s hope?
If Biden’s election victory depended on a limited result in one or two states, Trump may still have a shot. A judgment in its favor to allow a few votes or the legality of deadlines and voting procedures could in theory destroy the result in a very tight state like Georgia. The same goes for vote re-counting, which is required in some places.
Phoenix, Arizona: Trump supporters are disappointed. (Source: ZUMA Wire / Image Images)
In the race to get the needed majority of 270 voters, Biden is now so far ahead of Trump that one or two successful lawsuits don’t matter. Contrary to expectations, if Biden lost a state due to a verdict or recount, he would still be ahead of Trump based on the current status of the count. According to predictions, he should eventually get about 300 votes.
Why is Pennsylvania so important?
The most dangerous thing for Biden would be losing Pennsylvania to a legal battle. It is the largest controversial state that has 20 voters to assign. Trump’s lawyers are therefore likely to make special efforts to protect the state. They hope, among other things, to contest the result before the Supreme Court. Specifically, there is a lawsuit against an extension of the deadline for sending voting documents by mail because of the corona pandemic.
The Supreme Court did not overturn the extension immediately before the election, but reserves the right to further negotiate the matter after the vote. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who was responsible for leading the Pennsylvania election, said the postal ballots received after election day will be counted separately because of the lawsuit. It’s about a few thousand votes that should barely make a difference, she said.
Does Trump not have the Supreme Court in his pocket?
Trump has a home advantage with the Supreme Court: six out of nine life judges are considered conservative, three of whom have nominated the Republican himself. Some complaints about the election had already reached the judges before the vote, mostly on technical issues.
One issue was, for example, whether a deadline for accepting ballots can be changed by a court or only by the parliament of the state concerned. There was no apparent propensity for party membership in the decisions of the judges. Conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was only appointed in late October, abstained on several decisions.
Pennsylvania: Biden supporters celebrate his victory. (Source: AP / dpa)
But were there no electoral fraud cases?
Trump repeatedly complains of “massive electoral fraud.” Trump is angry that his election victory will be “stolen” and that he can only lose because of the dark machinations of the Democrats. But despite all the angry allegations, Trump has so far provided no evidence other than hearsay, so it should barely stand a chance in court.
The heads of election authorities in the disputed states, including Republicans and Democrats, rejected Trump’s allegations. Prominent Republicans in Congress made similar statements. “He’s wrong when he says the election was fake, flawed and stolen,” said Senator Mitt Romney. “That damages the cause of freedom here and around the world.” Trump weakened the institutions that formed the basis of the republic and sparked dangerous anger, said the influential senator, known as a Trump critic.
Election fraud is extremely rare in the US, according to experts and scientific studies. According to experts at the Brennan Center think tank, only about 0.0025 percent of the votes cast in polling stations were fraudulent in the polls surveyed, and even less in the postal vote. It was statistically more likely to be struck by lightning, it said.
Can recounts change the results?
Voting rights in the US are determined by each state individually, so there are different rules for recounts as well. Usually votes are counted again if the result is extremely close or, for example, requested by a narrowly inferior candidate. Trump will also likely seek a recount in Wisconsin, Georgia and possibly Pennsylvania. Biden’s lead may not exceed 0.5 percentage point.
In the past, however, the results of recounts in the United States have changed only marginally. For example, four years ago in Wisconsin, at the request of a losing candidate, all votes were counted again: Trump increased his lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 131 votes.
Did the courts ever determine the outcome of the US election?
In the controversial elections in 2000, Supreme Court justices played a decisive role: whether George W. Bush or Al Gore would become the next president depended only on the outcome in the densely populated state of Florida at the time. The legal battle over the outcome and recounts lasted a month before the Supreme Court. After that, Gore admitted that he was defeated. Republican Bush won by 537 votes, held the votes of the Florida electorate, and became US president.
When will there be clarity?
The US is in turmoil for weeks as the pending game could drag on for another month: states must certify their final results by Dec. 8 and report them to Washington. This period, known as the “safe haven”, was one of the key factors in Gore’s decision to admit defeat in 2000.
What if the gate is not secure?
If the dispute continues beyond the deadline, it can get complicated. In that case, the outcome of a state like Pennsylvania, where Republicans control parliament, could be decisive. Parliament could declare Trump the election winner when certifying the results under the pretext of electoral fraud, even if Biden would have received the most votes. The democratic governor has yet to sign the result. He could then send a different result to Washington – chaos would be programmed in such a situation.
A similarly controversial election could only be resolved in 1877 with political horse trading. If the electoral college could not elect president in December, that role would fall to the Lower House. There everything would be based on the delegations of the states – of which Trump’s Republicans have the majority. Such a scenario is not impossible, but unlikely: Republican MPs should oppose the will of the majority of voters in their state and the majority of votes cast on Biden in the United States.
When is everything dry?
The Americans should therefore not really breathe a sigh of relief until next year: voters will vote on December 14 and the results will be read out in Congress on January 6. Only then will it be official who won the elections. On January 20, the next president is due to be sworn in before the Capitol in Washington.