EXPLAINER: Dismissed election case pushed debunked claims
The elections lawsuit pushed by President Donald Trump and dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court was filled with claims that failed to withstand basic scrutiny.
The high court on Friday threw out a complaint filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that directly attacked four other states that President-elect Joe Biden won: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Widely expected by legal experts to fail, the lawsuit still drew the support of 18 Republican attorneys general and 126 Republican members of Congress, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
Together, Trump and his allies argued that the high court should set aside all four states’ votes, allowing Republican-led state legislatures to swing the election to the president. That would have been something that has never occurred in U.S. history.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned before the court’s ruling that if Texas had won, “It is the end of democracy in the United States of America, and that is not hyperbole. It’s just a fact.”
The Supreme Court dismissed the case without addressing most of the lawsuit’s allegations. Here is a look at some of the claims made in the case and how those claims had already been debunked.
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: Texas has a right “to demand that all other States abide by the constitutionally set rules in appointing presidential electors to the electoral college.” It says other states are harmed when one state “violates federal law to affect the outcome of a presidential election.”
THE FACTS: The Supreme Court dismissed the case on this issue. It said in a brief order that Texas “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”
Legal experts said Texas had no right to bring the case in the first place because it doesn’t get a say in how other states run their elections and has not suffered any real harm. And even if it did have a legitimate case, it was brought too late, experts say.
“Texas does not have standing in federal court to vindicate the voting rights of other states’ voters — much less standing to undercut the rights of those voters,” Lisa Marshall Manheim, a professor at the University of Washington Law School, wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.
Some Texas Republicans agreed. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy tweeted he would not join the case because “I believe the case itself represents a dangerous violation of federalism & sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.”
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: The four states that Texas is suing “usurped their legislatures’ authority and unconstitutionally revised their state’s election statutes.”
THE FACTS: Trump and his allies have lost many cases making the argument that only state legislatures could modify election practices during the coronavirus pandemic. This lawsuit rehashes arguments already rejected by courts siding with officials who acted under their respective state laws.
For example, the lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania “unconstitutionally did away” with “statutory signature verification requirements.” But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled in October that state law makes it clear only that the ballot envelope requires the voter’s signature, but not a matching signature.
Among the states that changed voting practices without legislative action this year is Texas, which extended early voting by six days due to the pandemic.
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: Given Trump’s lead in the four states “as of 3 a.m.” the morning after the election, Biden’s chances of winning all four was “less than one in a quadrillion.”
THE FACTS: What sounds like a statistically significant figure isn’t grounded in what experts before the election predicted: In-person votes counted more quickly would likely favor Trump and mail-in votes counted later would favor Biden.
Democrats for months pushed voters to submit mail-in ballots that would be counted later, while Trump attacked mail-in voting as fraudulent even though he voted by mail in Florida. Republican legislative leaders in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all resisted pleas from election officials to update the laws to allow for a speedier count.
The idea that Trump would have large initial leads came as no surprise and does not prove any malfeasance or fraud happened.
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: There are “facts for which no independently verified reasonable explanation yet exists.”
THE FACTS: Each of the listed “facts” has an independently verified explanation.
A laptop and thumb drives were stolen on Oct. 1 from a city warehouse in Philadelphia. A spokesman for the city elections commission said then, “We are confident that this incident will not in any way compromise the integrity of the election.” The local district attorney said days later that police found the theft was unrelated to the election, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
There was briefly a tabulation problem that involved a few thousand votes in Republican-leaning Antrim County, Michigan. But it wasn’t caused by voting machines. “There was no malice, no fraud here, just human error,” County Clerk Sheryl Guy said.
And Milwaukee’s chief elections official, Claire Woodall-Vogg, did leave behind one flash drive with absentee vote tallies when she was delivering a batch of flash drives to the local elections commission, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Woodall-Vogg said she called a team member and a police officer delivered the last drive. Despite what the lawsuit says, Woodall-Vogg said the drive was “never left unattended.”