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Skewed data fuel questionable claim on Trump election lawsuits

February 12, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Former President Donald Trump has won two-thirds of 2020 election lawsuits that have been adjudicated by the courts.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The claim is based on a tally that does not include several lawsuits filed by Trump or his supporters that were dismissed by the courts or withdrawn by plaintiffs. It also includes many cases filed months before the Nov. 3 election, as well as some cases that do not directly relate to the presidential election. In about 60 lawsuits Trump’s legal team and Republican allies filed since the election, only one resulted in a small victory in Pennsylvania. None of the cases has proven the presence of fraud in the 2020 election.

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THE FACTS: Social media users and conservative news websites are citing a skewed report to make the misleading claim that Trump is winning more election integrity lawsuits than he is losing.

“Trump is winning election lawsuits, in case you haven’t heard,” reads the headline of a blog post from the conservative news website LifeSiteNews. “Trump has won two-thirds of the cases that have been adjudicated by the courts.”

In a few days, the blog post was retweeted nearly 10,000 times and shared on Facebook more than 3,000 times, according to an analysis by VineSight, a tech company that tracks online misinformation.

In reality, while the Trump campaign and Republican allies did celebrate some legal victories related to election matters before November, no lawsuit filed by his campaign has proven fraud or overturned results in the presidential election, which Joe Biden won. When it comes to lawsuits filed since the election, Trump’s legal team has notched just one small victory, over the deadline to provide missing proof of identification for certain absentee ballots and mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.

The LifeSiteNews article bases its claims on a report from John Droz Jr., a self-described physicist and environmental advocate who spent his career in real estate and whose activism has included rejecting the science of climate change.

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The Associated Press took a closer look at the report to determine how it identifies wins and losses for Trump and his Republican allies.

The report claims Trump has won 15 of 22 election integrity lawsuits that were “decided on the merits” — in other words, lawsuits where a court heard arguments and issued a judgment.

To determine that number, the report lists 81 lawsuits from March to December 2020 that it claims were relevant to the Nov. 3 presidential election. Some lawsuits were filed by Trump’s campaign, some listed Trump as a defendant, and others were filed by Republican individuals and groups. The report links to the lawsuits in a database from the Healthy Elections Project, a project by Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The report then categorizes these lawsuits, counting them as wins for Trump if the plaintiff was able to argue the case in front of a judge and the judge ruled in favor of Republicans. The report does not count cases dismissed by judges, ongoing cases or withdrawn cases as wins or losses for either side.

Election law experts told the AP this categorization is misleading because most of the wins it counts for Trump were filed before the election and dealt with what the rules around voting were going to be — things like absentee ballot deadlines and whether a secretary of state could send pre-populated absentee ballot applications.

Trump’s only significant post-election wins were in two Pennsylvania cases, one filed the month before the election and one filed the day after the election, according to Matt Cooper, assistant director at Ohio State University’s law library, who has been tracking significant post-election lawsuits in battleground states.

“In my judgment, the claims in the article and the source it links to are misleading,” Cooper told the AP in an email.

Some of the cases in the report are also wrongly coded as wins for Trump when they didn’t directly deal with the presidential election, according to Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Law School.

For example, Ritchie v. Polis, filed in May in Colorado, dealt with whether petitions to put a measure on the ballot needed to be signed in the presence of a ballot circulator during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Putting that one in the ‘Trump/GOP win’ column — while excluding literally hundreds of other pre-election cases on the conditions of the election process — seems like a very odd choice without particular rationale, and inflates the purported ‘win’ statistic,” Levitt said.

Rebecca Green, co-director of the Election Law Program, a joint project of the William & Mary Law School and the National Center for State Courts, underscored that none of the Trump campaign’s legal efforts convinced a single court to overturn an election outcome.

“It’s easy to tell when post-election challenges are successful because the litigation impacts the outcome,” Green said. “The Trump campaign had every opportunity to bring forward credible evidence of election irregularities. There is no way to turn its failure to do so into success.”

Droz told the AP his team’s report was trying to identify “all lawsuits related to the 2020 presidential election,” not just those related to Trump. He said he values transparency, and is open to updating the spreadsheet if errors arise or there are updates in cases.

“We have no claim on perfection, but we tried to do a fair representation,” he told the AP in an email. “I’m sure that reasonable people can disagree with the exact wording, but hopefully the thrust is on-point.”

Several social media users sharing the LifeSiteNews blog post this week suggested the report reveals that Trump is currently winning election lawsuits, or that he could still overturn the election results — both false conclusions with no basis in fact.

LifeSiteNews did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536