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US braces for midterm election turmoil amid legal challenges

There are 12 days left until Election Day in the United States.

But efforts to cast doubt on the outcome have already begun in courts across the country, as more than 100 lawsuits have been filed this year surrounding the Nov. 8 election.

Legal challenges, mostly from Republicans, focus on rules for mail-in voting, early voting, voter access, voting machines, voter registration, absentee ballot counting poorly marked and access by partisan poll watchers.

The cases are likely to foresee a potentially contentious post-election period, and the strategy stems in part from the failure of Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the free and fair results of the 2020 presidential election that he lost to Joe Biden.

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That was an ad hoc response spearheaded by an increasingly unprepared collection of lawyers that included Rudy Giuliani. The current effort, however, is more formalized, well-funded, and well-organized and is led by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and other legal allies with strong credentials.

Party officials say they are bracing for recounts, contested elections and more litigation. Thousands of volunteers are ready to question ballots and look for evidence of misconduct.

“We are now at the point where charges of fraud and repression are built into each party’s engagement models,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, co-chair of the Election Officials Legal Defense Network and a former adviser to the campaigns of George W. Bush and other Republican candidates.

“Republicans accuse fraud. Democrats accuse the repression. Each side amplifies their position with massive and expensive amounts of litigation and messaging.”

The RNC said it has a multi-million dollar “electoral integrity” team. It has hired 37 attorneys in key battleground states, conducted more than 5,000 training sessions to teach volunteers how to look for voter fraud, which is rare and isolated, and filed 73 lawsuits in 20 states.

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Other Trump-allied legal teams, including America First Legal, led by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, are involved.

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“We are building an unprecedented electoral integrity field game to ensure that the November midterm elections are free, fair and transparent,” RNC President Ronna McDaniel said last month.

‘Corrosive to democracy’

The Democrats’ legal effort is focused on making voting easier and helping those who are denied the opportunity to vote. A team led by attorney Marc Elias and his firm is litigating roughly 40 cases in 19 states, though many are interventions in Republican-led trials.

Elias said he is bracing himself for an avalanche of challenges to the election results. Some Republican candidates have already said they will not accept defeat or cast doubt on the electoral process despite no evidence of fraud.

“The problem with the Republican Party right now is that acknowledging that you lost an election is the only thing that will hurt you,” Elias said. “Contesting an election that is clearly lost is now where the entire incentive structure is, and that is incredibly corrosive to democracy.”

Almost every election begets legal challenges. But much of that usually happens after Election Day.

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In 2020, pro-Trump lawyers filed roughly 60 lawsuits, asking judges to overturn the votes. Those demands were roundly rejected. Trump’s own leadership found the election fair, and state election officials saw no widespread evidence of fraud. Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, the same margin as Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, which he called a “starter.”

At the time, the Republican establishment had not embraced Trump’s lies about the election. Since then, the falsehoods have taken root within the Republican Party.

Ginsberg said baseless accusations that the election was rigged, rigged or unreliable have become the mantra for a Republican to win a contested 2022 primary in most states. “That can only damage the public’s faith in the election, something Republicans will eventually pay a price for,” he said.

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threats of violence

For three decades, the RNC was under a consent decree that prohibited it from questioning voter qualifications and attacking suspected fraud.

That legal settlement, which ended in 2019, grew out of a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that argued Republicans were seeking to deter African-Americans from voting by stationing armed, off-duty law enforcement officers in certain polling places and sending emails warning of sanctions. for violating election laws.

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In 2020, Republican poll watchers, who have no direct role in elections and cannot interfere in the election process other than to observe and report on issues, were the basis of many of the lawsuits brought by Trump allies. But when the judges pressed witnesses to present evidence to support partisan claims of suspicious behavior by poll workers, the litigation fizzled out.

Poll workers have increasingly been subjected to abuse and threats of violence. Cases of voter intimidation are on the rise, and there is growing concern among election officials and law enforcement about overly aggressive poll watchers or people posing as poll watchers intimidating voters.

Last week, the RNC won a legal challenge against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, over rules on how poll challengers can operate.

“Jocelyn Benson not only disregarded Michigan election law in issuing this guidance, she also violated the rights of political parties and electoral contestants to ensure transparency and promote confidence that Michigan elections are conducted. conducted fairly and legally,” McDaniel said in a statement.

The RNC has won legal challenges in Nevada and Arizona over the appointment of poll workers and in Wisconsin over “ballot curation,” a process by which voters can fix problems with their ballots so they can be counted, and deposit drop boxes. The litigation in Pennsylvania involved the date of absentee ballots and whether outside parties should be allowed to examine the voting machines.

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For their part, Democratic-led groups have launched some 35 lawsuits that are largely focused on making voting easier.

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Just this week, litigation was filed on behalf of Voto Latino and the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans to stop mailbox bullying in Arizona. The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to Allegheny County officials about concerns about voting by mail.

Looking ahead to 2020, the US focused on the possibility of foreign threats, from Russia or possibly China, to the integrity of the election, for example by manipulating vote tabulations. Election officials and Trump’s own agencies said it was the safest election in history. It was Trump and his supporters who fueled the conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

US officials are once again sounding the alarm that Russia is working to raise doubts about the integrity of the election.

This week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “No external cyber activity has prevented a registered voter from casting their ballot; compromised the integrity of any vote cast; or affected the accuracy of voter registration information.”

The government, he said, “will monitor any threats to our elections if they arise and will work as a cohesive and coherent interagency to bring relevant information to election officials and workers on the ground.”

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