U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 U.S. presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2020.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
President Donald Trump‘s campaign said Wednesday that it had filed suits to halt the counting of ballots in Michigan and Pennsylvania, as the campaign demanded increased access to observe the tallying process at numerous locations in those battleground states.
The states have a combined 36 Electoral College voters at stake.
The Trump campaign said that its in Michigan lawsuit demands that the campaign be allowed to “review those ballots” … “which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access.”
In Pennsylvania, the campaign said it is moving to intervene in an existing Supreme Court case related to that state’s extension of its mail-in ballot receipt deadline.
Separately, the campaign is filing two legal actions: one aimed at stopping what the campaign called the “hiding” by Democratic officials of “ballot counting and processing from our Republican poll observers,” the other which seeks to undo an order extending the deadline for absentee and mail-in voters to provide missing proof of identification.
As the actions were announced, Trump’s inner circle tried to prematurely and falsely claim victory for the president in Pennsylvania even as the count remained incomplete there.
The announcements comes as the Republican incumbent faces an ultra-tight race against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and in two other battlegrounds, Georgia and Nevada.
A woman who answered the phone at the clerk’s office at the Michigan Court of Claims said she was aware of the Trump campaign statement, but also said the office had not yet received the lawsuit.
At the time the suits were announced, NBC News was reporting that Biden was leading Trump by 49.5% of the votes cast in Michigan, compared to 48.8% percent for Trump, a margin of fewer than 38,000 votes.
A total of 94% of the ballots in the state had been counted so far. There are 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs in Michigan.
In Pennsylvania, where 20 Electoral College votes are at stake, Trump was leading by 3,099,477 votes, or 52.3%, compared to 2,745,468 votes, or 46.4% for Biden. A total of 83% of the expected votes had been tallied in Pennsylvania, which does not expect to have a final result for days.
NBC News has the current Electoral College vote tally at 237 for Biden and 214 for Trump. To win the presidency, a candidate must reach at least 270 Electoral College votes.
The suits were announced as Trump suggested, without any evidence, that Michigan had “found” ballots to deny a victory to John James, the Republican nominee for the Senate race in Michigan.
“As votes in Michigan continue to be counted, the presidential race in the state remains extremely tight as we always knew it would be,” said Bill Stepien, Trump 2020 campaign manager.
“President Trump’s campaign has not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law,” Stepien said.
“We have filed suit today in the Michigan Court of Claims to halt counting until meaningful access has been granted. We also demand to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access,” Stepien said.
“President Trump is committed to ensuring that all legal votes are counted in Michigan and everywhere else.”
Biden’s campaign, when asked about the suits, referred to comments made earlier in the day by campaign senior legal advisor Bob Bauer during a call with reporters.
“As far as our own planning: we’re winning the election, we’ve won the election. And we’re going to defend that election,” Bauer said.
“We don’t have to do anything but protect the rights of voters, and to stand up for the democratic process,” Bauer said on the call. “If it’s attacked, as the President suggests it will be attacked. We’re going to successfully repel that attack. So that’s our mission. His mission is to attack the democratic process, and our commitment is to successfully defend it.”
Jordan Acker, a Michigan lawyer and Democratic poll observer who has been watching the vote county at the TCF Center in Detroit, scoffed at the Trump campaign’s claims of insufficient access to the tally sites.
“It’s quite frankly ridiculous,” Acker told CNBC in an interview.
He said that when he arrived at the center at about 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, there were Republican vote challengers in the counting room.
“There’s a Republican at every table,” Acker said.
“The people who are counting these ballots are incredibly professional, they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do,” he said.
Acker said the lawsuit is an act of “desperation” by Republicans.
“They’re trying to keep it close enough so they have a route to a recount,” Acker said.
He predicted that Biden will win Michigan, just as the Biden campaign has said.
A spokeman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in response to the lawsuit, “Michigan’s elections have been conducted transparently, with access provided for both political parties and the public, and using a robust system of checks and balances to ensure that all ballots are counted fairly and accurately.”
“At this time our department has not been notified by the Court of Claims about this lawsuit and when we are served, we will review it and respond accordingly,” said the spokesman, Ryan Jarvi. “Michigan will always continue to protect the rights of all voters to have their ballots counted.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson earlier Wednesday said the state will finish counting ballots by Thursday morning.
Benson said Michigan is focused “on counting every single ballot.”
– Additional reporting by Kevin Breuninger