President Trump’s chances of winning re-election now rest on a long-shot and contradictory strategy – an attempt to stop vote counting in states where he thinks he’s ahead, while demanding the tallies continue, or be recounted, where he’s losing to Democrat Joe Biden.

Among a slew of legal challenges in multiple states, Trump’s campaign dispatched a team to Arizona to ensure that hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots are counted in hopes of overcoming Biden’s lead there, according to people familiar with the matter.

At the same time, Trump’s campaign sued to stop counting or disqualify uncounted ballots in Pennsylvania and joined a case before the Supreme Court seeking to throw out Pennsylvania ballots received after Election Day.

But what is the end strategy and will it work?

Caleb Jackson, the legal counsel for voting rights at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington D.C., said many of the campaign’s claims are already being dismissed because they appear to “lack any legal or even factual basis.”

“The lack of a uniform approach across states in these lawsuits suggests that the goal is not to increase election transparency or observation, but to slow down and – where its beneficial – completely halt the ballot counting process,” Jackson wrote in an email.

Maine attorneys agreed with that assessment Thursday.

Dmitry Bam, a constitutional law professor and vice dean at the University of Maine School of Law, said there is also no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and most of the campaign’s claims relate to small numbers of contested votes. The Georgia case, for example, centered on 53 ballots.

“As far as I can tell, none of these lawsuits, even if they had merit, would have much meaning for the outcome of the election,” Bam said.

Jackson, from the Campaign Legal Center, said the courts can protect faith in elections by rejecting “frivolous” lawsuits.

“In my opinion, the cure for this unprecedented barrage of legal challenges is for the courts to uphold the law and allow every valid ballot to be counted,” he said. “Importantly, courts should recognize that voters rely on the rules that are in effect at the time they cast their ballots. Therefore, courts should resist the urge to toss out validly cast ballots by changing the rules after the fact.”

One case that has drawn the most interest and already been to the Supreme Court is the challenge to absentee ballot counting in Pennsylvania. The justices last month upheld an order that allows the state to count mailed-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, but they also signaled that they could reconsider that issue. State officials are segregating those ballots just in case.

The  case isn’t about the legality of extending deadlines for absentee ballots; it is about who can make the rules for counting them. Pennsylvania’s highest state court ordered the extension this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican Party has argued that change can only be made by state legislatures, and Pennsylvania’s did not authorize such an extension.

The case is of special interest to some in Maine. Matthew Warner of the Portland firm Preti Flaherty fought to extend Maine’s deadline to receive and count absentee ballots, but the state Supreme Judicial Court rejected that case in October.

“It’s purely political,” he said of the Pennsylvania case. “The argument is essentially that it’s not up to the courts, it’s up to the Legislature how elections are run. That’s generally true, but the right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights in our democracy. The idea that a court can’t enforce that right seems particularly absurd.”

Although the legal path is a narrow one, Trump’s advisers expressed confidence it would work.

“We’re honing in specifically on Pennsylvania and Arizona,” Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien told reporters Wednesday, saying that if ballots are legally counted in those two states, “the president will win.”

Biden’s team said Trump’s conflicting strategies are a sign of desperation, and that he knows he faces long odds of winning a second term.

“The president now understands he’s in a very different position, which is he’s trying to claw back this defeat and turn it to legal action, to a victory,” Biden campaign senior adviser Bob Bauer said Wednesday on a Washington Post webcast.

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this story.


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