Trump files election lawsuits in Michigan, Pennsylvania alleging lack of access for poll observers
Experts say spacing restrictions due to coronavirus were transparent.
President Donald Trump's legal team has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Michigan aimed at halting vote counting until courts can enforce rules that permit campaign observers to watch the ballots being opened and counted.
"They're not letting our poll watchers watch the polls, not letting them inside," said Eric Trump, one of the president's sons, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon referring to the Pennsylvania case. "They're trying to cheat."
The Trump campaign has not produced any evidence of cheating, but has alleged that poll watchers were being denied close-up access to observe vote counting at locations in Philadelphia and Detroit.
The legal action would not impact the vote tallies in either state -- where elections officials are still counting ballots. Myrna Perez, the director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, called the suit a "nuisance" saying it is "designed to distract Americans from the counting process. The courts are unlikely to take this seriously."
The Biden campaign responded to the lawsuits, slamming them as "pathetic," with one campaign official alleging Republican observers had been disruptive and "aren't bringing challenges. They're just kicking up dust."
Officials in both states pushed back on the allegations -- which they said stem from social distancing requirements imposed in vote-counting facilities to protect poll workers from coronavirus.
"In Philadelphia, officials are administering the election with the highest degree of transparency," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. "There has been a livestream of the ballot-counting process available throughout the count, and all parties have canvass observers. Pennsylvania will fight every attempt to undermine the election. We will count every vote."
A spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a similar statement, saying their 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."
In Pennsylvania, a commonwealth court scheduled an initial hearing for Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Republicans peppered social media with similar allegations Wednesday in Georgia, and in Detroit, concerns about crowding caused a skirmish outside a ballot processing center that was captured on video and circulated on social media. The episodes highlight the challenges of conducting an election in the midst of a global pandemic.
Election lawyers told ABC News the assertion by Trump campaign officials stems from rules imposed in some polling locations that required observers to stand farther back from the counting process as mail-in ballots were opened and signatures were reviewed. The lawsuits offered limited details but cited cases in which election observers were denied access to the ballot review process.
"What I've heard from folks is election officials in Michigan and Georgia were using COVID-19 as an excuse to prevent poll watchers from being able to see what was happening," said Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican election attorney with the Heritage Foundation, who is not involved in the litigation.
The added distancing made it impossible for observers to monitor mail-in ballots as they were opened and reviewed, Von Spakowski asserted.
Justin Clark, an election attorney and Trump's deputy campaign manager, said in a statement the campaign wants "to temporarily halt counting until there is meaningful transparency and Republicans can ensure all counting is done above board and by the law."
The lawsuits would not result in any change to the counting of votes that have already been processed, Von Spakowski said. A court could order elections officials to allow observers to closely observe the processing of the remaining ballots, but both challenges come late in the process of counting ballots.
"All you can do is fix the problem going forward," he said.
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