LANSING, Mich. — Michigan election officials on Monday planned to consider certifying President-elect Joe Biden's 154,000-vote victory in the state as President Donald Trump's brazen attempts to subvert the results of the election faced increasingly stiff resistance from the courts and fellow Republicans.
Trump's delay tactics, meant to sow doubt about the vote in order to soften the sting of defeat, were only forestalling the inevitable, with just three weeks until the Electoral College meets to formalize Biden's ascendency to the White House on Jan 20. As Trump's challenges and baseless allegations of widespread conspiracy and fraud have been met with rejection, states were moving forward with certifying their results.
Michigan's Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, was meeting Monday afternoon for what usually is a routine step. But Trump and allies have called on the Republicans to block certification to allow for an audit of votes in heavily Democratic Wayne County, home to Detroit, where Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud.
Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes in Wayne County, where the two GOP canvassers who certified the results unsuccessfully tried to reverse course last week after being called by Trump. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has said an audit must wait until after statewide certification because only then would officials have legal access to documentation needed to conduct such a review.
Michigan's elections bureau has recommended that the Nov. 3 results be certified.
Norm Eisen, a constitutional law expert and former counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, said there was no legal basis to do anything other than certify the election.
"That is the clear mandate of state law," he said. Eisen dismissed various claims for why a delay might be necessary, including the need for an audit or time to investigate so-called "out of balance" precincts.
"The reasons that have advanced for doing anything other than (certify) is totally spurious. They carry no legal or factual weight whatsoever under the law," Eisen added.
Trump has tried to defy the results of the election through the courts, but having found no luck there, moved on to personally trying to influence local lawmakers to convince them to ignore the popular vote and appoint Republican electors, a strategy that would send Americans into the streets in protest, election law experts have said.
Some Trump allies have expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify, as the president and his attorneys have pushed baseless allegations of fraud that have been repeatedly rejected in courtrooms across the country. Trump met with top Michigan GOP legislators at the White House on Friday and tweeted over the weekend: "We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!"
Under Michigan law, the winning candidate claims all 16 electoral votes. Biden won by 2.8 percentage points — a larger margin than in other states where Trump is contesting the results like Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
If the board's Republicans push to delay a vote or oppose certification, a lawsuit is expected. Legal experts have said the canvassers' role is limited and courts would order them to confirm the results. Under state law, it has the narrow responsibilities of reviewing vote numbers from Michigan's 83 counties and certifying them. It does not have the power to audit returns or investigate complaints of irregularities.
"They have a very limited role, a very ministerial role," said John Pirich, a former assistant state attorney general and election law expert at Michigan State University. "It has nothing to do with your politics, it has nothing to do with anything other than reviewing the numbers and the candidates and signing it so that the certificates of election can be issued."
In Pennsylvania, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign's biggest legal effort in Pennsylvania with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.
"One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption," U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann wrote, so much that the court would have no option but to stop the certification even though it would impact so many people. "That has not happened."
But the lawyers still hope to block the state's certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.
The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so they could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.
And they insisted that they did not want to invalidate all of the 6.8 million ballots cast in the state — as Brann concluded based on their arguments in court last week. Instead, they said, they are taking aim only at seven Democratic-leaning counties where they take issue with how mail-in ballots were handled.
"Appellants seek to exclude the defective mail ballots which overwhelming favored Biden, which may turn the result of the election," they said in a filing Monday said.
Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes. The other litigation has failed to change a single vote.
Pennsylvania county election boards were voting on Monday, the state deadline, about whether to certify election results to the Department of State. The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.
In Wisconsin, a recount in the state's two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day at a slow pace, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were hanging up the process with frequent challenges. Trump's hope of reversing Biden's victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots — including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Trump's own campaign attorneys in Dane County.