Opinion | Trump’s Legal Farce Is Having Tragic Results

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Dilatory tactics like delaying certification or recounts will be rejected by courts or governors, and not even a single state legislature (much less three) seems eager to incur the wrath of the American people through a power grab that would violate the rule of law, trigger massive street protests and call the legislators’ own elections into question. Most state legislators appropriately defer to the will of their own voters despite pressure from the president.

And even if three state legislatures engaged in broadly antidemocratic action by purporting to appoint their own slates of electors, federal law favors Electoral College slates sent in by governors, and we can expect Democratic governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to submit slates reflecting their voters’ choice of Mr. Biden. On top of that, Democrats will control the House, which will not accept rogue alternative electors. If Congress stalemates, Mr. Trump is out of office on Jan. 20 under the Constitution’s 20th Amendment.

All of that is indeed good news, but I am quite concerned about what comes next. By the time President-elect Biden takes the oath of office, millions of people will wrongly believe he stole the election. At least 300 times since the election, Mr. Trump has gone straight to his followers on social media to declare the election rigged or stolen and to claim, despite all evidence to the contrary, himself as the real victor. Mr. Trump’s false claims will delegitimize a Biden presidency among his supporters. It should go without saying that a democracy requires the losers of an election to accept the results as legitimate and agree to fight another day; Republican leaders echoing Mr. Trump’s failure to support a peaceful transition of power undermine the foundation of our democracy. It’s not only the fact that we have had to say this, but that we keep having to repeat it, that shows the depths that we have reached.

Mr. Trump’s litigation strategy also will make things worse when it comes to voting rights. The common thread in his campaign’s postelection litigation connecting Trump allegations of people of color illegally voting in Democratic cities in swing states and corrupted voting machines is a lack of any evidence to support the claims. Many of the lawsuits have been laughed out of court for lack of evidence, voluntarily dismissed, or involve so few votes that they could not plausibly change the outcome. These unsuccessful lawsuits will nonetheless provide a false narrative to explain how it is that Mr. Biden declared victory and serve as a predicate for new restrictive voting laws in Republican states. They already provided a basis for the now-aborted attempt of Republican canvassing board members in Wayne County, Mich., to reject votes from Democratic-leaning Detroit, and could be the basis for a similar move by Republicans when the Michigan state canvassing board meets Monday.

And even as Mr. Trump has lost most of his postelection lawsuits, he and his allies had a good bit of success before the election in cases that will stymie voting rights going forward. Following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, federal appeals courts now routinely say that federal courts should be deferential when states engage in balancing voting rights — even during a pandemic — against a state’s interests in election administration and avoiding fraud, even when states come forward with no evidence of fraud. Under the so-called “Purcell principle,” courts increasingly allow states to make voting harder. They can do this whenever states are able to stall judicial proceedings long enough that they can claim a voting change comes too close to the election and will confuse voters and election administrators. Courts have issued other disturbing opinions, including allowing for age discrimination in the availability of mail-in ballots only for those older than 60 or 65, essentially short-circuiting litigation under the 26th Amendment, which bars discrimination in voting on the basis of age.

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