President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump’s campaign has launched a widespread legal campaign in numerous battleground states he lost, including multiple lawsuits in Pennsylvania. But Penn’s legal experts and a student witness to the vote-counting process allege the claims are frivolous, arguing the lawsuits attack the foundation of the American electoral system.
The Trump campaign filed a federal lawsuit on Monday accusing Pennsylvania state and county officials of botching the vote-by-mail process and denying Republican observers sufficient access to inspect mail-in ballots as they were being counted. Although the claims presented in the 86-page lawsuit have been previously raised before judges across the state — many of which have rejected the campaign’s premises — this lawsuit marks Trump’s most thorough attack against the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results.
President-elect Joe Biden, the former vice president and Penn Presidential Professor of Practice, was called the winner of Pennsylvania early on Nov. 7 with a 34,243-vote lead, propelling him to the presidency with the state’s 20 electoral votes. As of Thursday evening, Biden had a 54,000-vote lead over Trump in Pennsylvania.
With Democratic votes only rising, it is unlikely that any individual suit will impact enough votes to sway the results against Biden’s favor, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, unless Republican lawyers can convince the judge that all the suits combined are enough to undermine public confidence in the results.
Like experts across the nation, Penn’s political and legal experts dispute the validity of the campaign’s lawsuits and emphasize they will not change the election outcomes. And the federal lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania does not provide concrete evidence that the state’s election process was fraudulent.
“I would say that they're frivolous, generally speaking. The biggest hole is there's a lack of evidence for a lot of the claims of fraud,” said Penn Law professor Kermit Roosevelt, an expert in constitutional law. “Even when there is evidence, generally speaking, they're not talking about fraud on a sufficient scale to affect the outcome.”
Dick Polman, Penn writer-in-residence and national political columnist, said that Trump's lawsuits were a waste of time for him and the public.
“You can't go into court with no evidence," he said. "You can't go in and basically ask permission from the court to go hunting for evidence, you got to come in with it. And they haven't come in with anything.”
Polman added that Trump and his team are trying to change the rules of the election with no evidence to support the attempt, adding that despite Trump's claims, mail-in ballots are not unconstitutional and have in fact been legally used to cast votes for decades. There has also never been a case in American history where election recounts have changed more than a few hundred votes, he said.
Penn Democrats Political Director and College junior Michael Nevett, who worked as a poll observer during an eight-hour night shift in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where election officials were counting ballots, said he has full confidence that the Philadelphia voting process is safe, secure, and accurate.
“The city clearly knew what it was doing and it had a very efficient, effective counting process," Nevett said. "There seemed to be absolutely zero mistakes, nothing that I noticed, and even the Trump campaign and the Trump lawyers, which had full access to the counting process and were in the room for the eight hours I was there as well, did not say anything.”
Like Polman, Roosevelt is doubtful the campaign will be able to overturn enough votes to make a sizable impact in the vote margin.
“In terms of the specific claims about fraud that have been put forward and the challenges to specific ballots, it doesn't seem like any of those affect enough ballots to change the outcome,” Roosevelt said. “The bottom line is if they do disqualify the ballots, it will be because they say they're illegal.”
Polman says that despite its frivolous claims, Trump is pursuing the lawsuits because of his personality, and the fact that he can’t abide losing. But he also thinks it's because of the two upcoming Senate elections in Georgia, where if the Democrats prevail, there will be a 50-50 split in the chamber. If this is the case, the vice president will be the tiebreaker, and Polman speculates that Trump and his team do not want Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats.
Polman’s biggest concern with the lawsuits is that they sow distrust in the nation’s election system. Even if Trump concedes, Polman believes there will be a strong core of supporters that will continue to insist that the 2020 election was stolen, along with claims supported by Trump that deny issues related to climate change or birtherism.
“I think it's un-American to sow distrust in our system and to not accept the results of an election,” Polman said. “I think it does great damage, potentially, to the kind of country we are.”