President Trump took his desperate bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race to its most bizarre, and troublesome, stage Wednesday, when he embraced an effort by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block electors from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia from confirming the election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.
Paxton, a scandal-plagued Republican who in 2015 was indicted on multiple counts of securities fraud and who faces a federal investigation for criminal wrongdoing in his current position, is asking the US Supreme Court to effectively bar the named states from registering their combined 62 votes for Biden when the Electoral College convenes on December 14. That would drop Biden down to 244 electoral votes, well short of the 270 required to be elected. The strategy is then to have Republican-controlled state legislatures assign the electoral votes to Trump, giving the president 294 votes and a win.
Trump’s gone all in for the strategy, tweeting: “We will be INTERVENING in the Texas (plus many other states) case. This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!” and “There is massive evidence of widespread fraud in the four states (plus) mentioned in the Texas suit. Just look at all of the tapes and affidavits!”
Were the lawsuit to succeed, 20,756,421 American voters in four swing states—backers of Biden and, it should be noted, backers of Libertarian Jo Jorgensen—would be disenfranchised.
Paxton’s legal stunt is, as veteran litigator and ardent Trump critic George Conway says, “the most insane thing yet.”
“The notion that the Supreme Court is going to have a litigation where states are attacking each others’ rules for choosing electors is insane, and they are not going to do that at any point in time,” argues Conway, who is almost certainly right.
Dozens of lawsuits filed by lawyers for the Trump campaign and its allies have been rejected by state and federal courts (including the United States Supreme Court)—as jurists have dismissed claims of fraud targeting what Christopher Krebs, the ousted head of cybersecurity for the United States, has called the most secure election in the nation’s history.
But that does not mean that people who are serious about democracy should neglect the dark machinations to which the president has now lent his name and whatever prestige may still be associated with his office. On Wednesday, Republican attorneys general from states that—like Texas—backed Trump filed paperwork with the high court supporting Paxton’s lawsuit.
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The 154-page complaint filed by the Texas attorney general pulls together conspiracy theories so outlandish that some of them were rejected by Rudy Giuliani and other members of the Trump campaign’s beclowned legal team—including a claim that the probability of a Democrat legitimately winning the popular vote in the four targeted states is “less than one in a quadrillion.” (Tell that to Franklin Roosevelt, who easily won them all in 1932 and 1936.) It also suggests that there was something nefarious about the counting of ballots in Wisconsin and other states through election night and into the next morning.
The suit claims that there was “less than one in a quadrillion to the fourth power” chance that Biden could end up as the winner based on the vote totals in Wisconsin and the other states as of 3 am on November 4. In fact, there is a long history of slow counts that have forced winners to delay their victory speeches until the dawn of the next day—or even later. Both Harry Truman and John Kennedy had to wait to claim their wins—with Truman delighting in noting that the Chicago Tribune jumped the gun with its “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.
It is easy to laugh at the notion of buffoonish characters like Paxton and Trump calculating quadrillions. “I feel sorry for Texans that their tax dollars are being wasted on such a genuinely embarrassing lawsuit,” says Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel observes, “Mr. Paxton’s actions are beneath the dignity of the office of Attorney General and the people of the great state of Texas.” Yet Kaul, Nessel, and their colleagues in Pennsylvania and Georgia will mount necessary defenses of the results from their states.
That is the right thing to do, as what Trump proposes is the ultimate voter suppression.
The fact that Trump is embracing Paxton’s project and amplifying it as a credible response to an election he lost is a serious matter because it highlights one of the crudest voter suppression strategies of the president and his Republican allies. Paxton’s suit claims: “Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification, government officials in the defendant states of Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (collectively, ‘Defendant States’), usurped their legislatures’ authority and unconstitutionally revised their state’s election statutes. They accomplished these statutory revisions through executive fiat or friendly lawsuits, thereby weakening ballot integrity.”
Making it easier to vote in the face of a pandemic does not weaken ballot integrity. Nor does it, as Paxton suggests, “dilute” the influence of votes cast in states that fail make it remove barriers to voting.
Trump, Paxton, and other Republicans are seeking to overturn the results of an election by promoting the lie that making it easier to vote encourages fraudulent behavior, and that states that encourage higher turnout are somehow harming states that fail to do so. In fact, the opposite is true. States that adapt voting rules and regulations in order to promote high turnout—as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and a handful of others historically have—do not see higher levels of fraud. In fact, there’s an an ugly history of election fraud being identified in states with restrictive voting laws, including Texas. Out of respect for the basic premises of democracy, the United States should establish baseline standards for fair and honest elections that apply to all states. From there, states should, as laboratories of democracy, be encouraged to improve upon those standards.
Ultimately, however, the deeper concern that extends from Paxton’s lawsuit, and its embrace by Trump, is the message it sends about how to respond to an election defeat. This suit suggests that an appropriate response to an overwhelming loss at the ballot box is an attempt by partisan officials in one state to disqualify and disenfranchise voters in another state. Paxton’s suit seeks to place an official imprint on the winner-take-all thuggery of the reckless partisans who would abuse logic and the law in order to achieve results they were unable to secure on Election Day.