US President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, early on November 4, 2020.
US President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, early on November 4, 2020.
AFP

In a highly debatable move, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning falsely claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election, while the counting of the votes was still incomplete. He said that he will be going to the Supreme Court to stop "voting" alleging there was a fraud.

"This is a fraud on the American public, this is an embarrassment to our country," he told supporters at the White House on Wednesday delivering a muddled message. “We’ll be going to the US Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any balance at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list."

Trump probably was referring to the ongoing process of counting votes, rather than "voting" because polling ended on Tuesday night. Even so, it was a misrepresentation of the electoral process because ballots have never been fully counted on Election Day.

"As far as I am concerned we already have won," he was quoted as saying.

As far as Trump or his supporters are concerned, this move is being deemed as what amounts to basically a reckless attack on the democratic process at a time of extraordinary angst as elections remain unresolved. Even though the US President, in a fit of rage, has declared that he wants to go to the Supreme Court, we have to consider if he can even do that.

Legal challenge

Firstly, there is no legal argument to compel states to stop counting ballots that were put forward timely, so it is unclear exactly what kind of Supreme Court challenge Trump had in mind while making the statement.

But that’s not the end of the story. There are several legal bypasses that one can manoeuvre to throw up a potential hurdle to their political opponent.

According to the New York Times, the Trump campaign and allied Republicans had been for a while charting a course of action to get the Supreme Court to stay a decision by Pennsylvania’s high court, which allowed election workers to count all ballots postmarked on November 3 or earlier for three days after Election Day.

Further, Republicans had also filed suits in state courts on Tuesday, challenging the Pennsylvania election officials’ move to provide ‘replacement ballot’ opportunity to those voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected due to some mistake. The US President seems to be in a hurry to cut out voters on the opportunity to fix ballots or cast provisional ballots.

On the other hand, Trump’s campaign alleges that its election observers are not being given enough access to the counting process to potentially challenge Democratic votes.

Conflating ‘counting’ with ‘casting’

Trump seems to have been conflating two separate concepts that even a political science freshman wouldn’t — ‘counting’ of ballots with ‘casting’ of ballots.

“We want all voting to stop,” Trump sought in his speech from the White House. But the casting of votes already stopped on Election Day, no votes are currently being cast either.

What Trump seems to be suggesting is a dangerous price to pay for precedent in a democracy — stop the counting of ballots in states where they were already rightfully cast.

Trump has been complaining about the postal votes that he alleged were subject to fraud and has wanted the votes received by election officials after the close of polling to be rejected.

The Supreme Court did not make a ruling on the Republican case against a Pennsylvania court permitting the counting of postal votes received three days after the close of polling. Trump is now expected to appeal to the Supreme Court to stop the counting of the postal votes.

If the Supreme Court were to somehow force states to stop the counting of valid- on-time ballots, it would be an unprecedented subversion of the democratic process.

Delay in counting ballots

Owing to the extraordinary nature of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threat posed to the election process this year, there have been several uncertainties about the exact time the results would be declared, since the manner in which most ballots are counted have been reshaped.

While Americans are accustomed to learning who won the presidency on the night of the Election Day itself, thanks to news organisations projecting post-poll counts, things didn’t go so easy this year.

For the first time in history, most Americans cast their ballots before Election Day this year, and states are expected to take longer than usual this year to begin processing the votes since a lot of them arrived by mail-in ballots.

States aren’t legally required to publish final results on election night, and neither are prolonged vote counts new to the US democratic process (In fact, Trump’s own 2016 victory in Michigan was confirmed after two weeks of counting).

But in the end, accurate projections come as they always do: according to the certification deadlines set to each state.

A normal person would expect the President of the United States of America to know these things, but since it's Donald Trump, a few exceptions are, in all probability, warranted.

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