President Donald Trump’s longshot bid to overturn the election focuses on invalidating ballots cast in Philadelphia, Detroit and other heavily Democratic cities, an effort that would disenfranchise a disproportionate number of Black voters if successful.
While the Trump campaign says it is merely targeting places where fraud is most likely to have occurred, the racial cast to the president’s attempt to cling to power has drawn criticism from Democrats. The president’s lawyers have not presented evidence of widespread fraud in court and he has had little success so far with his legal challenges.
“The targeting of the African-American community is not subtle,” Bob Bauer, legal adviser to President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign, said Friday. “I think it’s quite remarkable how brazen that is. It’s very, very disturbing.”
A senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Katrina Pierson, said it aims to protect the vote of every legal voter, including Black voters, by defending the integrity of the election. The most irregularities are in the most populous and majority-Democrat areas, she said.
“Democrats have used and abused the Black vote for their own political gain for decades, and their behavior this cycle proves nothing has changed,” Pierson said. She added that Trump received more support in total votes from the Black community than any candidate in the modern history of the Republican Party.
Trump’s focus on cities with large Black populations belies the fact that his re-election was largely lost in places outside the urban centers of battleground states. In suburban counties in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Biden improved his margin of victory by nearly 6 percentage points, compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016, or a combined 361,000 votes.
In urban counties with more than 1 million population, Biden’s margin increased just 1.6 points, or 193,000 votes, relative to Clinton.
In Pennsylvania, the most hotly contested state, those suburban voters alone were enough to flip the state to Biden. Urban voters alone were not.
But Trump and his allies aren’t contesting the outcome of the election in the suburbs. The racial tone of his fight has been most evident in Detroit, a city that is 79% Black.
On Tuesday, two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially refused to certify the Nov. 3 election results on grounds the vote in Detroit was suspect. The Republican chairwoman of the board, Monica Palmer, said during the debate that she would be open to certifying the vote in “communities other than Detroit,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, noted that would include areas with discrepancies such as Livonia, where the population is predominantly white.
“You have extracted a Black city out of a county and said the only ones that are at fault or at issue are the City of Detroit where the 80% of the people who reside there are African-Americans,” Reverend Wendell Anthony, who is the head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, told the board after it deadlocked on certification. “Shame on you. Shame on you.”
The two Republicans reversed their position following the criticism and agreed to certify the election, then tried to rescind their votes after the president called Palmer.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview on MSNBC that the board’s first vote was an attempt to disenfranchise Black voters based on “only clerical errors,” not widespread evidence of fraud.
“We’re still full steam ahead with the certification of the votes in Michigan,” Benson said. “We’re certainly not going to allow any blatant partisan attempts to disenfranchise African-American voters to stand in the way of that.”
After losing or withdrawing a string of lawsuits contesting his defeat in several states, Trump appears to be pursuing a legally dubious and improbable attempt to persuade Republican-led state legislatures to overrule voters and award him enough electoral college votes to secure re-election.
He met with the GOP leaders of the Michigan state legislature at the White House on Friday. But after the meeting, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said they hadn’t yet seen any reason to alter the outcome of the election.
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan,” they said in a joint statement. “We will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors.”
Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who’s taken over the legal effort to challenge the election results, has repeatedly depicted Philadelphia, Detroit and other cities where the campaign is trying to invalidate votes as being run by corrupt political machines with a history of election fraud. He has said without evidence that there was a national conspiracy to rig the election, with Democrats picking 10 cities where “they can control” workers and law enforcement.
“They carried it out in places they could get away with it,” Giuliani said during a rambling, 90-minute press conference on Thursday in Washington with other Trump attorneys involved in the effort to overturn the election.
“They didn’t carry it out in Republican places,” he said. “They didn’t carry it out where the law is respected.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the allegations insulting to Black people living in the cities.
“They are not only targeting black voters, but they are also singling out black election officials and black poll workers and suggesting that they lack capacity to run elections like every other community has done,” she said.
Trump trails Biden by about 156,000 votes in Michigan and by about 81,000 votes in Pennsylvania, requiring him to invalidate many thousands of ballots to flip either state.
Many of the lawsuits seeking to invalidate votes weren’t filed by the Trump campaign but by sympathizers, and the ones that haven’t been rejected or withdrawn have little chance of success, said Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute.
“These cases have no evidence and completely out-there legal theories, and I think the only conclusion that can be reached is they were trying to target areas with sizable minority populations,” Perez said.