WASHINGTON — Several key swing states could finish counting ballots in the tight presidential race possibly by the end of the week or the next, but lawsuits and a demand for a recount in Wisconsin by the Trump campaign could take much longer to resolve.
As a result, the final official count in the surprisingly close contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden could be delayed, even as unofficial projections put Biden close to clinching the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Trump followed through on his middle-of-the-night vow Wednesday morning to take his case to the Supreme Court on Pennsylvania’s extended deadline for mail ballots as his lawyers filed suits to halt vote counting in Pennsylvania and Michigan until his observers get more access to it.
And Trump and the Georgia Republican Party sued to require all Georgia counties to separate all late-arrive ballots from being counted after a Republican poll observer saw 53 late absentee ballots added to a stack of on-time ballots, said Trump campaign senior counsel Justin Clark in a statement.
"We are obviously leading a full-court press to make sure that we have our legal teams that are in place, we want to make sure that all legally cast ballots are counted. We also want to make sure all illegally cast ballots are not counted," Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said.
Biden’s campaign lawyer Bob Bauer and some independent election lawyers predicted Trump’s lawyers would fail in their long-expected legal blitz, and that the counting of legal votes would continue until a final tally is reached.
"We're going to defend this vote, the vote by which Joe Biden has been elected to the presidency," Bauer said. "And this attempt as has been shown throughout all of their efforts around the country on their part to defeat the voters’ intent and to undermine the democracy is absolutely certain to fail."
About 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Trump claimed he had won the election, alleged "major fraud" and said, "We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court."
The Trump campaign filed a brief Wednesday afternoon to intervene in a case that twice before went to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed mail ballots that arrived by Nov. 6 if postmarked by Election Day to be counted.
The eight-member Supreme Court split on the issue, but now Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett has become the ninth justice and could be the deciding vote if the high court takes the case. The state elections office is counting, but segregating, those ballots.
Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, at a press conference in Philadelphia, vowed to wage a legal wage in Pennsylvania, casting mail-in voting as a "highly suspicious" system while claiming those ballots "could be from Mars as far as we're concerned."
It is not clear if or when the Supreme Court will respond or take up the case.
"It’s a very procedural filing," said Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg on CNN.
"There's nothing in this motion that asked for the court to hear the case sooner, and it may well be that the court is mostly interested in this for the very real constitutional issue of the power of a state Supreme Court versus a legislature to make rules about the time, place and manner of an election," he said.
The Trump team also sued to allow its observers to view ballot counting more closely in Pennsylvania, and said it would appeal an Election Day judge’s ruling against it. It filed a similar lawsuit in Michigan and asked to review ballots counted without Trump observers present.
Ravi Doschi, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the nonprofit and nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said "I just don’t see that these lawsuits are going to have a significant impact."
Also on Wednesday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said Trump’s lawyers would request a recount of the vote in Wisconsin, where Biden led Trump with about 20,000 votes out of more than 3.2 million cast, citing "reports of irregularities."
A defeated candidate can request a recount if the election margin is less than 1% and must make the request by 5 p.m. on the first business day after the full results are announced, according to the Wisconsin’s recount procedure.
Recounts, however, rarely change an election’s outcome, said Kenneth Mayer, a professor at University of Wisconsin’s Elections Research Center. "It is vanishingly unlikely that a recount will change the margin much," Mayer said.
In 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her campaign paid $3.5 million for a recount of the presidential vote. It took until Dec. 12 — two days before the federal deadline for each state certify its elector slate and the winner of the election.
The recount found no massive problems or election hacking, and changed the total by a smattering of votes, adding 713 votes to Democrat Hillary Clinton and 844 to Trump.