Election officials proceed with the counting of ballots at the Allegheny County elections warehouse on November 6, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON—Some GOP lawmakers have fallen in line with President Donald Trump’s claim that he will win the election if the “legal votes” are counted.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said Thursday night, without citing any evidence that votes have been cast fraudulently or illegally. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
But political experts warned that a Republican message pushing for a count of “legal votes” is sowing mistrust in the election.
“The votes are legal votes,” said David Lublin, a professor and chair of the department of government at American University. “We don’t let people vote illegally. “
The phrase “legal votes” was popular among some Republicans on Friday as battleground states continued counting mail-in ballots and the outcome of the presidential race remained unclear. Democratic nominee Joe Biden pulled ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania and Georgia, while the Trump campaign pursued multiple lawsuits.
“Transparently count every legally cast vote & allow courts to decide claims of irregularities or fraud on the basis of evidence,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted.
GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who won her reelection race in Iowa on Tuesday, followed suit.
“Everyone should be able to agree that every legal vote should be counted and there should be transparency in this process,” Ernst tweeted on Friday. “It’s important we maintain free and fair elections in the US.”
Rep. Clay Higgins, who just won re-election in Louisiana’s Third Congressional District, released a video claiming that the election is being stolen from the incumbent.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who also won reelection on Tuesday, did not directly denounce the president, but supported giving states time to sort and count every “valid vote,” as she put it.
“States have the authority to determine the specific rules of elections,” Collins said in a statement. “Every valid vote under a state’s law should be counted. We must all respect the outcome of elections.”
Because of the pandemic, there was a massive number of mail-in ballots. That has overwhelmed states and delayed results of not only the presidential election but several Senate races as well. The mail-in ballots are no less valid than ballots cast by voters in person.
Lublin said he’s not surprised that Republicans are referring to “legal votes.”
“It implies that there are illegal votes,” he said, adding that the phrase allows Republicans to demonstrate their support of the president.
He said because mail-in ballots are still being counted, it’s not surprising to see the results in states shift either. Lublin pointed out that on election night, Florida started out blue and then moved to red as more votes were tallied.
“There was nothing nefarious,” he said of the Florida race, which Trump won. “The election is not being stolen. We’re just counting votes.”
House Republicans have also issued statements or tweets pushing for “legal votes” to be counted. Some of them include Steve Scalise of Louisiana , Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Warren Davidson and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Right-wing media organizations such as Breitbart and One America News Network are also using that message.
Ken Kollman, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, said the phrasing could also be a reference to false claims made in the 2016 election that millions of undocumented people voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
There was never any evidence that illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, and that claim has been debunked.
“Keeping that kind of rhetoric alive has political purposes for some Republicans in states,” said Kollman.
He added that it’s dangerous to create “doubts about the integrity of the election.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has gone on Fox News to falsely claim that Trump has won and that Biden is trying to steal the election.
“Joe Biden wants to “count every vote,’” McCarthy tweeted Friday. “President @realDonaldTrump wants to count every ????? vote. There’s a big difference.”
However, some GOP lawmakers have publicly spoken against the president.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said Trump should accept the election results, and he denied that voter fraud was taking place in his state.
“The president’s allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated,” he said on NBC’s “Today Show” early Friday. “I’m not aware of any significant wrongdoing here.”
Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said on ABC News that Trump’s remarks undermined the basic principles of democracy.
“America is counting votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before,” he said.
While Trump has blasted Pennsylvania for taking so long to count votes, the delay is because the Republican state legislature blocked Democrats from passing a bill to allow mail-in ballots to be pre-processed weeks before Election Day instead of on Election Day, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
No winner of the 2020 presidential election had been called as of Friday evening. The Associated Press tally says that Biden currently has 264 electoral college votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency, while Trump trails with 214.
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