The November presidential election is poised to become the most litigated vote in recent U.S. history, according to a former federal election honcho.
“The 2020 election might be Bush v. Gore on steroids,” said Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and former chief counsel at the Republican National Committee.
President Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden’s campaigns have enlisted armies of volunteer lawyers in battleground states and swing districts to fight out close calls on Election Day. Both sides have already filed multiple lawsuits.
Team Biden boasts that it already has 600 lawyers on hand, a signal that legal battles could be working their way through courts before and after Nov. 3.
It’s not unusual for campaigns to have a large number of volunteer workers and lawyers across the country to aid one candidate over another. The legal eagles cover various precincts and vote counting locations in up-for-grabs jurisdictions, so if the race is close, they can work on postelection recounts.
This year’s election fight, however, is also being waged over the expected flood of mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawyers typically work alongside political operatives at polling places and can object to giving ballots to those they think don’t meet legal qualifications to vote.
The lawyers get training before the election so they know the grounds for objections.
Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Biden’s reported hiring of 600 lawyers this early in the campaign is unusual.
“It’s a sign that Biden wants to litigate his way into the presidency,” Mr. von Spakovsky said. “I’ve been in the election arena now for almost 30 years. I have never seen as many lawsuits filed in an election year as I have seen this year.”
He estimates that more than 150 lawsuits have been filed across the country, most by the Democratic Party or liberal advocacy groups.
Nearly two dozen lawsuits pending have been filed by liberal groups dealing with states’ requirements for mail-in ballots.
The advocates are attempting to strike down witness requirements and other voter hurdles they say are unnecessary during the pandemic.
Other lawsuits are trying to force the removal of security protocols such as voter ID laws and allow vote harvesting in states where it is not permitted.
“I frankly think they are preparing for, if the election is close, to file litigation everywhere to contest the vote count,” Mr. von Spakovsky said. “The potential there is to make what happened in 2000 in Florida look like amateur hour.”
The 2000 election largely ended with the Supreme Court issuing its ruling in Bush v. Gore in December — about a month after Election Day. In the end, Republican George W. Bush ended up with 271 electoral votes, just one over the necessary 270.
Democrats are concerned that Republicans are trying to make it more difficult for people to vote during the pandemic. Mr. Trump has been opposed to increased mail-in voting.
Democrats argue that mail-in voting increases voter participation.
Chris Meagher, deputy communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said with Mr. Trump’s “failed response” to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is trying to block access to vote.
“But we will fight back against their undemocratic GOP tactics, either through litigation or our on-the-ground voter protection infrastructure, to do everything we can to make sure every single eligible voter can exercise their constitutional right to make their voice heard,” Mr. Meagher said.
Mr. Trump’s campaign is challenging a Nevada law allowing universal mail-in voting in response to the pandemic and has filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania after ballots were returned to nonelection sites during the primary.
The Republican National Committee tried to halt Rhode Island from easing its witness requirements for mail-in ballots, but the Supreme Court ruled last week that the state could proceed.
Mr. Trump’s campaign also has lawyers working on the advisory board Lawyers for Trump.
“Democrats are working to shred election integrity measures one state at a time, and there’s no question they’ll continue their shenanigans from now to November and beyond,” said Matthew Morgan, Trump 2020 general counsel.
“The Trump campaign is fighting to ensure every valid ballot across America counts. The Lawyers for Trump coalition, which grows daily, will rally support for President Trump as they lend their time and legal expertise to protect the integrity of November’s election,” he added.
The Biden campaign did not comment.