Donald Trump’s legal team lost a court battle in Nevada today over alleged voting improprieties in Las Vegas in a riveting, contentious hearing that streamed live online. But if the state’s vote tally is close, they will return to fight another day.
The Trump team’s complaint revolved around early voting at four Las Vegas area polling stations on Nov. 4. The sites were set to close at 8 p.m., meaning that only people in line at 8 would be able to vote. But, the Trump campaign alleges, the Clark County registrar of voters kept some polls open until 10, and allowed people to join the line after 8. For good measure, they also alleged that there was improper campaigning going on near one polling place.
Those claims may or may not be true—more on that in a moment. But to sort it all out, the Trump campaign asked the court to sequester all of the ballots cast at those four stations on Nov. 4. That would effectively take between 2,000 and 4,000 ballots out of circulation, and out of the vote tally in the mostly Democratic county.
At the court hearing today, however, Judge Gloria Sturman demolished every argument they put forth, revealing the case to be so baseless as to be an abuse of the judicial process itself. “Why are we here?” the judge asked.
First, it turns out that all early voting ballots are now in one big pile—literally, in the case of paper records, figuratively for the electronic ones. It’s impossible to separate out the ones from Nov. 4, or from those four polling stations, as the Trump team requested.
Second, that separation can be done after the election, by painstakingly sifting through the paper ballot records—not unlike Florida in 2000. At that time, if the margin of victory in Nevada is smaller than the total number of ballots affected, the secretary of State can order the Nov. 4 ballots be pulled, while the allegations are investigated.
So, the judge ruled, there’s no reason to do anything now. And besides, the judge said (several times, occasionally in a shouting match with Trump’s lawyer), the county is already required by law to preserve all the relevant records. If the secretary of State decides to move forward, everything she’ll need will already be there, without any need for a court order.
Even more, Judge Sturman said, if she ordered the names of poll workers to be preserved in a public record, she’d expose them to possible harassment—not by the Trump campaign itself, but by some of his unhinged supporters.
“Do you watch Twitter?” she asked rhetorically. “Do you watch any internet news show? There are trolls out there” who will harass the poll workers, some of whom are volunteers.
With that, she basically told the Trump lawyer to get out of her sight.
“Have a seat,” she said at one point, while he was still talking.
In fact, the judge’s thorough evisceration of the Trump case makes one wonder why the complaint was even filed at all. The likely answer is obvious: politics. By filing this complaint to preserve records that have to be preserved anyway, the Trump campaign grabbed the headlines for a couple of hours, and gave some heft to the candidate’s claims that the election is rigged. A bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing but headlines.
Today’s loss does not mean that Trump’s case is over, however. (Indeed, there are three lawsuits already filed in Nevada so far. In one, the Democratic Party accuses Trump associate Roger Stone and his group “Stop the Steal” of voter intimidation—specifically, of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. In another, the Republican Party accuses the state of allowing late registrations.)
In fact, a review of the Nevada election statute suggests Trump may have a strong case. That statute says that “the doors of the polling place must be closed after all such voters [i.e., those in line at closing time] have been admitted to the polling place.” If “after” means right after—which to my mind is the more common-sense reading—then Trump’s lawyers are correct that voters shouldn’t have been allowed to join the line after 8.
On the other hand, the spirit of the statute is to allow people to vote, and the Clark County lawyer said that early voting is treated differently from Election Day voting. Maybe the statute should be read as permissive—i.e., the earliest you can close is after the closing-time voters vote—rather than restrictive.
It will be an interesting case, if the margin in Nevada is close enough to make it relevant. Which was precisely Judge Sturman’s point. If these few contested votes will make a difference, then the secretary of State will be able to order an investigation and sequester the affected ballots. If not, this is much ado about nothing.
Except, of course, the dangerous innuendo that the election is rigged and tonight’s result ought not be respected.