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Election Update: Vote Counting Continues Amid Misinformation And Lawsuits

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And vote counting continues across the country today, even though one of the candidates, President Trump, has spent much of the last three days trying to stop it. His campaign's reasoning, which relies on conspiracy theories about rampant fraud, has not swayed courts in a number of states, but the campaign says it will keep trying. Well, joining us to talk about this is NPR's Miles Parks. He covers voting and election security.

Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Get us up to speed. Where do these lawsuits from the Trump campaign stand?

PARKS: So today has been a much slower day for new elections lawsuits. Still, today President Trump released a statement saying he was not giving up on the election, saying his campaign would, quote, "pursue this process through every aspect of the law." It's just not clear at this point how many more legal avenues he has to pursue. The lawsuits the campaign has filed so far have mostly been unsuccessful. There was just so much litigation before the election. What legal experts say is that there just isn't that much left to argue about or file lawsuits about.

KELLY: And why unsuccessful? Why do these lawsuits not seem to be getting much traction with judges?

PARKS: Well, the suits have mostly centered so far on the idea of transparency within the vote counting process and on this idea that Republicans have somehow been left out in the cold on watching these votes get counted, but there's really no evidence to support this actually happening. Election watchers from both parties are a routine part of every aspect of the elections process, and there's no evidence anyone anywhere has really been barred from seeing how anything is working. Republicans still have tried to use this to argue for vote counting to stop in Michigan and in Pennsylvania, and they were dismissed in the court both times. Here's election law expert Justin Levitt.

JUSTIN LEVITT: It seems like the relief that the Trump campaign is asking for is patently ridiculous. And courts keep saying, go away. They keep saying, stop the count, and the courts are saying no. If you have a right - and you don't always have a right to be in these places you're asserting you have a right to be in - then we'll put an order for you to be in these places. But no.

PARKS: Levitt tells me that 90% of these lawsuits are aimed at basically public relations, driving a narrative or, what he says, bending reality to fit Trump's false claims about this corruption that they say is happening in voting. The other 10%, he says, is about just having something to fundraise about.

KELLY: Stay with the 90%. If the goal here is to drive the narrative, is it working? Can we measure whether this is changing people's opinions about this election and whether it's fair?

PARKS: I mean, anecdotally, it's definitely changing the narrative from, wow; we had a historic turnout election in the middle of a pandemic that has gone surprisingly, you know, according to plan, to, is there fraud, which - there is no evidence at this point that there is fraud. And where this message really seems to be resonating is online. Basically, what researchers are seeing is a reawakening of a lot of these channels that have spread other sorts of disinformation in the past. They're now turning this idea of a rigged election using the phrase stop the steal to spread lies about vote counting and other aspects of the election. Here's Melissa Ryan, who runs CARD Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation. She spoke with my colleague Hannah Allam.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MELISSA RYAN: These stop the steal protests are clearly building off the infrastructure from the reopen protests that we saw earlier in the year during the pandemic. And frankly, they're using the same strategy and infrastructure as the Tea Party back in 2009, 2010.

PARKS: The longer it is that we have a - before we have a decisive winner in the race, the more time misinformation can spread online, especially if President Trump continues amplifying it.

KELLY: So, bottom line, it is Friday afternoon. We still don't have a call on who's going to be the next president. Should we be worried, or is this how it is supposed to work?

LEVITT: You know, I am honestly not surprised at all that this is the position we're in. I don't think people need to worry. This is what election officials have been saying all along about what would happen. You know, the Pennsylvania secretary of state, Kathy Boockvar, said before the election it could be Friday before most of the ballots in her state were counted. And it's Friday. Most of the ballots in her state are now counted. This is everything we kind of expected, and it's what election officials say is basically going according to plan. It's just politicians who are kind of trying to gin up issues.

KELLY: Thank you, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR's Miles Parks reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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