Firing the US election security chief and pressuring local officials to throw out valid votes, US President Donald Trump and his Republicans are making desperate, though likely futile, attempts to invalidate Democrat Joe Biden's election win.
Trump showed no sign Wednesday of letting up on his campaign to challenge results of the November 3 vote that only he and his staunchest supporters refuse to accept.
Two weeks after Election Day – with Biden's win recognised around the world, and his team hard at work preparing to assume office – Trump appears convinced he can sow enough doubt to delay or even prevent the Democrat from being officially certified as the winner.
"I WON THE ELECTION. VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY!" Trump tweeted, without evidence.
Rumour vs reality
Trump announced Tuesday night that he was removing the leading source of evidence to the contrary, federal election security chief Chris Krebs, whose department had declared this year's elections "the most secure in American history."
The firing outraged Democrats and Republicans alike, who had found no fault with Krebs' efforts to ensure voting systems worked and to protect them from foreign or domestic hacking.
But his Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had particularly rankled Trump's campaign by putting up a "Rumour vs Reality" web page dedicated to debunking fake claims of election fraud – many of which had been asserted by Trump himself.
Offering no proof, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told the Fox and Friends show Wednesday that Krebs may have had a "partisan agenda" or "personal grievance" that "seemed to go directly at this president."
"The president believes and so too do many others that if every legal vote is counted, he will remain president," she said.
Fraud or not?
On Wednesday Biden had a 5.8 million lead over Trump out of more than 155 million votes counted, based on near-final official state figures, and a 306-232 majority in the state-by-state Electoral College that decides the presidency.
Trump's campaign has focused on litigating the vote counts in seven states. Theoretically, if most were reversed, it could deliver Trump victory. But that would mean finding fault with hundreds of thousands of votes. So far, Trump's campaign has only found a few hundred.
The efforts have included dozens of lawsuits delivered with loud claims of election fraud, nearly all of which have been rejected outright by judges for lack of evidence.
On Tuesday a Pennsylvania judge challenged Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to back up his sweeping claims of electoral fraud, in a case which was actually focused on whether voting officials correctly followed procedures.
"This is not a fraud case," Giuliani finally admitted.
Giuliani "talked only about fraud, gigantic conspiracies," Mark Aronchick, who represented the state's interests in the case, told CNN. "It bore no relationship to what we were actually sitting there doing in court."
Pressuring Republican officials
Trump's allies have also browbeat local officials to hold off on certifying vote counts.
That has included attacking the top election official in traditionally Republican-leaning Georgia, which in a stunning reversal narrowly voted for Biden.
Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, said he had received death threats and that a senior Republican senator, Lindsey Graham pressured him to disqualify legal mailed-in ballots.
Graham denied wrongdoing as Democrats accused him of corrupt interference in the election.
In Michigan on Tuesday, Republicans on the election board in Detroit, the state's largest and strongly Democratic voting district, refused to certify the count due to very minor vote disparities.
Under late night pressure the Republicans reversed themselves. But the incident showed how far Trump supporters would go to defend his claim that he was robbed of election victory.
"In Detroit, there are FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE," Trump tweeted, without evidence.
Such rebuffs did not appear to have slowed Trump.
On Wednesday his campaign sought a recount in the two largest counties of Wisconsin, both strongly Democratic, alleging – only for those counties – "illegally altered absentee ballots, illegally issued absentee ballots, and illegal advice given by government officials."
But like other measures, even if proven true, the challenge is seen as extremely unlikely to reverse Biden's 20,000 vote margin in the state.
Recounts rarely change vote tallies by more than a few hundred, according to election experts.
by Paul Handley, AFP