With the election coming to a close, the Trump and Biden campaigns, voting rights organizations and conservative groups are raising money and dispatching armies of lawyers for what could become a state-by-state, county-by-county legal battle over which ballots will ultimately be counted.
The deployments — involving hundreds of lawyers on both sides — go well beyond what has become normal since the disputed outcome in 2000, and are the result of the open efforts of President Trump and the Republicans to disqualify votes on technicalities and baseless charges of fraud at the end of a campaign in which the voting system has been severely tested by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the most aggressive moves to knock out registered votes in modern memory, Republicans have already sought to nullify ballots before they are counted in several states that could tip the balance of the Electoral College.
In an early test of one effort, a federal judge in Texas on Monday ruled against local Republicans who wanted to compel state officials to throw out more than 127,000 ballots cast at newly created drive-through polling places in the Houston area. The federal court ruling, which Republicans said they would appeal, came after a state court also ruled against them.
In key counties in Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Republicans are seeking, with mixed results so far, to force election board offices to give their election observers more open access so they can more effectively challenge absentee ballots as they are processed, a tactic Republicans in North Carolina are seeking to adopt statewide.
And everywhere, in a year that has seen record levels of early voting and a huge surge in use of voting by mail, Republicans are gearing up to challenge ballots with missing signatures or unclear postmarks.
In his last days of campaigning, Mr. Trump has essentially admitted that he does not expect to win without going to court. “As soon as that election is over,” he told reporters over the weekend, “we’re going in with our lawyers.”
Trailing consistently in the polls, Mr. Trump in that moment said out loud what other Republicans have preferred to say quietly, which is that his best chance of holding onto power at this point may rest in a scorched-earth campaign to disqualify as many votes as possible for his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
If there is a clear-cut outcome on Tuesday night that could not plausibly be challenged via legal action, all of the planning on both sides could become moot. But if there is no decisive result, the following days would likely see an intensifying multifront battle fought in a variety of states.