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Trump Campaign Files Lawsuits in Fight Over Election Results

With his reelection bid in danger in the wake of Tuesday’s closely fought contest, U.S. President Donald Trump fired the opening shots in what could lead to a drawn-out legal skirmish.

In three battleground states key to determining the winner of the election — Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania — the Trump campaign filed lawsuits Wednesday over mail ballot handling, while in Wisconsin the Trump team requested a recount.

In doing so, Trump forces are attempting to block the counting of large numbers of mail-in and absentee ballots that Trump argues without proof are fraudulent and that are enhancing the prospects of Democratic challenger Joe Biden to win the election.

Biden, a former vice president, has been declared the winner in Michigan and Wisconsin but the races have yet to be called in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

“We also demand to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement announcing the lawsuit in Michigan.

The lawsuits were filed after Trump signaled early Wednesday morning that he would go directly to the Supreme Court to halt the counting of millions of the mail-in or absentee ballots.

Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day on Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.

Legal experts say there is no way Trump could directly petition the high court for assistance in halting vote counting in a legally constituted election. However, the threat suggests the Trump campaign is bracing for a protracted post-election legal battle in what already has been the most litigated election cycle in U.S. history.

“The Trump campaign has pursued the same tactics relentlessly for a year so I can’t imagine any reason they would stop until they’ve exhausted every last avenue,” said James Gardner, a law professor and elections expert at the University of Buffalo.

Just how long the incipient legal fight will rage remains to be seen.

The Supreme Court is seen at sundown on the eve of Election Day, in Washington, Nov. 2, 2020.

While the Supreme Court might intervene to resolve an election dispute, much as it did during the 2000 election battle between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, those bringing the case must jump through several legal hoops.

“There’s no law that allows the arbitrary halting of vote counting across the country or even in a particular state, so there would be no legal basis for seeking that relief,” said Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and author of What You Need to Know About Voting and Why

That is not to say Trump doesn’t have ample legal recourse at his disposal as he seeks to secure a minimum of 270 electoral votes needed to win reelection. Thus far, election results in 44 of 50 states have given Trump 213 electoral votes and Biden 253, according to a VOA tally. Results in the remaining states are too close to call.

This combination of pictures shows Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden on Oct. 23, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware, On the right is U.S. President Donald Trump in Gastonia, North Carolina, Oct. 21, 2020.

To be sure, if either Trump or Biden secures enough votes in the undeclared races and does so by an insurmountable margin, challenging the results would become difficult and potentially moot, according to legal experts. But if the difference between their vote counts narrows, either candidate can dispute the outcome.

“But it will have to be a state-by-state, almost ballot-by-ballot challenge,” Wehle said.

Even as the outcome of the election remained in question, both the Trump and Biden campaigns claimed they were within reach of victory.

“We feel like the president is in a very, very, very good position this morning,” Stepien said during a press call on Wednesday.

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, speaking during a separate call with reporters, said Biden was “on track to win this election, and he will be the next president of the United States.”

Recount request not uncommon

A vote recount of the kind Trump is seeking in Wisconsin is not uncommon. In 2016, Green Party nominee Jill Stein asked for a recount in the state. Forty-seven states allow losing candidates to ask for a recount. Of the remaining undeclared states, only Arizona does not.

However, recounts rarely change the vote tally, and if Trump fails to get a favorable outcome through a recount, he could contest the results, according to experts.

One possible dispute will likely revolve around mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, according to Heritage Foundation legal scholar Hans von Spakovsky.

Pandemic influences election

Three of the most closely fought states this election cycle — North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — changed their rules during the coronavirus pandemic to allow ballots to arrive after Election Day and still count.

The Supreme Court last week upheld North Carolina’s and Pennsylvania’s extended deadlines but rejected Wisconsin’s.

The Trump campaign could potentially argue in court that extending the deadline for receiving ballots was unconstitutional, Gardner said.

Another potential controversy will likely center on deficient mail-in ballots and whether they should be rejected without giving voters an opportunity to fix the problems. On Tuesday, just as voting was getting under way, Republicans filed a pair of lawsuits against “curing” or fixing problems with ballots in Pennsylvania.

Problematic ballots

The number of problematic ballots that get rejected is significant.

During the primaries this year, more than 550,000 deficient mail ballots were rejected in 30 states, according to an NPR analysis, triggering litigation in New York. Von Spakovsky said similar litigation could potentially be filed by the losing candidate.

“If there is any litigation contesting the counting of ballots, the rejection of absentee ballots and the extension of time for absentee ballots, I have no doubt that whoever loses in that litigation probably will be prepared to litigate it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” von Spakovsky said.

But others cautioned that the high court will likely demur at getting dragged into a political fight. Nearly 20 years after its controversial ruling in Bush v. Gore, Gardner said, Chief Justice John Roberts considers the decision “to have been a mistake for the court to put itself at the center of a presidential election.”

Whether he can get the court out of another election dispute remains uncertain. Gardner said Roberts is facing an “internal revolt” from three other conservatives on the court — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh — who dissented from the recent Supreme Court rulings extending ballot deadlines in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Albanian IS Repatriation From Syria Will Be Long Journey, Experts Say

The recent repatriation of an Islamic State (IS) woman and four children from the Kurdish-controlled al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria is being applauded as an important step by Albania to deal with its citizens abroad who have been affiliated with the terror group.

Some observers say they are expecting a long journey ahead for the country as it addresses the rehabilitation of IS families and their reentry into society.

“Although modest in size, this transfer signals Albania’s shift toward a proactive approach for the repatriation of its citizens, especially children and women,” Adrian Shtuni, a Washington-based security and radicalization expert, told VOA.

Roughly 13,500 foreign women and children are among about 70,000 IS families held by the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, according to a report in April by the Crisis Group. Researchers in Albania say at least 70 members of the group hold Albanian citizenship.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said last week that he was in Beirut to bring home from Syria a 41-year-old woman, Floresha Rasha; her three children – Amar, Emel and Hatixhe Rasha; and another minor, Endri Dumani. The five Albanians were evacuated from the al-Hol camp in a process mediated by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Mark Ghraib, Albania’s honorary consul in Beirut, said the Albanians had been given medical checkups and provided with proper care. Authorities have not disclosed many details about the health of the evacuees but said Floresha Rasha uses a wheelchair because of “severe injuries” and will need immediate surgery upon her arrival in Tirana.

Floresha Rasha will face investigation to determine if she was involved in any terrorist attacks during her seven years in Syria, according to the Albanian Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution. The four children, however, do not have any criminal liability under Albanian law because of their age.

FILE – A man, suspected of having collaborated with the Islamic State group, is greeted by family members upon his release from the Kurdish-run Alaya prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, on Oct. 15, 2020.

Complex operation

Kurdish authorities repeatedly have called on countries to repatriate their citizens, saying imprisoned IS fighters and their families are a burden on their limited resources.

Albanian Interior Minister Elisa Spiropali said in September that the return of the Albanian adults would face legal challenges because “they are considered the losing side of an armed battle.” She said the government was on track, though, to bring home 28 children.

The government in Tirana first planned to repatriate dozens of its citizens in August 2019. But Spiropali subsequently announced the process was suspended because of the changing geopolitical situation in Syria following Turkey’s military operations and the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops in October 2019.

The halt prompted a protest in September by relatives of the IS children, who said the government had to put more effort into bringing home minors who are citizens.

Following the protest, Albanian Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj went to Beirut to discuss with his Lebanese counterparts the possible repatriation of children and women from the camps.

“For children, we are trying to save them from that hell,” Lleshaj told Albania’s national Top Channel in September.

Rights groups describe al-Hol camp as “massively” crowded and unsanitary. Doctors Without Borders reported in August that the camp was witnessing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases, with very little health care available.

Radicalized women

Since the territorial defeat of IS in March 2019, many IS foreign women in Syria have petitioned their home countries to take them back because of harsh conditions in the camps.

Some experts noted that some of the women remain radicalized, however, and do not want to be repatriated home because they expect a revival of IS.

“They honestly believe that ‘brothers’ are going to go and liberate them,” Vera Mironova, a research fellow at Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, told VOA.

“When you are talking to them, they are like, ‘You know, brothers are standing on a hill around the camp, and they are watching us or preparing to attack the Kurds,’ ” Mironova said.

IS members who are not connected by marital ties usually refer to each other as brothers and sisters. The group’s fighters reportedly have attacked the SDF at least twice to break into the camps to free their family members.

FILE – Two women, center, reportedly wives of Islamic State group fighters, wait with other women and children at the al-Hol camp in al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria, Feb. 7, 2019.

Mironova also added that another motivation for these women who prefer to stay is to raise their children in the camp, which they consider an Islamic land, thinking that their countries do not have Islamic practices.

Some may not seek return

Similarly, Adrian Shtuni says the assumption that all of the Albanian women being held in the camp are eager to return home may not be accurate.

“Substantiated media reports that a number of Albanian women went into hiding to evade repatriation point to a less well-understood aspect of the reality in camps,” Shtuni told VOA.

“This highlights once more that though repatriation in itself is a complex effort, it is only the beginning of a long-term process of rehabilitation from trauma and violent extremism required to prepare returnees for reentry into mainstream society,” Shtuni added.

Rama in the past has said his Cabinet is well-prepared to hold IS adult members accountable, and to prepare for the return of the brainwashed children into society.

In a news conference last week, Rama announced his government rehabilitation program for children was being assisted by the children’s relatives and was equipped with the necessary care, psychologists, teachers and doctors.

“The progress of these children will be monitored. Work will be done step by step to integrate them into the social structures, based on the opinion that will be given by doctors and psychologists,” Rama added.

More than 100 Albanians are reported to have joined the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, alongside other ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and North Macedonia. The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Terrorism determined the terrorism threat in Albania came mainly from foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, along with Albanian youth being radicalized to terrorism.

VOA’s Albanian Service contributed to this report.

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