Trump tries to steal election by declaring victory before all votes are counted

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Trump previously floated the idea of declaring himself the winner on election night, even if results were still being tabulated.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Donald Trump declared victory in the presidential election, even as ballots in many states were still being counted.

On Sunday, Trump spoke to reporters and denied he would do so. But he also complained about votes being counted after the election and said he was prepared to "[go] in with our lawyers" to challenge Democratic-run states still tabulating their results after election night.

"I think it's a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election. I think it's a terrible thing when states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over," he said. 

Trump said he thought it was also "terrible" to not the know results on election night. 

It is not uncommon for ballots to be counted for days after an election.

"[V]ote tallying has never been completed in a modern U.S. presidential election on election night. It just doesn’t work that way," the Washington Post noted on Monday. "...Counting and making those results official takes a while in each state, so much so that federal election law gives states more than a month after the election to count and certify their results. That’s why the electoral college doesn't meet until mid-December to officially vote."

Experts and lawmakers alike pushed back on the idea that Trump might declare premature victory.

"It comes as no surprise that Donald Trump and his campaign plan to declare victory before all the votes are counted. That has been his strategy for months, and nobody should fall for it," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told Axios. "It's why he is demonizing mail-in ballots and sabotaging the postal service. ... We will not allow that to happen. Every vote must and will be counted."

Indeed, a number of states are still waiting to receive ballots sent by mail, including at least four swing states. Those that have later deadlines could prolong when the results are known. The Pew Research Center also reported a surge in mail-in voting that reflected people's concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the United States.

Trump has tried to paint the spike in mail-in voting as fraudulent, regardless of that reality.

"We don't want to have Pennsylvania, where you have a political governor, a very partisan guy," Trump said to reporters on Sunday. "We don't want to have other states, like Nevada, where you have the head of the Democratic clubhouse as your governor. We don't want to be in a position where he's allowed to, every day, watch ballots come in. See if we can only find 10,000 more ballots."

On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf had appeared in an ad reassuring voters that their ballots would be counted, and noting that, because of that, it would take time to finalize the results.

"Because of the coronavirus, there were millions of votes cast by mail so it may take longer than usual to count every vote," he said. "The folks in our election offices — your neighbors, family, and friends — are working hard ensuring every single vote is counted."

On Sunday, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller baselessly claimed to ABC News that Democrats believed Trump would get "280 electorals, somewhere in that range," and that they were "going to try to steal it back after the election." 

"We believe that we'll be over 290 electoral votes on election night. So no matter what they try to do, what kind of hijinks or lawsuits or whatever kind of nonsense they try to pull off, we're still going to have enough electoral votes to get President Trump re-elected," Miller said.

Trump has had a long pattern of sowing doubt about the election results.

On Oct. 26, he tweeted: "Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd." 

Twitter later flagged the tweet as "misleading."

Then the next day, Trump falsely claimed to reporters, "It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on Nov. 3, instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate, and I don't believe that's by our laws."  

But no law says that official results must be announced on election night. 

"An election is not a reality show with a big reveal at the end. All we get on Election Night are projections from TV networks. We *never* have official results on Election Night. Counting ballots – all of ’em – is the appropriate, proper, and very legal way to determine who won,” tweeted Ellen Weintraub, commissioner of the Federal Election Commission. 

Or, as Edward B. Foley, an Ohio State University constitutional law professor who specializes in elections, told the Poynter Institute, "There are no official results on Election Night — there never have been. Election Night tallies are always just preliminary, pending certification of the canvass of returns under state law, which takes time. Every state has a law on this point."