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Trump did not win two-thirds of election lawsuits ‘where merits considered’
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Former President Donald Trump and his allies have won one lawsuit related to the results of the 2020 election. It did not prove that widespread voter fraud contributed to President Joe Biden’s win.
The database the Epoch Times relied on includes election-related lawsuits dating back to March 2020. Not all of them list the Trump campaign as a complainant, and some aren’t directly related to the general presidential election.
Experts told us that just because a case is dismissed on procedural grounds does not mean it wasn’t duly considered. The Epoch Times revised its Feb. 7 headline after we reached out.
Donald Trump and his allies filed dozens of lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to challenge the results of the 2020 election. Some Trump-friendly websites make it seem like the former president prevailed in the majority of them.
The Feb. 7 headline of an article from the Epoch Times, a media outlet backed by the Falun Gong religious movement, said: "Trump Won Two-Thirds of Election Lawsuits Where Merits Considered."
"Of the 22 cases that have been heard by the courts and decided on their merits, Trump and Republicans have prevailed in 15," the site wrote. "This means Trump has won two-thirds of the cases fully adjudicated by the courts."
The article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The Epoch Times attributed the tally to John Droz Jr., who it described as a "physicist and environmental advocate in Morehead City, N.C." Droz is a political activist who has denied the science of climate change and advocated against legislation aimed at mitigating sea-level rise.
None of the lawsuits filed by Trump and his supporters have proved there was fraud, and judges across the political spectrum have rejected their cases. But we wanted to take a closer look at the claim that the challenges were more successful than they appear.
The Epoch Times’ headline gives the impression that Trump won several election-related lawsuits on their merits. But only one of the cases cited by the article was decided after Nov. 3, many were not exclusively about Trump, and some were not related to the general presidential election at all.
"No one from the Epoch Times spoke to me about their article, so they made their own conclusions," Droz told PolitiFact.
After we reached out to the Epoch Times for a comment, the website changed its headline to read: "In Two-Thirds of Election Lawsuits Where Merits Considered Decisions Are Favorable to Trump."
In its article, the Epoch Times cited an analysis of "81 lawsuits that were filed in connection with the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election."
Droz and a team of volunteers spearheaded that work and published their findings in a public spreadsheet. It includes cases spanning from March to December 2020 and links to copies of lawsuits published by the Healthy Elections Project, an initiative from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Between November and December, Trump and his allies lost dozens of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results. Some cases were rejected because plaintiffs failed to prove widespread voter fraud.
In a statement on his website, Droz conceded that the majority of the cases he logged have nothing to do with allegations of voter fraud. The Epoch Times also included that disclaimer in its article.
"The article (and our former and current headlines) clearly indicate that these are lawsuits related to the election, not about the election results," the Epoch Times’ public relations team wrote in an email. "And the article (and the Droz spreadsheet) indicate the cases involve Trump or the GOP — a lawsuit's outcome can be favorable to Trump even if he is not the plaintiff."
In his spreadsheet, Droz found that "Trump and/or the GOP plaintiff prevailed in 15 out of 21 cases decided on the merits" related to the election. "Decided on merits" a note in the spreadsheet says, means the plaintiff "was able to argue the facts of the case, and, if applicable, given opportunity to present evidence via discovery."
That’s more or less how the Cornell Legal Information Institute defines the term. The opposite of adjudicating cases on their merits is deciding them on procedural grounds. For example, some lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies were dismissed because they contained errors or faced jurisdictional problems.
Of the 15 cases in Droz’s spreadsheet, three were filed on or after Election Day. None of them involved allegations of voter fraud.
And of those three, just one case, filed Nov. 4, had to do with the election results. It centered on reducing the amount of time Pennsylvania voters had to fix errors on their mail-in ballots. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee were granted an injunction against the secretary of state to prevent extending the proof of ID period by three days. The matter involved a small number of ballots that didn’t change the outcome.
"Trump won one case in the post-election and lost 64," said Marc Elias, a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm who has represented Democrats in the lawsuits.
Trump has not prevailed in any cases that allege voter fraud or seek to overturn the election results.
"The key place to challenge election results is in state court election contests. Trump and his allies brought a few and lost because he did not have evidence of any error or wrongdoing in any state that could have affected the results," said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. "Those cases are hard to win by design, and so Trump and his allies shifted to other suits, such as those in federal court, making legally dubious claims."
Trump and his allies have only won one lawsuit since Election Day. But what about those filed prior to Nov. 3?
We looked at each of the lawsuits that Droz noted as a victory for Trump on their merits, dating back to March 2020. Among them are cases like RNC v. Miller and Texas v. Hollins, which blocked election officials from prepopulating mail ballots with voter information and sending applications to all registered voters. Other cases are not directly about Trump or his claims about mail ballots, such as a federal court’s decision to stay an injunction that delayed Arizona’s voter registration deadline by 18 days.
"What we are trying to do is to identify all lawsuits related to the 2020 presidential election," Droz said. "In other words, these are not all directly about Trump. For example, most of them have to do with things like whether modified state election laws were changed legally."But some of the cases Droz counted as wins for Trump and the GOP aren’t directly related to the general presidential election.
For example, Jefferson v. Dane County, filed in late March, sought to order an election official in Wisconsin to remove a Facebook post about the proper use of "indefinitely confined" status for voters requesting absentee ballots. Ritchie v. Polis, filed in May, had to do with whether a petition to put a measure on the ballot in Colorado had to be signed in the presence of a ballot circulator during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among Droz’s tally of wins for "Trump and/or the GOP plaintiff," the Trump campaign was a complainant on four successful election lawsuits, two of which were filed prior to Nov. 3.
Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Marymount University, said, numbers aside, the focus on cases decided on their merits paints a misleading picture of the Trump campaign’s election litigation.
"The procedural dismissals aren’t all small things," Levitt said. "Some of them are bad lawyering. But some of them are dismissals, because Trump supporters tried to challenge laws well over a year after they were passed, well after ballots had gone out to eligible voters who had the right to rely on the fact that the ballots they were receiving were lawful, and well after the election was over."
The Epoch Times wrote Feb. 7 that Trump won "two-thirds of election lawsuits where merits (were) considered."
That claim is not literally true. The Epoch Times revised its headline after we reached out.
Trump and his allies have won one lawsuit related to the results of the 2020 election, and that case did not prove that widespread voter fraud affected the outcome. Judges across the political spectrum have rejected dozens of other cases filed after Nov. 3 that sought to overturn the election. Just because a case is dismissed on procedural grounds does not mean it wasn’t duly considered.
While the body of the Epoch Times’ story contains some of that nuance, its previous headline did not. We rate it False.
RELATED: Donald Trump has lost dozens of election lawsuits. Here’s why
Cornell Legal Information Institute, "on the merits"
Cornell Legal Information Institute, "Preliminary injunction"
CrowdTangle, accessed Feb. 8, 2021
Democracy Docket, Post-election cases
Email from the Epoch Times, Feb. 9, 2021
Email from John Droz Jr., Feb. 9, 2021
Emails from Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Marymount University, Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, 2021
Email from Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer and partner at Perkins Coie LLP, Feb. 8, 2021
Email from Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, Feb. 8, 2021
The Epoch Times, "Trump Won Two-Thirds of Election Lawsuits Where Merits Considered," Feb. 7, 2021
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Trump campaign hasn't provided evidence to back up claim of Wisconsin election 'irregularities,’" Nov. 5, 2020
Ohio State University, "KEY CASES ADDRESSING CLAIMS CONCERNING THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION"
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump has lost dozens of election lawsuits. Here’s why," Dec. 10, 2020
PolitiFact, "Fact-checking false claims about the 2020 election," Nov. 20, 2020
PolitiFact, "Trump’s cascade of falsehoods about voting by mail," Nov. 1, 2020
PolitiFact, "Trump does not have more electoral votes than Biden," Nov. 12, 2020
The New York Times, "How The Epoch Times Created a Giant Influence Machine," Oct. 24, 2020
Scientific American, "The Man Who Makes Sea Level Rise Go Away," Sept. 30, 2013
STANFORD-MIT HEALTHY ELECTIONS PROJECT, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Kathy Boockvar, et al.
STANFORD-MIT HEALTHY ELECTIONS PROJECT, Jefferson v. Dane County
STANFORD-MIT HEALTHY ELECTIONS PROJECT, Mi Familia Vota v. Hobbs
STANFORD-MIT HEALTHY ELECTIONS PROJECT, Ritchie v. Polis
STANFORD-MIT HEALTHY ELECTIONS PROJECT, RNC v. Miller
STANFORD-MIT HEALTHY ELECTIONS PROJECT, Texas v. Hollins
USA Today, "By the numbers: President Donald Trump's failed efforts to overturn the election," Jan. 6, 2021
The Washington Post, "‘The last wall’: How dozens of judges across the political spectrum rejected Trump’s efforts to overturn the election," Dec. 12, 2020
Wise Energy, "2020 Presidential Election Lawsuits Related to Election Integrity"
Wise Energy, "2020 Presidential Election Lawsuits — the Facts"
WRAL, "Sea-level bill: Who is John Droz?" June 6, 2012
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Trump did not win two-thirds of election lawsuits ‘where merits considered’
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