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The disputes revolve largely around mailed ballots, which President Trump has repeatedly claimed are vulnerable to voter fraud.Steven Senne/The Associated Press

The Trump campaign says it is asking the courts to call a halt to vote-counting in two battleground states, one in which Democratic challenger Joe Biden is narrowly leading President Donald Trump, and another in which he is gathering momentum as mailed ballots are tabulated.

Lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania are among a swirl of current and expected legal challenges, as both the Republican and Democratic parties seek a measure of control over the resolution of Tuesday’s bitterly contested election.

They come at a time when, fearing election-related violence, stores in New York, Los Angeles and Washington boarded up their windows, and even the White House installed an unclimbable fence.

One law professor referred to the courts as a necessary safety valve at a difficult time.

“Imagine if we didn’t have that,” Claire Finkelstein, director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

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“Then what would be left? How would we sort out these disputes? There would just be blood in the streets – which I think there may be anyway.”

The disputes revolve largely around mailed ballots, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly said are vulnerable to voter fraud. Because of the pandemic, voters turned in numbers greater than ever before to the mail. (In Pennsylvania, at least 2.5 million people voted this way.) But it was mostly in the cities where voters used the mail. And it is the cities where Democrats tend to be strong. So late-arriving votes in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (in Pennsylvania), in Detroit (Michigan) and Atlanta (Georgia) could prove crucial.

“The Trump campaign strategy is to try to do as much as they can to push back on the count of absentee and mail-in ballots,” Prof. Finkelstein said. “If he can get rid of all ballots coming in by mail after election day, as many of them as possible, he will be able to maintain his lead in Pennsylvania.”

The Republicans are also seeking to have the U.S. Supreme Court rule that mailed votes arriving in Pennsylvania in a three-day window after the election be excluded from the count. The state’s Supreme Court previously ordered that ballots be included if they were mailed by election day and arrive by Nov. 6. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice refused Republican requests to do something about it.

But that could change – even though people made their decisions on when to mail their ballots under the rules in place at the time – if a majority of the judges decide not to defer to a state court in the interpretation of state law, said David Gartner, an associate dean at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. (The case could put new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the test, he said.)

Prof. Gartner said that state and federal courts are unlikely to want to shut down vote-counting, as the Trump campaign wants them to do with its new lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania. (The 2000 case of George W. Bush v. Al Gore was different, he said, in that it was about a recount, in the face of a deadline.) “We don’t have a lot of tradition of stopping the counting of votes,” he said.

The lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania demand vote-counting be stopped until Republican officials are given “meaningful access” to the locations where the counting is taking place. (Mr. Biden appears to have won by a small margin in Michigan, and is catching up in Pennsylvania as mailed ballots are counted.)

Also in Pennsylvania, Republican candidates and voters filed two lawsuits contesting the permission granted voters in some counties to correct ballots they had spoiled. (For instance, where voters neglected to put their ballot in the proper envelope.) The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some county officials interviewed on Tuesday said they contacted voters directly about problems with their ballots, while others contacted political parties, who then tracked down voters. Some counties felt that fixing spoiled ballots was illegal and did not permit it. It is unclear how many ballots are at issue in the two cases.

Separately, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep its facilities for potentially missing ballots in about a dozen states. But the postal service did not conduct the sweep by the judge’s deadline on Tuesday afternoon, prompting Justice Emmet Sullivan to say he was “shocked” at the lack of compliance. It still has not revealed the results of its sweep, Prof. Finkelstein said, and Justice Sullivan said he would require Louis DeJoy, the postmaster-general, to explain himself.

The Democrats could file a lawsuit in a bid to force the postal service to turn over the results, Prof. Finkelstein said. The Biden campaign may resort to court action even if Mr. Biden is ahead, to protect his rights in the event of recounts, she said.

The initial lawsuit was brought by the civil rights organization NAACP and other groups.

Recounts will almost certainly lead to litigation, Prof. Finkelstein said.

“I think we could see quite a flurry of litigation over the next month,” she said.

The deadline in federal law is Dec. 8 for states with contested results to certify a winner, and Dec. 14 for the Electoral College delegations in each state to meet and vote. (Americans vote indirectly for president through the Electoral College.)

There could still be a court challenge in Pennsylvania if Mr. Biden wins the popular vote and the Republican-controlled state legislature declares Mr. Trump the winner on account of voter fraud or some other problem. The Democratic Governor would disagree, leading to litigation that could go to the Supreme Court before the December deadlines.

Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud in mailed ballots play to the Republican legislators who in Pennsylvania are “pretty rabid” supporters of the President, Prof. Finkelstein said. “If everything were normal, which it’s probably not, I would say it is not very likely at all. But I think the GOP is putting its stakes in the ground to try to make sure they have the ability to do that.”

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