With just hours remaining before polls open across the US, and with tens of millions of early votes already cast, legal questions continue to hang over the contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in several important battleground states.

Both Republicans and Democrats have prepared for the possibility of court battles on and after election day. Mr Trump on Sunday said “we are going in with our lawyers” as soon as Tuesday evening, the latest declaration by the US president that he could rely on the courts to deliver him a victory.

Ultimately, any post-election litigation will be driven by events on and after polling day — as well as how close the vote appears in initial counting. But lawyers for Mr Trump have already moved to limit the vote count in several states, and the recent cases have drawn the outlines of a possible election dispute and, in some instances, laid the groundwork for it.

Texas

Electoral votes: 38

2016 winner: Donald Trump

2020 status: Toss-up

Long a safe Republican state, Texas is this year a surprising battleground that Mr Biden has a shot at turning blue. On Wednesday Republicans failed in a last-minute attempt to throw out almost 130,000 votes cast in Harris county, which covers Houston and is likely to tilt Democratic.

Four Texas Republicans sued to disqualify ballots cast at the county’s “drive-through facilities”, where citizens vote from their cars at pop-up polling locations.

The Texas Supreme Court has twice rejected Republican challenges to Harris County’s drive-through voting. A federal district judge, Andrew Hanen, also tossed out a related case on Monday.

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Republicans have signalled they intend to appeal against Just Hanen’s ruling to a New Orleans-based federal appeals court. They will also appeal to the US Supreme Court against a Texas state supreme court decision on Sunday that rejected a lawsuit seeking to throw out the same votes. 

The FT’s account of the Harris county official who dreamt up the drive-through voting system can be found here.

Pennsylvania

Electoral votes: 20

2016 winner: Donald Trump

2020 status: Toss-up

Pennsylvania is a key state for both candidates, and its election rules are still not settled. Mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after November 3 are ostensibly valid under a state court decision, but election officials are segregating those ballots pending further litigation.

Though the US Supreme Court has so far declined Republican requests to strike down the extension, the case remains live.

In a close race, those late-arriving ballots — uncounted and stored safely away — could take on outsized importance in deciding the presidency if they are declared invalid.

The FT’s final look at Mr Trump’s eleventh-hour push in Pennsylvania, and why it has become pivotal to his re-election chances, can be found here.

Minnesota

Electoral votes: 10

2016 winner: Hillary Clinton

2020 status: Lean Democratic

One of the important Midwestern battleground states, Minnesota has also seen litigation over its deadlines for mail-in ballots. And like in Pennsylvania, the state is preparing to build a pile of segregated ballots that could prove pivotal in a close race.

State election officials, in a move approved by a Minnesota state court, had extended the deadline for mailed ballots to arrive by seven days, as long as they are sent by November 3.

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Republicans sued to block the extension, and in a split decision last week, a federal appeals court sided with them in an initial ruling that ordered ballots arriving after polling day to be kept separate and uncounted pending further litigation.

A video analysis of voting trends in Minnesota and other states in the upper Midwest can be found here.

North Carolina

Electoral votes: 15

2016 winner: Donald Trump

2020 status: Toss-up

The question of ballot deadlines is also being contested in North Carolina, where the state elections board in a court-approved settlement said mail ballots could arrive up to six days after November 3.

The US Supreme Court last week declined to issue an injunction against the extension, but the case remains live in the lower courts.

An FT look at the changing demographics of the “new South” and how it has put North Carolina in play can be found here.

Wisconsin

Electoral votes: 10

2016 winner: Donald Trump

2020 status: Lean Democratic

Another key Midwest state, ballot deadlines were also extended in Wisconsin, but by a federal judge rather than state authorities. The US Supreme Court last week rejected a request from Democrats to allow the extension to stand after an appeals court blocked it.

An FT look at voter turnout in Wisconsin, and how Democrats are trying to boost African-American participation in Milwaukee and other cities, can be found here.

Via Financial Times