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GOP Election Law Veteran Hearne Joins Trump Ballot Fight (2)

Nov. 5, 2020, 7:30 PMUpdated: Nov. 5, 2020, 9:29 PM

Longtime GOP election lawyer Mark “Thor” Hearne, II has joined the ranks of Republican attorneys aiming to slow or stop ballot counting in presidential election battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia.

Hearne, the national legal election counsel for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, is the attorney of record in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the state of Michigan. He has also been linked to a defunct advocacy group focused on prosecuting alleged voter fraud.

The Michigan lawsuit aims to stop a vote collection effort that had appeared to be bending toward Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The campaign filed a similar action against Pennsylvania officials Wednesday.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens said at a hearing Thursday that she planned to toss the suit through a written order she will issue Friday. The Trump campaign is likely to appeal, if its ongoing national legal blitz to try to stop vote-counting in some states, and to seek recounts in others, is any indication. The campaign didn’t immediately respond to questions.

Hearne filed the suit on behalf of the Trump campaign, as well as Eric Ostergren, described as an election “challenger” and a registered voter in Roscommon County, Mich. Ostergren was excluded from a local counting board during the absent voter ballot review process, according to the suit.

The lawsuit argues that state election law requires at least one inspector from each major political party to be present at the “absent voter counting place,"where absentee votes are processed and counted. State officials violated the law by processing votes without inspectors present, according to the Trump campaign.

State law also allows interested citizens to designate a “challenger” to be present at counting boards “to observe the manners in which the duties of the election inspectors are being performed,” the suit claims.

Hearne was unavailable to comment.

The Biden campaign has repeatedly rejected the premise of Trump’s ballot suits, arguing instead that all ballots need to be counted. “If the president makes good on his threat to go to court to try to prevent the proper tabulation of votes, we have legal teams standing by ready to deploy to resist that effort. And they will prevail,” said Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon in a Wednesday statement.

Voter Fraud Claims

Hearne, a partner with the St. Louis-based firm True North Law, has been involved with conservative legal matters for decades, according to his online bio.

He has been linked in court documents to the American Center for Voting Rights, a conservative group where he reportedly served as general counsel in the 2000s. The center reportedly dedicated much of its work to urging the Justice Department to prosecute voters accused of fraud.

Rick Hasen, an election expert at the University of California, Irvine, in 2007 called the now-defunct group “the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem, a problem warranting strict rules such as voter-ID laws.”

Hasen declined to comment on the new suit in Michigan. He said it doesn’t surprise him that Hearne is now part of the president’s legal team, given that he’s been pushing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud since “well before Trump came on the political scene.”

In 2000, Hearne served as then-candidate George W. Bush’s lead counsel in Missouri. He worked as Bush’s national election counsel during the former president’s reelection campaign four years later and served as legal counsel to former Secretary of State James Baker.

Hearne argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a group of Arizona voters who challenged a redistricting plan from the Arizona state legislature in 2015, on the ground that the plan’s districts were insufficiently equal in population. The court ruled against the group in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer.

Hearne is a former partner with Lathrop Gage in St. Louis, an AmLaw 200 firm based on gross revenues, which has since rebranded itself as Lathrop GPM. He’s concentrated much of his recent work on property rights cases. In 2019, he joined the Owners’ Counsel of America as a D.C. member. The group describes itself as a network of experienced eminent domain attorneys “dedicated to defending the rights of private property owners across the country.”

“Meaningful Access”

More lawsuits could be on the way as ballots continue to be counted in a number of key battleground states and Biden edges closer to claiming victory.

“As votes in Michigan continue to be counted, the presidential race in the state remains extremely tight as we always knew it would be,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement on the Michigan suit posted on the Trump campaign’s website. “President Trump’s campaign has not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law.”

The campaign has also filed a lawsuit in Georgia, asking a judge to force counties to separate late-arriving ballots. The team of attorneys that filed the suit includes former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, who currently heads the political law practice in Washington for the Milwaukee-based firm Michael Best & Friedrich.

(A new fourth paragraph has been added to include details about a Michigan judge's plans to dismiss the lawsuit.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com

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