First Person | As GOP challengers, we faced ‘open intimidation’ in Detroit

Bridge Michigan solicited and is publishing stories from poll workers and watchers of both major political parties.  

I arrived at the TCF Center in Detroit at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to volunteer as a “Election Challenger/Poll Watcher.” My role was to observe the vote counting process.   I was asked to report on short notice after being told by a state GOP official that new ballots were being delivered to the center at 4 a.m. that morning. [Editor’s note: This may refer to a claim, since debunked, of late-arriving ballots that turned out to be camera equipment belonging to a Detroit television photographer.]

After receiving training at the GOP office, I proceeded to the ballot processing center. 

Anne Vanker, 54, of Grosse Pointe, was a Republican poll challenger during the ballot count Wednesday in Detroit.

I first took a position behind a counting table and attempted to stand and observe poll workers at a counting table. However, I was immediately reproached and told repeatedly that I could not stand behind the poll workers.   

I repositioned myself so that I was able to watch a monitor.  

The view on the monitor displayed an electronic review of each ballot, essentially matching each ballot to a registered voter. If there wasn’t an electronic match, the poll worker would look at a supplemental list to find the name of the voter on the ballot. If the name on the ballot was not found on the supplemental list, the worker would place the ballot in a box labelled “Problem Ballots” and periodically another worker would transfer these ballots to a table on a raised platform in the middle of the room.

When I asked if I could record the numbers on the “problem ballots,” I was told that I could not. When I persisted and asked to speak to a supervisor, I was again denied. I followed the ballots to the “processing” area and demanded to speak to the head supervisor, Mr. Baxter. He then allowed me to copy down the ballot numbers to submit as challenged ballots. When I asked what the people on the platform were going to do with the ballots it was explained they were going to “determine” whether the ballots were valid. 

A short while later I noticed a box full of ballots that were marked “Not on Voter Register or Supplemental List” and I asked to record the ballots. I was again denied, and I again went to speak to Mr. Baxter, who then instructed poll workers to allow me to record the ballot and precinct numbers. 

Over the next six hours, as each group of ballots was taken out and put on the table, I wrote down the numbers on more than 500 ballots that were from voters who were not registered nor on the supplemental lists. In addition, approximately 10 percent of the disputed ballots had no signatures on the outside of the envelope.  

When I asked what was to happen to the hundreds of ballots being contested, I was told that “they would be reviewed.”  No further explanation was offered by the staff and I don’t know what became of those ballots.
I felt that the atmosphere was one of open intimidation by both Democratic observers and poll workers. It was obvious that my colleagues and I were Republican observers and yet (or because) we were repeatedly denied access to supervisors. When we asked to challenge ballots at the tables, staff yelled at us to “stand away” from the tables, essentially making it impossible to see if signatures were present or matched. 

Later in the morning, Detroit Police showed up and denied any additional observers from entering the room. This was in spite of the fact that there were over 100 tables at which ballots were being processed. Around mid-day, GOP observers who were returning from lunch were denied re-entry as was the GOP attorney who had left the area to make copies of affidavits for signatures.

All in all, the operation seemed to imbue average citizen poll workers with unwarranted authority and power while projecting an air of deception and secrecy.

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Fri, 11/06/2020 - 9:29pm

Wow. . . Karen had to ask for the manager more than once, but ultimately got what she wanted? The horror. . . the tyranny. . . If I didn't know better, I'd think this was North Korea.

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 5:17am

How many Black people from Detroit were poll watchers in your town?

Time to heal
Sat, 11/07/2020 - 5:19am

Trump, Trump enablers, game over. Don't be sore losers. Law and order won.

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 6:49am

Those rules are all in place for good reasons. If the GOP candidate was winning, she wouldn't want Democrat poll watchers having access to the ballots. No one but the paid staff is supposed to have their hands on the ballots - it ensures that ballots aren't tampered with.

That is the least intimidating scene I can imagine. No one was glaring at her, yelling at her, telling her she wasn't allowed to be there, or telling her to leave. She was being pushy and trying to get unusual access to ballots. She asked questions and they answered them. And they accuse us of being snowflakes.

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 8:04am

The idea that the GOP would accuse anyone else of open intimidation is the funniest thing I've heard this week.

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 8:24am

No kidding, it's not like the poll workers were armed, as we see many ardent Republican thugs.

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 11:32am

There are important differences between rights and duties of Election Challengers and Poll Watchers. The author describes themself as an "Election Challenger/Poll Watcher", making it difficult to understand whether the requests they describe making were things within their rights or not.

For example, Challengers have the right to stand or sit behind a processing table, while Watchers do not. Given the author claims they were told they could not stand behind a processing table, it seems they could have been a Watcher, meaning they did not have the right to do so. However, the opinion piece implies not being able to stand behind a processing table was somehow incorrect.

To be a Challenger, you must be a registered voter and appointed to the role. It's easier to become a Watcher as you do not need to be be a registered voter or appointed. However, Watchers have fewer rights and duties than Challengers.

Details on the differences between Challengers and Watchers can be found at

Helen Alford
Sat, 11/07/2020 - 12:33pm

My comment is in regard to the comment made, "Around mid-day, GOP observers who were returning from lunch were denied re-entry as was the GOP attorney who had left the area to make copies of affidavits for signatures." I was told from people who also were serving at the polls as counters or observers (one in Traverse City and one in Oscoda County), that they were instructed to bring with them all that they would need for the day (water, lunch, snacks, etc...), as they would not be allowed to leave and come back in. This was for the integrity of the count. So, I am not sure why Ms. Vanker noted this as strange...isn't the rule of not being able to come in once you leave protocol for all areas? I am sincerely asking, as this puzzled me.

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 12:30pm

Hi Helen. From what I understand from reading many first hand accounts and having a close friend at the TCH Center who observed a lot, the Democratic poll challenges and watchers had a place in the room for food and drinks while the GOP poll challengers and watchers had to go outside of the room. I was not there personally so I do not know first hand if this is true but it is a question worth asking.

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 8:28am

TCF Center? Is all your info hearsay? You sound like Trump: A lot of people are saying.... I don't know if it's true, but a lot of people are saying.

Charlotte Morton
Wed, 11/11/2020 - 2:27pm

According to the document listed: , If you are a Challenger in an absentee counting board, "only one challenger per political party ... may serve in an absent counter board." "Additionally, an challenger who serves in an absent voter counting board is required to remain in the room where the absent voting g board is working until the polls close at 8:00PM....

Sat, 11/07/2020 - 3:19pm

Why are you running these whine baby stories? These are Trumpers without a clue about the process or how it works. Complaints about ballots arriving, what were the people there doing, counting ballots. They have to be brought in, the voting didn't take place at Cobo.

Accept it folks, you got beat , save your money on lawyers and live with it.

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 7:45am

So, it appears she was not properly trained by her party. There is no evidence of fraud, other than her suspicions, based on the fact she was asked to follow the rules. As anonymous points out, it's not clear if she was a watcher or challenger. She may not have even known the difference herself, given the apparent lack of training. She "felt" "open intimidation" yet provides no example. Yet, I fear, she will continue to spread the unsubstantiated narrative that she uses herself in her last two words: "deception and secrecy."

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 8:32am

Now Bill Barr and GOP cohorts in the senate are the new Karens stoking fraudulent conspiracy theories with no evidence.

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 11:04am

If you really want to know how the process works, instead of being a challenger/poll watcher, actually train and become an Elections Inspector. THEN you will realize why 500 or so ballots in this contest wouldn't have kept the GOP from losing Michigan, what happens to the ballots that are challenged, and why NO ONE from either party would commit a felony for any candidate. That isn't why we show up. We are there because we believe in free, honest elections, and that everyone's voice should be heard. Those of us who spend the time, invest the energy and expend the effort, working side by side with the OPPOSING party at the same table, to insure a honest and fair election, do so with the complete understanding, swearing an oath to the constitution, that whoever gets the most votes wins. It is our job to make sure every vote legally cast, eligible to be counted, is counted. Unless you want to learn the process, just get over it. We have been subjected to ridicule, intimidation, had our integrity disparaged, and accused of cheating. All so we could make sure that YOUR vote could be lawfully counted, while you spent your time trying to disenfranchise others using nefarious and unfound reasons. Your team lost because your candidate was rebuked nationwide, not because anyone who didn't, and wouldn't, vote for him committed felonies to alter the reality of the count.

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 12:26pm

Remember when the Republicans were accusing Democrats of not excepting the election results? Don't remember Democrats dressing up like toy soldiers and marching on the capitol.

Karen Ann Carson
Mon, 11/09/2020 - 9:00am

Ms Vanker states she arrived to TCF on short notice. She needed to be trained. So it sounds like she was trying to insert herself into the process. Of course she should not have been let in! There were already people on both side and no. Partisan people, plus camera’s. The citizens have voted and it is time for the losing side to accept the results.

Lyle Axelarris
Mon, 11/09/2020 - 10:36am

I received 3 hours of training, became a credentialed "Challenger," and witnessed 33 hours of ballot counting inside the TFC Center. It is clear that the author of this article was not fully trained on the procedures, and came into to the counting room with preconceived notions of conspiracy (which have been thoroughly debunked).
Those of us who were in the room on Tuesday, before the emergence of rumors of mystery ballots (which turned out to be camera equipment), enjoyed a calm and informative experience, filled with civil discourse between Dem and GOP Challengers. The calm atmosphere allowed for the time and clarity required to correctly understand the process. Every time I asked a supervisor a question (yes, Karen, sometimes you actually have to WALK OVER to a supervisor to ask a question), I got a very clear answer that helped me understand something that seemed odd at face value (like how non-matching ballot numbers are processed (automatically considered "challenged ballots"), or why blank birthdates are recorded as "1/1/1900", or ballots having to run through the tabulator more than once since the stack was "reset" due to a torn ballot, etc.). I would discuss these answers with Democratic and Republican Challengers alike, and everything made sense to all of us observing the process.

Wednesday morning, everything changed because a new wave of GOP challengers got rushed into the process (apparently with minimal training), expecting to see the same nefarious activities that were the basis of the false rumors that spread throughout the Trump-tilted portions of the Internet overnight. It was amazing to witness how easily false information can distort people's perspectives and behavior. The conduct of GOP Challengers was reprehensible, dangerous, and served well to intimidate election inspectors and slow down the process. Several GOP Challengers took pictures of voters names and inspection workers names (numerous examples on Facebook/Twitter, and I personally witnessed 4 examples of this), so they were correctly escorted by Police out of the room.

I would recommend that any reader who is interested in a deeper understanding of what occurred at the TFC Center read the other two "First Person" pieces in the Bridge, and the Detroit Free Press's reporting on the subject. For the detailed procedures that were followed at TFC, see the official State of Michigan Bureau of Elections Guidelines:

Good Lord!
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 8:38am

"Several GOP Challengers took pictures of voters names." That's who Barr should be investigating and jailing.

KIKI Johnson
Mon, 11/09/2020 - 1:30pm

You know what? If you are so SURE that ballots are fraudulent, work at the next election as a poll worker. You will understand the system.
Personally, if someone was hovering over me (or someones as was also reported), I'd flip the table on them. I do not take kindly this type of intimidation and that is EXACTLY what observing is. I do not care what the law allows and disallows. The type of "observing" done by the GOP in Detroit (why not Ann Arbor, Oakland, Ingham . . . why weren't those observers being ridiculous?) is crazy.

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 1:56pm

So what's up with the 500 ballots she was trying to prove were inappropriate? She wrote numbers down for 6 hours, surely she had someone investigate them. Were they tampered with or not?

You kidding?
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 8:39am

No, otherwise it would be all over the internet and people would be jailed.

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 8:56am

Not kidding. Just frustrated that people are allowed to say anything they want, and neither the author nor the editor have any responsibility to follow up with any facts. Is it intentionally misleading when facts can be verified, but no one makes an effort to do so.

Wed, 11/18/2020 - 8:43am

Agreed. This kind of "there are good poeple on both sides" reporting lets people who are bent on winning without having a dialogue get the headlines and then pivot to the next headline while the other side (the readers) spend hours reading articles about why the headline was wrong. Meanwhile there are 17 new wrong headlines that we need to post about.

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 7:02pm

Sounds like Ms. Vanker and most of the other Michigan GOP need to repeat their High School government class.

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 9:42am

All I see is a white woman with privilege, lying. There was no intimidation, except by the Trump challengers. I talked with various poll workers there. The intimidation was coming from people like Anne.

Wells1 Michael
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 10:52pm

I'm really disappointed to see The Bridge printing this confused and misinformation-filled screed almost entirely without fact-checking. Ordinary people in this comments section did a better job of giving context and correction. Very irresponsible, Bridge.

Dennis Murphy
Fri, 11/20/2020 - 1:14pm

Her complaint about signature matching is one facet we need to get rid of- First, neither poll challengers or election workers are handwriting experts. Second, it is documented that peoples signatures change over time, as well in short term if someone is ill or has medical conditions.

As to feeling hostility? OF course because everyone there knew Republicans were NOT there to ensure fair election but rather to try to do as much as they could to disenfranchise people- Republican watchers goal was to see to get votes tossed, not ensure votes were counted. I experienced similar as a Poll watcher/Challenger at a precinct in Grand Rapids where my Republican counterpart hovered over the workers scanning signatures