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Don’t blame fraud: Dwindling suburban support lost Michigan for Trump

Without evidence, President Donald Trump on Thursday claimed he had won Michigan and that “corruption” in Detroit had prevented his official victory.

The numbers tell a far different story.

While laser-focused on Detroit, the Trump campaign has said little about any voting problems in the suburbs of metro Detroit and Grand Rapids, places where Democrats saw the huge gains that propelled former Vice President Joe Biden to a victory in the state.

The Detroit results — Biden won by 233,000 votes — are in line with historical trends, except Trump got 5,000 more votes there than he did in 2016.

Corwin Smidt, a political science professor at Michigan State University, said the Democratic vote totals in the city, its turnout and its totals compared to the rest of Wayne County were all in line with recent federal and state elections.

“Detroit … it’s within the pattern in Wayne County,” he said. 

Biden’s win was instead crafted beyond Detroit, in the suburbs where Democrats came out in big numbers and many Republicans likely switched their support to the former vice president.

But Trump isn’t talking about those profound changes, in mostly white communities in suburban Oakland County and Kent County.

Biden flipped Kent County in west Michigan to Democrats four years after Trump won it by 9,500 votes. Like Detroit, it took a while to count.

Lisa Posthumus Lyons, the Republican clerk of Kent County, said there were no problems with the count that finished 36 hours after the polls closed, she said, because over 200,000 absentee votes were cast, well more than double any previous election.

“There was nothing that was unexpected. It was not out of the ordinary,” she said. “We were not going to sacrifice security and accuracy for speed.”

Kent County finished counting ballots ahead of Wayne County and Detroit, but not by much. Posthumus Lyons said counting absentee ballots is an “arduous” process that simply takes time.

Those many hours, she said, “it’s not an indication of fraud, it’s an indication that we’re doing things well,” she said.

Nor did the Trump camp mention Livingston County, whose clerk is a Republican. A surge of Democratic voters there — Republican votes increased too, buoyed by a 20 percent increase in votes — narrowed Trump’s margin from 31,300 in 2016 to 28,800.

Clerk Elizabeth Hundley said no one has questioned her totals and she stands by them.

Hundley was pleased that nearly 80 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots, including nearly 79,000 by absentee ballot, a record. “I can only hope … that voters should always be this engaged,” she said.

Trump was hurt in other areas that have not been mentioned as potential sources of fraud or incompetence:

  • In Macomb County, Trump won but received nearly 10,000 fewer votes than he did in 2016. 

  • In Midland County, Trump received 1,000 fewer votes than in 2016.

  • In Northville, the home of Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, voters supported Biden by 55 percentage points after giving Clinton a narrow 49-46 percent win over Trump in 2016.

Across the state, turnout increased more in Trump-leaning counties and less in Democratic-leaning ones, said Smidt, the Michigan State professor.

In fact, Michigan’s countywide vote breakdowns in the 2018 gubernatorial race and this year’s primaries closely mirror the results from the 2020 election, Smidt said.

There were no unexplainable surges of Democratic votes in any county.

“In the end I don’t see any reason that there’s ‘manufactured’ voters anywhere or there were extra votes counted,” Smidt said.

Kent’s flip to Biden was foreshadowed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s win there in 2018, and the blue shift in Oakland by the same 2018 election that saw several congressional and state legislative seats flipped by Democrats.

Take Ottawa County, one of the most reliably Republican counties in the nation. Trump won with 62 percent in 2016 but by just under 60 percent this week. Combined with a rise in Democratic votes, Trump won the county by 7,500 fewer votes than he had in 2016.

That doesn’t surprise Smidt because former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette won there with 57 percent of the vote despite casting himself as the pro-Trump candidate.

“Everything I’m seeing is fitting the pattern,” he said.

And if Democrats were to rig an election for Biden in Detroit, wouldn’t they also try to help U.S. Sen. Gary Peters in his bid to hold off Republican John James?

Peters, who narrowly beat James, got 227,486 votes in Detroit, 6,422 fewer than Biden. 

James got 12,734 votes, 80 votes more than Trump got.

State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, is a former Oakland County clerk and Michigan secretary of state. Her office audited Detroit’s 2016 election and found widespread problems — but not intentional fraud.

She said she’s concerned about what she has heard about this week’s counting process, including the alleged restriction of Republican poll challengers from the absentee counting areas. 

Despite those problems, though, Johnson said she does not believe a challenge could uncover enough evidence to change Biden’s victory.

“I think it would be an awful tall mountain to climb,” she said.

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