As Joe Biden leads Michigan, President Trump seeks to derail count

Early results from in-person voting in Michigan favored President Donald Trump. But absentee ballots, which take longer to count, have favored Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

LANSING — With Republican President Donald Trump falling behind in Michigan’s ongoing absentee ballot count, his campaign sued the state Wednesday to halt the process, while GOP operatives flooded into Detroit where ballots were being counted.

In a manic sequel to a rollercoaster election night, Trump took action as it appeared he was headed toward defeat in Michigan, filing a complaint in the Michigan Court of Claims that claimed poll challengers were denied access, but the suit does not document any specific incidents or identify any jurisdictions by name. 

The suit also claims Michigan has denied poll challenger access to video surveillance of absentee ballot drop boxes. That’s not mandated under state law, however, and cities are only required to use video surveillance on new boxes installed outdoors since Oct. 1. 

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The complaint is part of a flurry of legal action in battleground states as Trump looks to deny Democratic challenger Joe Biden a path to the White House. The president’s campaign on Wednesday also asked a judge to block counting of some mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania and requested a recount in Wisconsin.

Michigan law allows for the continual presence of both poll watchers and poll challengers in precincts, including absentee counting boards. The latter must be appointed by political parties or qualified interest groups and can stand or sit behind ballot processing tables. 

Numerous media outlets reported both Republican and Democratic poll challengers at polling places and absentee ballot counting boards, including the TCF Center in Detroit where the city’s absentee ballots are being tabulated. 

“Michigan’s elections have been conducted transparently, with access provided for both political parties and the public, and using a robust system of checks and balances to ensure that all ballots are counted fairly and accurately,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel spokesperson Ryan Jarvi said in a statement.

Chris Thomas, the state’s former director of elections who is now helping oversee the Detroit count, joked on Tuesday night about Republicans coming out to watch election workers and Democrats coming out to watch Republicans watch the election workers. 

“So there’s eyes on the process,” he said. “That’s the way it’s set up. It’s not an adversarial position, but people do have their interests and they’re allowed to speak up and voice their positions on various procedures and processes.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Wednesday evening called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said it was clearly filed “as a way of sowing seeds of doubt among the public about the integrity of our elections.”

Trump’s legal action comes as election clerks and poll workers attempt to finish counting a record number of absentee ballots that were legally cast by Michigan voters in the run-up to Election Day. 

Shortly after the Trump campaign announced the lawsuit, social media posts surfaced of crowds of people outside the TCF Center chanting “stop the vote.”

 

Michigan law allows for the continual presence of both poll watchers and poll challengers in precincts, including absentee counting boards. The latter must be appointed by political parties or qualified interest groups and can stand or sit behind ballot processing tables. 

The suit comes as election clerks and poll workers attempt to finish counting a record number of absentee ballots that were legally cast by Michigan voters in the run-up to Election Day. Early results from in-person voting favored Trump. But absentee ballots, which take longer to count, have favored Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who now leads Trump by 45,381 votes with 96 percent of the count complete. 

Trump campaign chair Bill Stepien said the Trump campaign is asking the Michigan Court of Claims to halt additional counting “until meaningful access has been granted,” and is demanding to review any ballots that were opened and counted when that “meaningful access” was allegedly denied. 

Earlier Wednesday, without evidence, Trump tweeted that “they are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our country!”

Mark Brewer, a Democratic election attorney and former chair of the state Democratic Party, predicted a lawsuit would be unsuccessful. He was working as a poll challenger at Detroit’s absentee counter board at the TCF Center and told Bridge “this place here is crawling with Republican challengers.”

“They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re ill-trained. They’re ill-mannered. They’re obnoxious,” Brewer said.

Nonetheless, the Detroit count is “going fine,” said Brewer, who added “it’s the best Detroit process I’ve ever seen, far and away.”

The count has been done with “complete transparency and integrity,” he added. “Any lawsuit over this would be completely frivolous.” 

GOP strategists sent out emails advising supporters to go to TCF to serve as last-minute challengers. People in the crowd claimed there weren’t enough GOP poll watchers inside the TCF Center, though local officials said there were GOP challengers inside already and said the room had reached its capacity limit.

Around 6:30 pm, the crowd of GOP poll challengers trying to enter the TCF center had dispersed, and counter-protesters carrying signs that read “count the vote” and election defenders largely outnumbered the challengers.  

But some GOP supporters remained, including a church group that huddled in a circle and sang for several hours. 

Shelly, 56, of Redford Township, said she came to protest when she heard Biden was winning the state of Michigan. Shelly, who declined to offer her last name to preserve her privacy, told Bridge she did not think it’s possible Biden actually won and that thousands of ballots must have gone missing in the TCF center. But she also said she believed God will intervene. 

“I’m a suburban housewife,” Shelly said. “I don’t have a lawyer, but I do have Jesus.” 

Derrick Klug, 34, from Pontiac was among the church singers. He said he spent the day as a GOP poll challenger at the absent voter counting boards at TCF. He says it didn’t seem like any of the Republican challengers had a firm grasp on the process. 

“At one point, somebody said 'just challenge everything,'” Klug said. “It felt weird but I was doing it for a bit. It was so chaotic.”

Jina Sawani, a Democratic poll challenger from Oakland County inside the TCF Center, said police removed a GOP poll challenger from the convention center after they started shouting “no more counting” and “four more years.” 

At the evening press conference, Benson said the protesters came to the TCF Center to “cause a lot of distraction.”

“If they thought they were going to intimidate or stop anyone from doing their job inside the TCF Center, then they don’t know Detroit,” she said.

Early Michigan results from in-person voting favored Trump. But absentee ballots, which take longer to count, have favored Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who was leading Trump by more than 60,000 votes with more than 99 percent of the count complete. 

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Comments

We the People
Wed, 11/04/2020 - 3:12pm

Repeat after me: POOR LOSER

BYE DON!
Wed, 11/04/2020 - 3:14pm

Trump is grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to stay out of jail and relevant...

What?
Wed, 11/04/2020 - 5:43pm

Stop counting the ballots? Sounds like something Putin would do.

Better days ahead
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 12:04am

Trump has no honor.

We the People
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 6:45am

Biden won the popular vote by about 5 million more than Trump. Delusional Trump doesn't have a path to victory. It's math, not religion.