Trump called. They answered. GOP army ready to challenge Michigan vote.

GOP challengers say they are ready to scrutinize election results in Detroit and other cities. They say they’re looking to root out fraud, but Democrats say they want to drive down turnout. (Shutterstock)

Poll challenger training began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer of gratitude for the United States’ system of government last month at a church in Waterford Township, an Oakland County suburb.

Then came a call to action. 

“Everybody in this room understands that election fraud is something that we want to make sure that we’re stopping,” Tim Griffin, the training leader and special counsel with the Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm in Chicago, said during the Sept. 26 training session. 

“That’s what we’re here to do today.” 

The session was led by the Election Integrity Fund, a nonprofit that unsuccessfully sued Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson this year for sending absentee ballot applications to voters. 

The group has trained at least 500 poll challengers in Michigan, and is one of several conservative organizations that have answered the call from Republican President Donald Trump to monitor the elections. 

Trump has spent months raising unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud including attacks on mail-in ballots and allegations that Democrats will “steal” the election. In September, his campaign announced an effort to launch an army of 50,000 poll watchers in battleground states on Nov. 3 to ensure “an honest and fair election and to re-elect President Trump” according to a campaign video

Experts such as those with the Brennan Center for Justice in New York say evidence of voter fraud is extremely rare — but the spectre of it can discourage people from voting. And Democrats fear a surge of poll challengers could be tantamount to voter intimidation and interfere with vote counting.


Southeast Michigan, and Detroit in particular, will be ground zero for challengers, Griffin said during the training. 

Political parties and accredited organizations have the right to delegate one challenger per absent voter counting board and up to two per precinct. 

Brenda Savage, a spokesperson for the Election Integrity Fund, said these challengers will serve as “an extra set of eyes” on Election Day to guard against irregularities. 

They have the right to challenge people’s eligibility to vote and raise objections to actions by election workers. But they cannot speak to voters, handle poll books or other election materials. 

Detroit faces scrutiny after GOP challengers filed affidavits after the August primary, alleging a host of worker errors, including using cellphones when prohibited and counting ballots without checking against voter names in poll books.  

That’s not evidence of fraud, voting advocates say.

“The early August primary wasn’t necessarily the most smooth,” said Aghogho Edevbie, the Michigan director of All Voting is Local, a national voting rights advocacy group. “But not smooth doesn’t equate to fraud.” 

Jonathan Kinloch, a Democratic member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers that certified Detroit’s election, said the allegations are irresponsible. 

“Some people want to cause mayhem because the election is not going their way,” he said. “They would not be caught claiming fraud if their candidate won in Detroit.”

‘The nation’s going to be watching’

Some GOP challengers say they are guardians against disorder, particularly in heavily Democratic cities like Detroit that have a history of voting irregularities.

They’re people like Robert Cushman and Clifford Frost, politically active white men in their 70s from the suburbs of southeast Michigan. Both served as GOP challengers during Detroit’s primary elections.

Cushman, a retired General Motors worker, and Frost, a real estate agent, say they are motivated by patriotism and concerns about integrity.

That propelled them through long hours. Cushman said he was one of the last challengers during the August primary to leave the TCF Center, where Detroit’s 134 absentee voter counting boards gathered to process and count absentee ballots. 

Frost said he brought medication and a change of shoes to endure knee pain brought on by 13 hours of standing on a cement floor of the basement where the workers counted the ballots. 

Though some city and state election officials have raised concerns about intimidation from poll watchers after Trump urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” Frost and Cushman said they are friendly.  

“We smile and say hello,” Frost said. “It’s always pleasant.” 

But they’re anxious about election “cheating,” Frost said. Several trainees raised questions about the most “common types of fraud” to expect on Election Day during the Sep. 26 training.  

“The nation’s going to be watching as the president’s team and different groups like our group are going to file suit to make sure that [election officials] follow the law,” Griffin, the Election Integrity Fund training leader, told attendees. 

‘Path to victory through Detroit’

Democrats contend politics motivate poll challengers’ scrutiny of Detroit.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, and declining turnout in Detroit was a major factor for his upset against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The city voted overwhelmingly Democratic (just 3.1 percent of voters favored Trump), but turnout dropped 14 percent from 2012, more than 41,500 votes, even as it increased statewide.

The math is clear, said Kinloch: Discouraging votes in Detroit helps Trump’s chances overall.

“The path for a Democratic win runs right through the City of Detroit,” said Kinloch, who is the chair of the 13th Congressional Democratic Committee.

“The more people vote, the more they tend to vote for progressive policy. [The GOP] is afraid of a high voter turnout.”

Republicans including Marian Sheridan, the co-founder of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, said August’s issues are the latest in a series of problems in Detroit that demand vigilance from challengers.

In 2016, worker errors and improper handling of ballots rendered more than half of Detroit’s precincts ineligible for a recount. Michigan law bans precincts from being recounted if the number of ballots in voting machines doesn’t match those in poll books. A 2017 state audit blamed worker training, not fraud.

That year, Garlin Gilchrist II, who is now lieutenant governor, filed for a recount in his campaign against Clerk Janice Winfrey after allegations emerged that poll workers hid absentee ballots.

In August, 72 percent of absentee voter precincts in Detroit were ineligible for a recount because the number of signatures in poll books didn’t match the number of ballots in machines. 

Cushman, the GOP poll watcher, alleged he saw workers run 10,000 to 20,000 absentee ballots through tabulators after 2 a.m. on Election Night without checking against voters’ names in the paper poll books. Frost alleged he witnessed the same issue hours earlier and when he objected to elections officials, they responded “that’s OK.”

“All the checks and balances that are supposed to be there just as far as I could see went right out the window,” Cushman told Bridge Michigan. 

But election attorneys and officials note that ballots undergo several checks to confirm they are matched to eligible voters before they reach tabulators, including an initial signature verification by city clerk staff.  

Robert Brines, 70, a GOP poll challenger at the Detroit primary, said some of the issues from August likely will be resolved by the city’s use of electronic poll books next week and better poll worker training.

But he’s still worried about Nov. 3.

“What’s going to happen this time?” Brines said. 

‘Everyone should have confidence’ 

During the September poll challenger training, Griffin provided volunteers with an overview of rules and responsibilities for election challengers according to Michigan government guidelines

Poll challengers must have credentials, wear face coverings and be courteous to workers. Challengers are not allowed to interact with voters or wear clothing representing a political party or organization. 

Challengers can stand behind election inspector tables, ask to view poll books and other election materials and raise challenges. It’s illegal for them to “frustrate” the process by making frivolous challenges to annoy or delay votes, said Edevbie, the Michigan director of All Voting is Local.

“Challenges cannot be made indiscriminately and without good cause,” he said. 

This year, the process is complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 7,200 in Michigan. 

State elections officials have instituted a rule requiring challengers to stand more than 6 feet away from poll workers, prompting a lawsuit from Steve Carra, a Republican candidate for the state House in southwest Michigan.

He said he’s worried that poll workers will set up tables with less than six feet of space behind them, making it impossible for poll challengers to view voter information.

“It’s going to create tension between election officials, the vast majority of whom are looking to do honest and fair work, and the poll challengers who want to be able to participate as well,” he told Bridge. 

Jake Rollow, a Department of State spokesperson, called the lawsuit a “frivolous … attempt to gain media attention and falsely attack the integrity of Michigan elections.”

‘You may be a witness’

Republican challengers say they’re only interested in upholding the integrity of the election. Sheridan said challengers focus on a “pattern of errors.” 

At last month’s training, Griffin, the training leader, told attendees to take copious notes and know that lawyers would be present.

“You may be a witness in a court case,” Griffin said, adding the Election Integrity Fund and the president’s legal team may file suits demanding recounts.

Frost said a drawn-out court battle is not the goal for poll challengers and hopes issues and errors can be fixed in real time on Election Day.

“I would think that all Democrats and all Republicans, all people concerned, want to make sure that we have the best possible election integrity that we can get in November, so that whatever the will of the people is, it’s accurately reflected in the vote,” Cushman said.

Edevbie emphasized the presence of poll challengers should not call into question the integrity of election administration across the state and the country. 

“While I think it is legitimate to have concerns over the election process, it's important to understand that having concerns doesn't mean [the election] will be fraudulent,” he said. “Everyone should have confidence in the security and accuracy of the election returns.”

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

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Wed, 10/28/2020 - 5:56pm

These people aren't patriots and voter fraud is almost nonexistent. These people are traitors to our country just like Trump and are there to intimidate voters.

Doug L
Wed, 10/28/2020 - 6:44pm

Just the fact that only 3.1% of the Detroit vote went for Trump in 2016 makes me question the accuracy of the vote count. A shockingly small amount. Perhaps poll watchers are needed.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 12:27pm

Why is it shocking that city with a majority black population voted against a man known for racist dog-whistles and energizing white supremacists?

Reality Check
Thu, 10/29/2020 - 1:56pm

I'm white and would NEVER vote for Trump. Why is it so hard to believe 3% of Black people would vote for him, the overt racist and inventor of the Obama birther movement?

Yours truly
Wed, 10/28/2020 - 8:24pm

<<<In 2016, worker errors and improper handling of ballots rendered more than half of Detroit’s precincts ineligible for a recount. Michigan law bans precincts from being recounted if the number of ballots in voting machines doesn’t match those in poll books. A 2017 state audit blamed worker training, not fraud.>>>

Who made that law, and why? That defies logic, doesn't it?

<<<That year, Garlin Gilchrist II, who is now lieutenant governor, filed for a recount in his campaign against Clerk Janice Winfrey after allegations emerged that poll workers hid absentee ballots.>>>

THIS! This is where ELECTION FRAUD happens. See the difference? NOT voter fraud, Election fraud!!

And half of that isn't fraud. Unless you are hiding ballots. Are you?

This is what conservatives do. They stoke FEAR and doubt. And then tell you they are the only ones that can stop it, when they are the ones that are causing it all.

That is why they are patriots and liberals are ant-American scum.

Sounds an awful lot like the language the Empire used against the rebels, doesn't it?

Language and interpretation are things we use in society to sway people to our way of thinking. Too bad these people think after 4 years of their control, they still have to try to make things better. Much like our roads, that thanks to Snyder and Co your registration and license fees have gone up.......yet our roads are still crap. But blame the State! NOT the contractors or the Publicans! Blame that Wretchen Whitmer! How dare she ask you to pay for the nice things you want to make OUR State a better place to Live , work and recreate in.

It's almost like she is using conservative logic, and they don't want to pay for any of least while she is in office. Of course then there is Senate Majority leader Shirkey. He want's us to go back to gravel roads.

Fine by me!! But what about your constituents that drive brand new $50,000 plus vehicles, coming up north? They don't really want to take those trucks off the road! That would scratch the paint!

Watch yourselves out there at the polls.

Remember in November!

One side
Wed, 10/28/2020 - 11:41pm
Thu, 10/29/2020 - 8:35am

Election security is certainly important to the basis of our representative democracy. I think that no one will disagree with that. In Michigan and most of the USA, election results have been accurate and truthful.
It is unfortunate that a sitting president is essentially accusing local election officials with fraud and dishonesty by making a call to his "Army" to monitor elections sites. The people that feel the need to show up with semi-automatic weapons, for no other reason than to intimidate voters, are making us seem like a backwater nation, unable to rely on the good citizens who run our elections.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 8:51am

I support this effort, especially with the recently exposed alleged (and being investigated) voter fraud in Minnesota, Colorado, and Texas. Check out Project Veritas and research the investigations their exposes have generated. Mainstream Media won't tell America these voter fraud investigations (of people's videotaped "confessions" of fraud) are happening, as it's better to keep ALL believing voter fraud is non-existent.
I believe voter fraud exists and steps to prevent/catch it are needed so “Everyone should have confidence in the security and accuracy of the election returns.”

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 12:42pm

Project Veritas has a history of deceptive tactics, including manipulating footage and editing to remove context. They have lost the right to have their articles be taken at face value. Look into their failed attempt to sting The Washington Post in 2017 to learn all about how they operate.

The president claims if he loses it will be because of widespread fraud but interestingly, the election will be fair if he wins...hmm...why is that? A GOP operative in North Carolina was arrested following the 2018 election because he was caught tampering with ballots. For the 2020 election, the California GOP has installed illegal ballot drop-off boxes and admitted the reason is for ballot harvesting. Why does Trump claim without evidence that Democrats are using fraudulent vote/ballot tactics but ignores it when we have evidence of the GOP doing it?

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 8:53am

The way the headline is framed makes you think something that may not be true. I am sure it brothers the branch covidians that other might be looking over their shoulders or object to what may be their dishonest practices. Unfortunately, the kind of dishonesty that Trump wants to keep a check on is by people who have honed their skills in deception for a long time.
The way I look at it when people are dishonest it always catches up with them. Just not in the next life if you believe, but seen too many made miserable in the end by their own wickedness.

DW Stiles
Thu, 10/29/2020 - 9:14am

Should not these "poll watchers" be required to be residents of the precinct they are scrutinizing. It seems blatantly unfair for "outsiders" (to be neutrally generous) to be interfering, no matter what their motives, in precincts where they are not registered to vote.

I'll go out on a limb and say that white poll-watchers from the suburbs interfering in the urban voting process of the inner cities where the population is significantly non-white IS racist intimidation.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 12:13pm

Yes, this is exactly the case. Anti-blackness in a majority Black urban center, carried out by unregistered Whites trying to exert political power. I'd like to keep an eye on these poll watchers.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 9:52am

The only legit reason for people to object to poll watchers is to foster cheating.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 10:16am

I assume there will be Democrat poll monitors as well? Where is the reporting on that?

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 11:42am

Yes, there will be. I'm signed up to be a poll watcher for the Dems. I was a Dem poll watcher in 2008 and 2012 too. I think there will be as many Dem poll watchers as there will GOP challengers this year. The difference is that Dems are there to ensure that every registered voter who wants to vote is able to.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 11:39am

I recently moved to the Muskegon area and am totally embarrassed and ashamed of the recent trump rally held at the airport over the objections of the local medical experts. If I suspected that this was a true reflection of the Muskegon Community, I would certainly not have chosen to live there.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 8:20am

Be the change you want to see. Volunteer with the county Democratic Party, talk to people about the issues that directly affect Muskegon, help the disenfranchised voter feel like their vote can actually make a difference.

History Lesson
Thu, 10/29/2020 - 1:33pm

I think it would be great if people relaxed and took a history lesson in poll watching considering that poll watchers have been around since voting began in the USA. It is patriotic to be a poll watcher as they are there to not interfere with elections but to make sure they are done fairly. There are laws on most if not all of the States books that regulate poll watching including that they are not to intimidate. Personally, I am glad that poll watchers exist (thank you to both the Democrat and Republican poll watchers for being there to help assure a fair election).

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 2:22pm

So why are we hearing only about GOP poll challengers?? Nothing about any from the Democratic side. Who's nervous?

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 2:51pm

Because only the GOP plans to challenge voters' rights to vote--in other words, to suppress the vote. Dems are there to ensure that every registered voter is able to vote.

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 3:16pm

Unfortunately, Michigan's so-called constitutional sheriffs - Borkovich in Leelanau County, Leaf in Barry County, etc. - won't protect poll workers and law-abiding citizens. They'll protect the thugs who try to intimidate them into voting for Trump or not voting at all.

Fri, 10/30/2020 - 10:44am

2020 will be the first year that election "results" are audited in Michigan. Previously only election procedures were audited. We're going to know a lot more about election fraud or lack there of after this election than after any previous election.

From: Risk-Limiting Audit Pilot of the 2020 Michigan Presidential Primary

"In April 2018, the Michigan Bureau of Elections (BOE) began developing a robust post-election audit program that included auditing the results of elections. While Michigan election officials have been conducting post-election audits since 2012, these audits were procedural. They did not specifically audit the results of elections – that is, they did not purport to verify that the outcome of any given election was actually correct; rather, they verified that election equipment in given precincts was properly programmed."

Sat, 10/31/2020 - 11:17am

They are trying to eliminate the counting of the lawful ballots of their voting fellow Michiganders. I work elections, absentee most of the time. I am telling you: NOT a single person who works elections or votes is willing to commit a felony for anyone. We don't cheat. The voters don't cheat. The clerks don't cheat. There are so very, very many checks and balances that cheating isn't even an option if one was willing to go to prison to give a candidate one or two extra votes. Seriously, these patriots are just following marching orders to disenfranchise people who are lawfully voting. The only cheating that happens is in their imagination and that of their bossman.

Wed, 11/04/2020 - 3:51pm

Repubs lost & now they are trying to sue, & act up to claw their way back in an unjust way. Poor losers can't take it.