Weeks after vote, 13 fake fraud claims persist in Michigan. Here’s the truth.
In the weeks following President Donald Trump’s loss in Michigan, the president and his supporters have turned to social media and a flurry of lawsuits to spread falsehoods about election fraud in the state.
- Dominion: Michigan Republican Colbeck ‘duped thousands’ with election lies
- Michigan GOP unveils election ‘reforms.’ Most would make voting harder.
- Michigan GOP mounts ‘election integrity’ push. Democrats fear suppression.
- Michigan 2020 Election Tracker | Rudy Giuliani to testify in Lansing about election
- Human error, Dominion voting equipment fuel false fraud claims in Michigan
- Trump’s hopes sputter to end in Michigan. ‘It’s over, and they know it.’
Their accusations have ranged from conspiracy theories about harvested ballots to limited access for GOP poll challengers to view the absentee ballot counting process in Detroit. And no matter how many times they’re dispelled, the unproven claims persist three weeks after Election Day.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Trump ally Sidney Powell seeks to halt Michigan’s results certification (which has already occurred) and urges the court to force a recount (even though the Trump campaign did not request one by last week’s state deadline).
Beyond that, the complaint seeks an extraordinary remedy: voiding the state’s entire Nov. 3 election and conducting a new one.
A separate suit from the conservative Great Lakes Justice Center based in Lansing, meanwhile, urges the Michigan Supreme Court to seize all ballots, ballot boxes and poll machines and appoint a “special master” to review election administration.
It also seeks unlikely relief: a court order ensuring the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature can pick its own electors instead of relying on the popular vote, which Biden officially won by 154,188 votes.
Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani is set to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee about alleged campaign irregularities. But his claims, along with the last-ditch lawsuits, rely on accusations that have already been rejected by Michigan courts or debunked by independent fact checkers, including Bridge Michigan.
Update: Tempers rise, facts fade as Rudy Giuliani claims Michigan vote a ‘con job’
Like many media outlets, Bridge has spent weeks fact-checking accusations of fraud.
We are compiling the most pervasive claims here, in one place, to set the record straight about everything from Sharpie markers to late-night ballot dumps.
The claim: Zuckerberg group propped up Democratic cities with election grants
The new Michigan Supreme Court complaint from the Great Lakes Justice Center alleges that only Democratic cities benefited from a series of election administration grants by a nonprofit called the Center for Tech and Civil Life [CTCL] that is partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The grants raise “serious equal protection concerns” because Republican-leaning communities did not have the same opportunity to purchase new equipment and hire additional election workers, according to the lawsuit.
But a database published by CTCL shows the group awarded COVID-19 preparation grants which provided money for election safety measures such as personal protective equipment and hazard pay for poll workers in hundreds of Michigan communities, including many that Trump carried on Nov. 3.
While large and liberal cities like Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids received grants, so did several reliably conservative communities like Frankenmuth, Caledonia, Macomb Township and Zeeland.
The Center for Tech and Civil Life aims to encourage voting and support local election administration. All told, the group said it provided grants to 473 Michigan communities to help officials prepare to conduct an election amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The claim: ‘Out of balance’ precincts indicate voter fraud
“In Detroit, there are FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 18.
The post followed GOP Wayne County Board of Canvassers members’ initial decision not to certify the county’s election results, citing concerns about too many “out of balance” precincts. This means that the number of voters recorded in poll books did not match the number of ballots cast.
It’s not unusual for precincts to be out of balance. There can be simple explanations, such as voters getting tired of long lines and leaving, or paper jams that cause ballots to be read twice. The imbalances are not indicative of extra or illegal votes.
In Detroit, 70 percent of absentee counting boards were out of balance and unexplained for the November election. In most instances, the ballot counts were off by fewer than four votes, and the total number of votes at issue is roughly 450 in an election Biden won by 154,000 votes.
Several other cities in Wayne County, such as Livonia, also had more than 50 percent of absentee counting boards out of balance and unexplained.
When brick-and-mortar precincts are considered, Detroit’s percentage decreased to 28 percent out of balance, a vast improvement from August and 2016.
"The idea that the out-of-balance precincts reflects any problem with the voting is utter nonsense,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan told reporters.
The claim: A 138,000 vote “ballot dump” for Biden
A clerical error – an extra zero in unofficial results reporting in Shiawassee County, just north of Lansing – fueled conspiracy theories about late-night “ballot dumps” for Biden.
In fact, Shiawassee County Clerk Caroline Wilson, a Republican, accidentally boosted Democrat Joe Biden’s unofficial lead from 15,371 to 153,710 — more than twice the number of registered voters in the county — during the early morning of Nov. 4.
The error was quickly corrected. But the damage was done. Screenshots were sent of Decision Desk HQ, an election data firm, that made it appear Biden gained 138,000 votes and Trump gained none. From there, social media took over.
The president retweeted a post containing the screenshot with the caption, “WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?”
Thousands of people shared the post, and the error was soon featured in headlines on conservative news sites such as Gateway Pundit, which wrote: “Voter Fraud in Michigan – Massive Dump of Over 200,000 Ballots for Biden All the Sudden Appear Overnight."
It’s not unusual to see reporting errors in unofficial results, but they’re quickly caught and fixed, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
In fact, that is why Michigan has a two-week canvass before unofficial results become official.
The claim: Biden only won because of big-city fraud
On several occasions, Trump has claimed Biden only won because of high turnout in “politically corrupt” large cities in battleground states. Trump has also pointed to debunked statistical analysis claiming a Biden victory is impossible because Republicans won down-ballot races nationwide, and the president received more votes for a sitting president in U.S. history.
“Biden can only enter the White House as President if he can prove that his ridiculous ‘80,000,000 votes”’ were not fraudulently or illegally obtained,” Trump wrote in a tweet on Nov. 27. “When you see what happened in Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia & Milwaukee, massive voter fraud, he’s got a big unsolvable problem!”
In fact, Trump didn’t lose because of those cities.
In Detroit, turnout was 49 percent compared to 65 percent overall in Michigan, and Trump did better in Detroit than any Republican presidential candidate in decades, while Biden only did marginally better there than Democrat Hillary Clinton when she ran in 2016.
Biden won Michigan by increasing turnout and winning big in the suburbs: Oakland County and Kent County, which Trump won by 9,500 votes in 2016.
In Philadelphia and Milwaukee, voter turnout and support for the Democratic presidential candidate also didn’t change much from 2016.
Trump also alleged that spikes in votes “found” early in the night in these cities were an indication of fraud. In fact, those were absentee ballots that took longer to count. Those mail-in ballots also may have favored Biden, experts said, because Trump spent months encouraging his supporters to vote in-person and questioning the integrity of the mail-in voting system.
The claim: Thousands of dead people voted
Conservative activists have circulated a list on social media with the names of 14,000 voters in Michigan who they alleged are dead.
Fact checkers examined records for 50 Michiganders on the list and found no evidence of fraud: 37 of the people are dead but had not voted, five are alive and did vote and eight others are alive but did not vote.
Officials told Bridge Michigan dead voter accusations were triggered by a series of isolated data input errors by some of Michigan's 1,603 local and county election clerks.
These election officials enter voter and ballot information in a statewide database known as the Qualified Voter File. In many cases, when birthdates aren’t known, clerks enter placeholders such as “Jan. 1, 1900” and then later correct the information. In other cases, keystroke errors can confuse dates before the errors are rectified.
Michigan has processes in place to reject ballots from dead voters, even those who properly voted by absentee ballot but then died before Election Day, Secretary of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer told Bridge.
“We are not aware of a single confirmed case showing that a ballot was actually cast on behalf of a deceased individual,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement.
Powell’s recent federal lawsuit makes only one accusation about a dead person voting: a claim first made by the Trump campaign but already debunked by the state.
The claim: More voters than people in Michigan
During a Nov. 19 news conference, the Trump campaign’s legal team claimed that many precincts in Michigan had more votes than voters.
Attorneys cited percentages from an affidavit written by Russell Ramsland, a security consultant and former Republican congressional candidate.
“In Michigan and Wisconsin, we have over-votes in numerous precincts of 150 percent, 200 percent and 300 percent,” said Giuliani, the Trump campaign attorney.
One big problem: the affidavit used precinct listings from the state of Minnesota, not Michigan.
The claims of overvotes don’t hold up in Minnesota either, according to voter registration data from the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State.
In Michigan, 8 million people are registered to vote, and 5.5 million cast ballots. In Detroit, half of the city’s registered voters, about 250,000, cast ballots.
The claim: Dominion Voting Systems malfunctioned
A clerical error in Antrim County fueled false allegations from the Trump campaign challenging the accuracy of Dominion Voting Equipment, the second largest supplier of election equipment across the country.
After Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy, a Republican, reported that Biden beat Trump handily in the GOP stronghold in northern Michigan, experts and officials correctly questioned what turned out to be a clerical mistake that was fixed.
Dec. 16: Dominion CEO: Michigan vote fraud claims ‘beyond bizarre’ and ‘dangerous’
But Trump and his supporters claimed a nationwide “software glitch.”
“‘REPORT: DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE. . . STATES USING DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS SWITCHED 435,000 VOTES FROM TRUMP TO BIDEN,’” Trump wrote in a Nov. 17 tweet flagged for containing disputed information.
In a Nov. 26 statement, Dominion Voting Systems called the allegations “baseless, senseless, physically impossible, and unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.”
The Antrim County mistake was a “one-off” caused by an “unusual set of circumstances” and is not evidence of widespread election problems, said J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society.
“I cannot express how very unfortunate it is that our human error has called into question the integrity of Antrim County’s election process and placed it front and center at the national level,” Guy, the Antrim County clerk, said in testimony before the Michigan Legislature.
“I take full responsibility, but I must emphasize that the human error did not in any way, shape or form affect the official results of Antrim County,” she said.
The claim: not enough Republican election inspectors in Detroit
In affidavits cited in a Trump campaign lawsuit in Michigan, GOP poll challengers alleged there weren’t enough Republican election inspectors at the TCF Center, especially for important tasks.
State law requires cities to balance the number of Democratic and Republican election inspectors “as nearly as possible.” That wasn’t the case in Detroit, which is one of the most Democratic cities in the nation and has struggled for years to hire Republican inspectors.
Monica Palmer, Republican chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, told Bridge she knows of Republicans who signed up to serve as election workers but were never called back.
But Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey told the state Board of Canvassers last week that was because many signed up after an application deadline with not enough time to be properly trained.
Detroit election officials and attorneys said there were numerous Republican inspectors in Detroit.
Chris Thomas, the former state elections director who helped work the Detroit elections, said in an affidavit that a Republican and a Democratic election inspector were always present during the duplication of ballots, a common election process in which workers make copies of ballots that have been damaged or contain overvotes.
The claim: an unmarked van delivered harvested ballots
GOP poll challengers falsely claimed that in the middle of the night on Nov. 4, a man in an unmarked van brought ballots on a wagon into the TCF Center in Detroit, where Detroit election inspectors counted the city’s absentee ballots.
The man turned out to be a photographer from WXYZ-TV Detroit, and he was transporting his camera equipment.
“How do they magically find over 100,000 ballots at 4 a.m. and just roll them in?” asked Anne Vanker, 54, of Grosse Pointe, a GOP poll challenger at the TCF Center.
It’s true that several thousand ballots were delivered to the TCF Center early in the morning on Nov. 4, according to Thomas. But these absentee ballots had been received on Election Day from clerk and satellite offices, drop boxes and the mail. Since it takes several hours for the Department of Elections to properly process ballots, some were delivered later to the TCF Center, Thomas said in an affidavit.
This is a normal process which “happens every election,” Thomas said in an interview with WDET-FM Detroit.
The claim: a food truck delivered fraudulent ballots
The van conspiracy theory later morphed into allegations that a food truck that arrived early in the morning in Detroit was actually delivering fraudulent ballots for Biden.
Melissa Carone, a contract IT worker for Dominion Voting Systems, wrote in an affidavit in the most recent lawsuit filed by Powell, the Trump ally, that because she didn’t see food being delivered, the van must have contained harvested ballots.
“I never saw any food coming out of these vans, coincidently it was announced on the news that Michigan had discovered over 100,000 more ballots — not even two hours after the last van left,” Carone wrote. She provided no evidence to support the statement and admitted on television that she did not actually see any ballots in the van herself.
Giuliani, a Trump campaign attorney, repeated these claims on Nov. 20 but referenced a garbage truck instead of a food van.
A Michigan circuit court judge dismissed these claims, referring to them as speculations.
The claim: Rochester Hills tabulation errors are a sign of election fraud
In Rochester Hills, after it was discovered seven precincts were mistakenly counted twice, a narrow victory for Democrat Melanie Hartman in the Oakland County commissioner race turned into a big victory for Republican incumbent Adam Kochenderfer.
The error, caused by a technical glitch when a file was saved and sent to the county, was fixed early Wednesday morning after Election Day.
Still, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel cited Rochester Hills, which has a Republican clerk, as an example of election fraud in the state of Michigan during a news conference in the days following the election.
Rochester Hills election officials disputed this claim.
"This was an isolated mistake that was quickly rectified once realized,” Rochester Hills Clerk Tina Barton said in a statement. “Every voter should have complete confidence in our voting system."
Barton later told The New York Times that a Trump campaign official called and asked her to sign a letter raising doubts about the results of the election.
“As a Republican, I am disturbed that [the error is] intentionally being mischaracterized to undermine the election process,” Barton said in a video on Twitter.
The claim: GOP poll challengers denied access at the TCF Center
GOP challengers present at the TCF Center, where election inspectors counted the city’s absentee ballots, claimed they were restricted in numbers and did not have “meaningful” access to viewing the counting process.
“Nobody wants to report that Pennsylvania and Michigan didn’t allow our Poll Watchers and/or Vote Observers to Watch or Observe,” the president wrote in a tweet that Twitter flagged for containing disputed information.
The allegations were the subject of several Trump campaign lawsuits, all of which were eventually dismissed. Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny called the allegations “incorrect and not credible,” noting that challengers skipped training sessions that explained counting procedures.
Detroit election officials also disputed these claims. GOP challengers were plentiful at the TCF Center, they said, while acknowledging that, for a brief time around 4 p.m. Nov. 4, new challengers were not let in due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions.
This swarm of new challengers were heeding a call from conservative organizations who posted on social media asking challengers to come to the TCF Center where they claimed election fraud was occurring. The demands for new challengers came shortly after the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the absentee counting process in Detroit.
After being denied entry, the group chanted “Stop the count” and banged on the TCF Center windows. This led election officials to block windows with pizza boxes, which challengers claimed further limited their access.
But poll challengers inside the TCF Center “could walk around anywhere they wanted,” Thomas, the former state elections director who helped oversee Detroit’s count, previously told Bridge. “They’re allowed to step in.”
Republicans “had full access to everything,” he added.
The claim: Sharpies invalidate ballots
No less than 24 hours after Nov. 3, Trump supporters took to social media to claim that ballots marked with felt-tipped Sharpies wouldn’t be counted by voting tabulators. The message quickly spread to battleground states, including Michigan.
“If you were given a black Sharpie marker to fill out your ballot, call the MI number below to report your polling location!” one Northville woman posted on Facebook. “The machines will successfully count your ballot but possibly not your vote.”
But several clerks told Bridge Michigan that Sharpies are the preferred ballot-marking device, since they dry quickly and don’t leave residue on the ballot scanner.
“The use of a Sharpie to mark a ballot will not invalidate or cancel a ballot or vote,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement.
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.
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!