What happened when conservatives tried to halt Detroit’s election count

Conservative poll challengers gathered outside of the TCF Center and Detroit Election’s Central Counting Board to oversee the city’s voting process. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

Hundreds of conservative challengers attempted to crowd into the room Wednesday where Detroit poll workers are processing and counting absentee ballots, momentarily disrupting the flow of work.

Police and security told challengers starting early Wednesday afternoon the 90,000-square-foot conference room at TCF Center was at capacity. The room is the city’s Central Counting Board, where more than 1,000 poll workers are tabulating the record number of absentee ballots.  

GOP strategists sent out emails advising supporters to go to TCF to serve as last-minute challengers. The North Oakland Republican Club’s alert went to its members shortly after noon on Wednesday.

“WE NEED YOU! If you are able, and willing to secure each LEGALLY voted ballot, PLEASE go to TCF Center,” the note read, adding that they would be given short training to make sure we have a “FAIR and JUST election.”

Tensions grew as more challengers gathered and were denied entrance. Some challengers began to bang on the windows and doors of the secured room. Challengers got into a verbal altercation with police when journalists and other personnel were allowed to enter the room and officers momentarily locked the doors. 

Shortly after, some challengers inside the room began to chant, “‘Stop the count!’” and gathered near the back of the hall. The chanting was short-lived and by 4 p.m. the room was calm again as  ballot processing continued and the challengers dispersed. Some were escorted out by Detroit Police.

Throughout the afternoon, Republicans tweeted accusations that the process was unfair at TCF. Michigan Senate Pro Tempore Aric Nesbitt shared a video claiming Detroit election workers were “cheering every time a @migop attorney is removed from the TCF Center.

Republicans argue the process is unfairly allowing more Democratic-leaning challengers than Republicans.

The assertion is false, city officials contend. The room has 570 challengers, which includes 227 Republicans, 268 Democrats and 75 nonpartisans, election officials told journalists. But some of those nonpartisan groups are left-leaning, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters. 

Both political parties had already hit the maximum of 134 challengers allowed inside the room, said Sharon Dolente, the voting rights strategist for the ACLU of Michigan, who has been in the Central Counting Board room since 10 a.m Wednesday.

“This is the most crowded room I have been in nine months. It is wall-to-wall people in here,” Dolente said.  “There is no doubt that every organization that has challenger credentials is in this room and observing the process, which is the way it ought to be.” 

Michigan GOP Party Chair Laura Cox claimed Republicans were “blocked from entering the TCF Center” in mid-afternoon. In fact, space was limited because of COVID restrictions.

The crowd surge began around the time that various media outlets reported that President Trump was in danger of losing the state to Democratic challenger Joseph Biden. The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit in Michigan Court of Claims to halt the count. 

Workers continue to process and count ballots. But outside the room as well as on the street just outside the TCF Center, crowds of both Trump fans and critics were still gathering as of 5 p.m.

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Shameful GOP
Wed, 11/04/2020 - 11:56pm

Now politicians tell us to stop counting ballots? GOP shenanigans get worse all the time.

Gimme a break!
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 12:00am

"But some of those nonpartisan groups are left-leaning, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters."

Sorry, but that's a lie. Those groups are nonpartisan.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 8:57am

These aren't "challengers" if they are storming the doors. There are legal, registered challengers inside, who are abiding by rules, and who election officials can work with. But this is a mob trying to break into a secure vote counting facility, to tamper with the count. That's not a "challenger", and it is not legal.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:00am

The hypocrisy of Trump-lovers: Trump was ahead in Michigan but falling behind, so they yell "stop the vote"; Trump is behind but catching up in Arizona, so they yell "count the vote."

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 9:07am

It's a scene out of "Night of the living dead" ! The ghouls trying to save the rotting carcass of Trump before democracy puts the final wooden stake into him.

GOP Constipation
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 1:22pm

Seemed like a Black Friday sale for laxatives.

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 10:09am

Stop The Vote...pathetic. The People vote and then we count them! Go home, respect our democratic process and look to the bright side... there'll be beer to cry in.

Rude Juliani
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 1:20pm

Another dog and pony show that fizzled, like the Hunter Biden laptop October surprise. I think the electorate is a little brighter these days. After all, the dems are more college educated, less likely to fall for Q-Anon conspiracies.

Recount needed
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:51pm

There have been enough irregularities in the Michigan Vote that a recount should take place and an audit of the process should occur. Shiawassee, Antrim, St. Mary, Wayne counties are some of the locations where issues have been raised. There is a pattern of mistakes and we should be diligent to find these mistakes as they impact multiple races.

There was a recount in 2016 and it seems like Michigan needs another in 2020.

Charlie Day
Thu, 11/05/2020 - 6:01pm

Bridge, it is very inaccurate and divisive to use the word "conservatives" in this title. We are a family of Democrats and one of us was there, and he was not alone. Shame on you.

Fri, 11/06/2020 - 6:45am

Just to be clear, conservatives are usually republicans, but not all republicans are conservatives.

Fri, 11/06/2020 - 6:46am

Just to be clear, conservatives are usually republicans, but not all republicans are conservatives.