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

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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