Who’s at door? It may be Trump loyalists, hunting for Michigan ‘ghost voters’
LANSING — Activists loyal to Donald Trump are knocking on doors to talk to Michigan voters about their 2020 ballots in a quixotic quest to uncover fraud in last year's election.
They could be coming to your home soon, as organizers seek to expand an effort already underway in a handful of Michigan communities.
The citizen "canvass" is the latest front in a grassroots movement to challenge or overturn certified results from the 2020 election, which the former president continues to claim was rigged against him in Michigan and other swing states.
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They’re on the search for “phantom” or “ghost voters,” organizers said Tuesday during a rally at the Michigan Capitol, where they signed up new volunteers while demanding GOP lawmakers order a "forensic audit" of the 2020 contest.
Federal officials have warned that home canvassing could amount to voter intimidation, and Michigan’s top election official is discouraging voters from discussing their ballots with untrained activists.
"Any effort to violate citizens’ privacy or intimidate them by showing up at their doorstep demanding to know how they voted is a desperate attempt to further sow seeds of doubt about election results that were a secure and accurate reflection of the will of the voters," said Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
The effort is centered on some perhaps unlikely places, including Chesterfield Township in Macomb County, which Trump carried with 61 percent of the vote against Democratic President Joe Biden.
GOP state House candidate Jacky Eubanks said she used a Freedom of Information Act request to identify absentee ballot voters in Chesterfield and has canvassed a "random sample" of absentee voters there.
In a speech at the Michigan Capitol rally, Eubanks alleged without evidence that the state government gave "left-wing Marxist social activists" access to "fake names on the voter rolls to to cast fake ballots" and "steal" the 2020 election.
"We're going to hunt them down," she said. "We're going to find out."
Eubanks, who said she worked for the Trump campaign in 2020, claimed she has already discovered "anomalies" in Macomb County, which Trump won with 53 percent of the vote.
Eubanks said she collected signed affidavits from voters who either did not recall casting an absentee ballot or lived at an address another voter had registered at.
But she has only presented seven affidavits to election officials, and "there's just simply no validity to any of the claims," said Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry, a Republican who is expected to run for Michigan Secretary of State.
Berry confirmed that her office has been working with state and federal authorities to investigate affidavits compiled by Eubanks and other activists.
The Michigan State Police’s Second District Special Investigation Section is investigating a report of suspected election fraud in Chesterfield Township, and “Eubanks has already been interviewed as part of that investigation,” MSP spokesperson Lori Dougovito confirmed.
While state police have not completed its review, "our findings in the clerk's office is that each and every one of those affidavits was fully investigated, and there was no credibility to any of them," Berry told Bridge Michigan.
In some cases, apparently "confused" voters told Eubanks they had not cast an absentee ballot when they had actually done so in person at the clerk's office ahead of the election, Berry said.
Berry said she has "no problem" with the canvass effort because “you can’t fault” activists for wanting fair and honest elections, but her office has fielded calls from voters dismayed by the home visits.
"It makes people feel uneasy," the clerk said. "They feel duped and deceived often, or misled, by the information. They're angry that people are coming to the door."
Macomb County Clerk Anthony Forlini, a Republican, agreed that Eubank's affidavits "weren't credible" and questioned why she would nonetheless publicly tout them.
"It's kind of crazy," he told Bridge Michigan.
He announced last week that he is hiring Pro V&V of Alabama, a federally accredited cyber security firm, to conduct a "forensic audit" of the county's election server. Forlini said the $16,000 server audit will be overseen by CyFIR LLC of Alabama, which also assisted with a controversial and more extensive forensic audit in Arizona.
Finding ‘phantom voters’
Michigan activists have already launched similar citizen canvasses in Muskegon and Livonia, former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck said Tuesday at the Michigan Capitol rally.
Organizers with the nonprofit Election Integrity Fund & Force used the Trump-endorsed event to sign up volunteers willing to knock doors in their own local communities.
"Our qualified voter file has been damaged, and the only way that we are going to right the ship is by looking at the qualified voter file and canvassing our communities," said Joanne Bakale, a Berrien County activist who fellow organizers called the "canvassing queen" of Michigan.
"Please help us find the phantom voters in your communities," she said. "Help us find the lost voters in your community. Help us find the duplicate voters in your community. And finally, help us find truth."
The ongoing canvass was inspired by a similar effort in Arizona led by Liz Harris, a failed legislative candidate who spoke at Tuesday’s Michigan rally and encouraged activists to use a free app to "start their own canvassing” here.
In a September report touted by Trump supporters as evidence of election fraud, Harris estimated that in a state Biden won by about 10,000 votes, officials never counted more than 170,000 “lost” votes but did count 96,000 “ghost” votes from residents who didn’t live where they had registered.
The Arizona canvass report contained almost no concrete evidence, however, and local newspapers quickly debunked its only verifiable claims.
In one case, Harris claimed that two voters mailed absentee ballots from a vacant lot in Maricopa County.
But reporters who investigated the claim found there was a home on the lot that was "clearly visible from the street,” not to mention Google Maps.
Senate Republicans in Arizona considered ordering their own voter canvass as part of a "forensic audit" of the Maricopa County election but backed off that plan after the U.S. Department of Justice warned against it.
"Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act," Civil Rights division deputy Pamela Karlan told Arizona officials in May.
"Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future."
‘Hearts are in the right place’
Berry, the Republican clerk in Chesterfield Township, told Bridge Michigan she thinks her local citizen canvassers’ “hearts are in the right place.”
"I just think that the methods they're using, and the fact they're just simply not properly trained, means they just don't fully understand the (election) process,” resulting in faulty claims, Berry said.
Benson, the Democratic secretary of state, has called the 2020 election the most secure in Michigan history.
Anyone still concerned about election security should review results from the more than 250 local audits completed by clerks from both sides of the aisle, said Wimmer, spokesperson for the secretary of state.
"And any citizens encountering any so-called 'canvasser' at their door demanding to know how they voted is advised to explain that before closing it," Wimmer said.
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