All eyes were on Detroit last week as the clock ticked and election workers painstakingly processed thousands of absentee ballots for two days. Those numbers eventually helped propel Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden to a higher margin of victory in Michigan, which now sits at 2.7% between he and Republican President Donald Trump.
But a chaotic protest by pro-Trump supporters at Detroit’s TCF Center Wednesday — apparently organized by a right-wing Facebook group previously devoted to protesting COVID-19 lockdowns in Michigan — gave way to calls from Trump and other Republicans that GOP challengers were not given adequate surveillance over the process.
Former Elections Director Chris Thomas, who served under one Democratic and three Republican secretaries of state before retiring after 36 years in 2017, gave a statement Friday about the allegations. He has served as an adviser to the Detroit city clerk’s office during the 2020 election.
“Today I was saddened to see unfounded allegations being made about the manner in which clerical errors were handled by the Detroit absent voter counting board,” Thomas said. “In particular I understand that I am accused of directing an employee to back date the date a number of ballots were received.
“The accusations are wrong and reveal the person making them doesn’t know Michigan’s election process. The scenario described actually shows a process designed to eliminate errors working to do just that,” Thomas continued, before describing in detail how the process worked.
“In the heat of the moment responsible officials should avoid denigrating the election process without verifying their information,” he added.
Republican challengers also had ample participation in the process, despite what GOP officials are now claiming. According to attorney and former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, who volunteered all day Wednesday alongside other Democratic lawyers to oversee the process, well over 100 of those challengers were present.
In a Facebook post Thursday, Brewer said the “poorly trained and obnoxious” GOP challengers were accompanied by many Republican lawyers, some from out of state. He told the Advance Friday that he witnessed numerous challengers making challenges to ballots without a legitimate basis for doing so, then arguing loudly with election workers who tried to reason with them or push back.
“The law is very clear: You cannot make frivolous, indiscriminate challenges,” Brewer said, “but they would argue with folks if they didn’t like the answer they got.”
Brewer said that it was also clear that many of the Republican challengers were not familiar with Michigan election law and even asked questions of workers throughout the process.
By law, challengers in Michigan are required to be Michigan residents, but Brewer said there appeared to be some strange outside influences at play.
“You’d watch these challengers run back and forth and get orders from their out-of-state bosses who clearly didn’t understand the process, either. And they were furiously scribbling notes and then they’d leave. It was clear they were going off to write up affidavits for the lawsuits that they were [about to file].
“So this was all a huge setup designed to create press, and to try to find some basis to file a lawsuit,” Brewer said. “It’s a PR stunt. That’s all this was.”
He said the challengers would have caused obstruction and/or delay of the ballot tabulation if not for the Democratic lawyers and election officials present to ensure the integrity of the process.
“Just a wide variety of inappropriate, intimidating and frivolous conduct, all designed to slow it down. There’s no question that that was their goal: Slow it down, and try to make things look confusing and uncertain, when in fact, that was the best Detroit absentee ballot operation I have ever seen.”
Despite what Brewer described as a “concerted effort to block the tabulation of votes,” the final unofficial results for the city were available by early Friday morning. Those have Biden with an overwhelming lead of about 94% and Trump with just 5% in Detroit.
As for the lawsuits challenging the integrity of the process — one by the Election Integrity Fund and another by the Trump campaign — both have since been dismissed. That did not, however, stop Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox on Friday from doubling down on similar allegations and announcing that the party will be investigating the supposed misconduct in Detroit.
On Saturday, a GOP-heavy joint committee of lawmakers voted along party lines during a rare Saturday session to issue subpoenas and investigate similar accusations themselves. The Republican chairs both offered vague and unsubstantiated claims of election fraud that they say are worth a serious inquiry.
Cox also encouraged those with further information to contact the Michigan Republican Party rather than law enforcement, which led Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel to chime in on Twitter.
If you have actual evidence of voter fraud, you should contact law enforcement, as it’s a crime which is taken very seriously. If you have ridiculous conspiracy theories unsupported by facts or reality, by all means contact the @MIGOP. https://t.co/WYpdR7Oufi
— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) November 8, 2020
“If you have actual evidence of voter fraud, you should contact law enforcement, as it’s a crime which is taken very seriously. If you have ridiculous conspiracy theories unsupported by facts or reality, by all means contact the @MIGOP,” Nessel tweeted Sunday.