Veteran elections official tells panel no voter fraud occurred in Detroit

Chris Thomas during Senate Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday | Screenshot

Chris Thomas, who served as Michigan’s nonpartisan elections director for 36 years, told the state Senate Oversight Committee on Tuesday that no election is perfect and some mistakes were made — but no fraud was present during vote-counting operations at the TCF Center in Detroit.  

“It is an unreasonable leap to equate mistakes with fraud,” Thomas said during his nearly 90-minute presentation followed by two hours of questions from committee members. “Quite simply, fraud is not a mere mistake. Fraud requires intent.”

Thomas has served as a senior advisor to Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey and helped to oversee the city of Detroit’s absentee voting process at TCF Center the week of the presidential election. Thomas previously worked under one Democratic and three Republican secretaries of state before retiring in 2017. He most recently served under Republican Ruth Johnson, who is currently a state senator.

President-elect Joe Biden secured about 154,000 more votes in Michigan than outgoing President Donald Trump. Several GOP lawsuits have either been dismissed or pulled by plaintiffs. The Board of State Canvassers certified the election on Nov. 23 and it is in the National Archives.

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Nonetheless, several pro-Trump demonstrations have been held at the Capitol Building since the election as the president has pushed conspiracy theories and refused to accept his defeat. Over the weekend, armed supporters swarmed outside of the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. State Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit), vice chair of the House Oversight Committee, also posted on Facebook a death threat that she received.

Thomas’ testimony comes after almost 12 hours of testimony last week at Oversight committees from GOP activists, as well as Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis. The attorneys, who have both tested positive for COVID-19, pressured lawmakers to overturn Biden’s election and appoint pro-Trump electors in violation of Michigan election law.

The committees declined to put the Republicans under oath and most proceeded to give testimony on voter irregularities that courts had not found credible.

However, the Senate Oversight Committee had Thomas testify under oath on Tuesday.

Overall, more than 174,000 Detroit residents voted by mail in the general election. Almost 94% of Detroit voters cast ballots for Biden, according to city clerk records, in keeping with previous elections. 

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Thomas credited the ease of vote counting to the use of high-speed tabulators in Detroit and other parts of the state. He also addressed during his presentation pro-Trump protests that occured at TCF Center. He said that he noticed an “atmosphere change” in terms of the temperament of challengers on the GOP side on Nov. 4, the day after Election Day. 

He said that some people were rude and some were asked to leave because their actions were not “appropriate” like banging on the windows outside of the ballroom where the processing was taking place. As the Advance reported at the time, these were Trump supporters unhappy with the election results.

“This group was aggressive and had no problem making disparaging remarks to workers. … I’ve never seen anything like that,” Thomas said.

Thomas also indicated that an area of the voting-counting process “where work is needed” is in recruiting more GOP challengers, something that he said both the Detroit clerk’s office and the Republican Party can improve upon. 

When asked by state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) about some unbalanced precincts in Detroit, Thomas responded that other municipalities in metro Detroit and across the state also had unbalanced precincts. A precinct is said to be out of balance when the total number of ballots tabulated and the total number of voters who were issued a ballot do not agree. None of the precincts were off by a significant amount of votes to change the election’s outcome and this occurs in most elections.

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“Balancing has never been a statutory requirement,” Thomas said. 

Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Twp.) asked Thomas whether the vote counting operations in Detroit would benefit from additional cameras, another common complaint from Republicans. 

“It doesn’t bother me if they are more [cameras.] That’s fine,” Thomas said.

The committee also heard from viewers who watched over the internet. Among others, they included Tim Griffin from the Virginia-based Election Integrity Fund, which was founded by Matt Braynard, a data specialist who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign; Phil Meyer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan; and Edith Lee-Payne, a Detroit resident and a volunteer supervisor who was present at TCF Center for several days and stated that “fraud did not occur” there. 

“People were trained to be as transparent as possible,” Lee-Payne said. 

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.