Prompted by misinformation about election fraud, dozens of Michigan residents tried to push their way into a vote counting center in Detroit Wednesday afternoon as part of an effort to challenge and disrupt ballot counting.
The chaos erupted as votes continued to be tallied in Michigan, where on Wednesday afternoon both Decision Desk HQ and the Associated Press called Michigan for Joe Biden.
But President Donald Trump’s campaign said that they were seeking to halt ballot counting until they were granted “meaningful access” to observe the process.
According to videos and people on the scene, as well as Facebook posts advocating for the interference, the challengers were trying to take part in or halt the count, declaring the process fraudulent.
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Crowds of people chanted “Stop the votes!” and “Stop the count!” while people inside the room housing the ballots taped up paper to cover the windows.
Police on the scene had to push back a jostling stream of Republicans attempting to get into the counting room. Officers were also on guard outside, barring people from entering the center.
Both Republicans and Democrats are allowed 134 “challengers” to observe the vote counting in Michigan. According to the Detroit Free Press, about 400 challengers were inside the counting room as poll workers continued to go through about 25,000 absentee ballots.
Ray Wert, a Democratic vote challenger, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that he went home on Wednesday morning to shower and eat after a long night of counting votes. When he returned to the center, he said about 50 to 100 people had gathered.
“They were calling it an illegitimate process because they weren't able to flood the zone with people to slow down the count or to try to invalidate votes,” Wert said.
“It felt like there was a lot of manufactured rage. It didn't feel real. It felt like it was staged, whether it was out of a desire to cast a doubt on the process or to some way to delegitimize the process, to intimidate the poll workers in there who are trying to do their job to count ballots," Wert said.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, Michigan residents had begun sharing false content on Facebook declaring widespread voter fraud.
The posts claimed that while they were sleeping, 138,339 ballots were “found” and they “just happened to be for Biden.”
Other baseless conspiracy theories alleged that poll station workers were encouraging people to fill out their ballots using Sharpies instead of pens to prevent them from scanning.
Incensed Trump supporters then used Facebook to organize their own ballot monitoring initiatives because they believed the counting was corrupt.
Some callouts promised that volunteers would get a “short training and credentials” to ensure “a fair and just election.”
“Who is available to go to COBO Hall right now to help monitor the vote? 35k ballots showed up out of nowhere at 3 am. Need help. Report to room 260 STAT,” read a post that was shared nearly 370 times.
After a friend forwarded him an urgent callout for ballot watchers, Rick Ector, a 53-year-old firearms instructor from Detroit, went down to the TCF center to try to become a monitor.
Ector, a Trump supporter, told BuzzFeed News that he and about 100 other people tried to get inside for hours, but security guards blocked their attempts.
“I came down with the point of being part of the process,” Ector said. “If everything is as it should be and aboveboard, why not allow observers to watch the process? I can't see the observers inside, so how do we know they are there?”
Wert, the Democrat, said despite being called vote challengers, “We aren’t really there to challenge votes. What we’re there to do is to make sure the workers get their job done and make sure they’re not being harassed by people trying to illegitimately slow them down.”
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By about 4 p.m. ET, Wert said the tension had died down at the center.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News from outside the center at 4:15 p.m., though, Ector said he and dozens of others were still there outside, waiting.
“I’m planning on staying here until we know everything is at it should be and there’s no problems,” he said. “Everything seems so questionable.”