WASHINGTON — A Michigan judge on Friday handed another setback to efforts by Republicans and President Donald Trump to stop states from officially declaring President-elect Joe Biden as the winner, rejecting a GOP effort to force a manual inspection of absentee ballots in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.
Chief Judge Timothy Kenny of the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court in Wayne County wrote that the Republican poll observers who filed affidavits “paint a picture of sinister fraudulent activities” that either lacked specifics or were “decidedly contradicted” by information from city officials.
The Republican observers who sued were election challengers, a type of poll watcher in Michigan who is specially appointed by political parties and interest groups. They had asked the judge to order an independent audit of absentee ballots in Wayne County and to stop the state from certifying election results in the meantime.
BuzzFeed News has journalists around the US bringing you trustworthy stories on the 2020 elections. To help keep this news free, become a member.
Kenny noted that Detroit election officials had invited qualified election challengers and political parties to do a walk-through of the absentee ballot counting process before the election, but none of the challengers who filed affidavits attended, and they lacked a “full understanding” of that process. If they had gone, he wrote, the questions and concerns they raised in court filings might have been answered.
“No formal challenges were filed. However, sinister, fraudulent motives were ascribed to the process and the City of Detroit,” Kenny wrote. “Plaintiffs’ interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible.”
The lawsuit is one of a flood of cases filed since Election Day by Trump’s campaign and Republican poll watchers, voters, and state officials trying to stop, or at least delay, the formal certification of vote tallies in states that put Biden over the 270 electoral votes he needed to win the presidency. Trump’s campaign wasn’t directly involved in the case decided Friday, but referenced it in a separate lawsuit they’re pursuing in federal court in Michigan also seeking to stop the state’s certification of results.
Kenny’s ruling wasn’t the only setback for Trump and Republicans on Friday. A judge in Philadelphia rejected five separate appeals that the Trump campaign had raised to more than 8,000 absentee ballots that were missing certain pieces of information on a declaration that voters had to fill out, sign, and return with their ballot, such as the voter's address or the date. A judge in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, also ruled against the campaign in a challenge to nearly 600 ballots that were missing the voter's address on the declaration.
In Arizona, lawyers for Trump’s campaign filed a brief notice that effectively gave up a challenge to “overvotes” in Maricopa County — ballots where too many candidates appear to be selected in a given race — after the Arizona secretary of state declared in a filing that Biden was too far ahead for that legal challenge to change the outcome. Although the campaign challenged more than 900 ballots in Maricopa County, ultimately only 191 concerned alleged overvotes in the presidential race. Biden has a lead of more than 10,000 votes in the state, according to Decision Desk HQ.
Judges across the country have been skeptical or outright dismissive of allegations raised by Trump’s campaign and Republicans of widespread voter fraud after examining the evidence in court. In the few cases where Trump has won a favorable order, those court decisions haven’t made a significant dent in the results in states where Biden is the projected winner.
In Pennsylvania, a court earlier this week agreed with Trump’s campaign that the secretary of state was wrong to extend a deadline for voters whose absentee ballots arrived after Nov. 3 to prove their identity; the court barred the state from counting absentee ballots if the voter failed to provide identification by the original Nov. 9 deadline. It wasn’t immediately clear how many votes that would affect, but the secretary of state’s office has said that approximately 10,000 ballots total arrived after Nov. 3, and Biden is leading the state by 60,000 votes, according to Decision Desk HQ.
Trump and Republicans’ legal efforts are focused on Pennsylvania, where they’ve filed challenges to specific caches of ballots and are also seeking to stop the state from certifying results; there are a handful of cases also pending in Michigan and Arizona. The only case pending before the US Supreme Court so far involves the validity of the 10,000 absentee ballots that arrived after polls closed on Election Day in Pennsylvania, which have not yet been included in the count.
In the latest case decided on Friday in Wayne County, Republican challengers filed affidavits claiming to have witnessed a range of fraudulent activity at the TCF Center, a convention center in Detroit where absentee ballots were counted. The day after the election, dozens of Trump supporters had tried to push their way into the convention center to stop the ongoing ballot count. Kenny concluded that those affidavits either failed to present enough specific information to back up the claims or fell apart altogether in the face of explanations from election officials about how the vote-counting process had worked in practice.
The judge described one affidavit from a Republican challenger as “rife with speculation and guess-work about sinister motives.” The challenger’s claims included that he’d heard that trucks with out-of-state license plates delivered ballots to the counting site and that he’d only observed votes cast for Biden.
The judge credited an election official, Christopher Thomas, who explained that Wayne County had rented a truck to transport ballots; the judge wrote there was no reason “to attribute any evil activity by virtue of the city using a rental truck with out-of-state license plates.” As for the number of votes the challenger reported observing for Biden, the judge wrote that was “not surprising” given that Biden had, in fact, received more votes than Trump in Michigan.
If you have a news tip, we’d like to hear from you. Reach out to us via one of our tip line channels.
Kenny wrote that one woman raised “serious” allegations that election workers in Detroit coached voters to choose Democratic candidates and that she was instructed to not check voter identifications, but found she failed to offer details to back up those claims. The judge noted that the woman didn’t say that she’d tried to alert a supervisor about the alleged fraud at the time, and “only came forward after the unofficial results of the voting indicated former Vice President Biden was the winner in the state of Michigan.”
Another Republican challenger claimed he couldn’t properly observe the vote-counting process because of COVID-19 restrictions that kept him at least 6 feet away and was refused reentry after leaving to get food because he was a Republican. The judge wrote there was evidence that both Republican and Democratic challengers were denied access because the room had reached maximum occupancy and that a large video monitor had been set up so that challengers could see ballots being processed even if they were physically distant.
Kenny noted that this challenger also hadn’t filed a complaint at the time, which the judge wrote he would have expected given that the challenger was an attorney. The challenger “only came forward to complain after the unofficial vote results indicated his candidate had lost,” the judge wrote.
A lawyer for the challengers did not immediately return a request for comment.
Updated with information about court orders in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.