The Washington Post

As 2016’s Mich. victor, Trump had no qualms about Detroit’s ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties

- BY KAYLA RU­BLE na­tional@wash­post.com Tom Ham­burger in Detroit con­trib­uted to this re­port. US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Republican Party Politics · Michigan · Donald Trump · Detroit · Republican Party (United States) · Wayne County · Joe Biden · Republican National Committee · Democratic Party (United States) · Hillary Clinton · Rudy Giuliani · Washington · Michael Bloomberg · John James · Abraham Lincoln · Laura Cox · Ruth Johnson · Mike Duggan · Gary Peters

detroit — Repub­li­can Party lead­ers who urged Michi­gan’s state can­vass­ing board to hold off cer­ti­fy­ing the Nov. 3 elec­tion re­sults be­fore it met Mon­day cited what they de­scribed as “sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” in Wayne County, home of Detroit.

The GOP of­fi­cials pointed to the num­ber of “un­bal­anced” precincts, where there were small dis­crep­an­cies be­tween the num­ber of bal­lots cast and the num­ber of vot­ers logged by elec­tion work­ers in the poll books. Party of­fi­cials un­suc­cess­fully called on the board to con­duct an au­dit be­fore it cer­ti­fied Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den’s vic­tory in the state with a 3-to-1 vote.

“To sim­ply gloss over those ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties now without a thor­ough au­dit would only foster feel­ings of dis­trust among Michi­gan’s elec­torate,” Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Ronna Mcdaniel and state GOP Chair Laura Cox wrote in a let­ter Satur­day.

But state and county elec­tion data shows that four years ago — when Don­ald Trump car­ried the state by a much nar­rower mar­gin — twice as many Detroit precincts were out of bal­ance.

At the time, the prob­lems were widely con­demned by Demo­cratic lead­ers, in­clud­ing Gar­lin Gilchrist, now the state’s lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, who called the city’s han­dling of the elec­tion “a com­plete catas­tro­phe.”

But nei­ther Trump nor the Repub­li­can Party ques­tioned the va­lid­ity of those elec­tion re­sults — or de­manded an au­dit to ver­ify the vote tally.

In the fall of 2016, 392 Detroit precincts, or 59 per­cent of the to­tal, had dis­crep­an­cies of at least one bal­lot, ac­count­ing for at least 916 votes, the data shows.

This fall, 179 Detroit precincts, or 28 per­cent of the to­tal, had dis­crep­an­cies of at least one bal­lot, ac­count­ing for at least 433 votes.

Democrats say that the GOP’S fo­cus now on Detroit’s vot­ing er­rors is sim­ply an ef­fort to un­der­mine Bi­den’s vic­tory.

“All of this ruckus that they’re rais­ing, none of these is­sues are in a worse state than they were in 2016 when Hil­lary Clin­ton lost by a much smaller mar­gin,” said Jonathan Kin­loch, a Demo­cratic mem­ber of the Wayne County Board of Can­vassers.

“From Day 1, it has been their in­ten­tion to try to dis­credit and try to re­move the Black vote from this elec­tion,” Kin­loch added. “They know that re­mov­ing the Black vote in this elec­tion would change the out­come.”

Pres­i­dent Trump at­tacked the vot­ing process in key states around the coun­try as cor­rupt and rigged in an un­prece­dented at­tempt to over­turn the re­sults.

He and his le­gal ad­vis­ers have fix­ated on the pre­dom­i­nantly Black city of Detroit, where 94 per­cent of the roughly 250,000 votes went for Bi­den. “It changes the re­sult of the elec­tion in Michi­gan if you take out Wayne County,” Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, said last week at a news con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton.

GOP con­sul­tant Stu San­dler, who serves as le­gal coun­sel to the Michi­gan state Repub­li­can Party, ac­knowl­edged that Repub­li­cans did not re­quest an au­dit in 2016. But he said what is at is­sue is not whether the GOP com­plained in the past, but chronic prob­lems with the man­age­ment of Detroit’s elec­tions.

“There is no clear ev­i­dence that things have im­proved,” San­dler said.

Out-of-bal­ance precincts can oc­cur for sev­eral rea­sons. A ma­chine may fail to scan the name of a voter on an ab­sen­tee bal­lot en­ve­lope. A voter can make a mis­take on a bal­lot and re­quest a new one or sign into the poll book but leave be­fore cast­ing a bal­lot.

Af­ter the high num­ber of Detroit precincts that were out of bal­ance in 2016, then-repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Ruth John­son and her Bureau of Elec­tions con­ducted a post-elec­tion au­dit in the city of Detroit. The bureau con­cluded that al­most half of the outof-bal­ance precincts could have been rec­ti­fied if staff mem­bers had taken prompt ac­tions to ad­dress the un­bal­anced num­bers on elec­tion night or if the county can­vass­ing board had been given more time to dig into the prob­lems and rec­on­cile the dif­fer­ences.

“[ The Bureau of Elec­tions] found no ev­i­dence of per­va­sive voter fraud, yet an abun­dance of hu­man er­rors,” the bureau said in a 2017 re­port.

At the time, lo­cal of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Detroit Mayor Mike Dug­gan (D), ac­knowl­edged the need for im­prove­ments.

“We can’t have that hap­pen again,” Dug­gan told the Detroit News at the time. “Ev­ery­body in the city knows it was ter­ri­ble, and the good news was, Michi­gan didn’t de­cide the na­tional elec­tion be­cause it would have shown a real spot­light.”

Trump, how­ever, did not note the is­sue when he cel­e­brated his win in the state.

“The Great State of Michi­gan was just cer­ti­fied as a Trump WIN giv­ing all of our MAKE AMER­ICA GREAT AGAIN sup­port­ers an­other vic­tory,” he tweeted in late Novem­ber 2016.

The Trump cam­paign did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment about why he did not ob­ject to the vote cer­ti­fi­ca­tion at the time.

In the run-up to this fall’s elec­tion, Wayne County of­fi­cials pledged to re­duce the num­ber of er­rors. Af­ter Elec­tion Day, county Elec­tions Direc­tor Gre­gory Ma­har said the num­ber of votes that did not match the poll books amounted to 0.001 per­cent of the roughly 250,000 bal­lots cast in Detroit.

“Our can­vassers re­ally did a heck of a job,” Ma­har said as he ad­dressed the Wayne County Board of Can­vassers meet­ing last week.

State of­fi­cials agreed that the city’s er­ror rate had im­proved.

“A re­view of data from the Novem­ber 2020 Wayne County Can­vass showed a sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment in the per­cent­age of [Detroit] precincts that were in bal­ance and re­count­able as com­pared both to the Au­gust 2020 Pri­mary and the Novem­ber 2016 Gen­eral Elec­tion,” the Michi­gan Bureau of Elec­tions wrote in a memo on Fri­day.

How­ever, Repub­li­can of­fi­cials have con­tin­ued to press the is­sue, fo­cus­ing on an even nar­rower cat­e­gory: the per­cent­age of un­bal­anced ab­sen­tee count­ing boards — ju­ris­dic­tions set up by the city elec­tion com­mis­sion to count ab­sen­tee bal­lots sep­a­rately from Elec­tion Day precincts.

This month, 94 of those boards — 70 per­cent of the to­tal — could not rec­on­cile their num­bers, af­fect­ing at least 263 votes. That is a sim­i­lar rate found dur­ing the Au­gust pri­mary, when 363 ab­sen­tee count­ing boards — about 72 per­cent of the to­tal — were un­bal­anced, af­fect­ing at least 914 votes.

The num­ber of er­rors in the Au­gust pri­mary drew bi­par­ti­san con­dem­na­tion from state of­fi­cials. “I find this whole thing ap­palling,” Julie Matuzak, a Demo­cratic mem­ber of the state can­vass­ing board said at a meet­ing af­ter the pri­mary.

Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date John James, who lost his chal­lenge to Sen. Gary Peters (D) by more than 95,000 votes, cited the er­ror rate at ab­sen­tee count­ing boards in a let­ter he sent to the state board of can­vassers last week re­quest­ing that they hold off cer­ti­fy­ing the vote for two weeks to con­duct an au­dit.

“A 30% ac­cu­racy rate in any in­dus­try, whether its busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion, health­care or man­u­fac­tur­ing scores as fail­ure,” James wrote. “While I don’t doubt that many of our poll work­ers and vol­un­teers worked hard, we need to do bet­ter for our elec­tions.”

Charles Spies, an at­tor­ney for the James cam­paign, said the ab­sen­tee bal­lot board fig­ures show Wayne County has not im­proved since Au­gust. He ac­knowl­edged, how­ever, that the au­dit James is seek­ing would prob­a­bly not change the re­sults of ei­ther the Se­nate or pres­i­den­tial race. “That’s very un­likely,” he said.

For­mer Michi­gan GOP chair Jeff Tim­mer, who pre­vi­ously served as a mem­ber of the state can­vass­ing board, said Repub­li­cans are fail­ing to give an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the elec­tion process — and Wayne County’s progress since 2016.

“They’re cherry-pick­ing and feed­ing into a public-re­la­tions nar­ra­tive, not ex­er­cis­ing any anal­y­sis or judg­ment re­lated to the con­duct of elec­tions,” said Tim­mer, who now serves as an ad­viser to the anti-trump group the Lin­coln Project.

Kin­loch said the GOP is try­ing to “drive a false nar­ra­tive that could jeop­ar­dize cit­i­zens’ faith in our elec­tions.”

“They will not win in the end. Whether this elec­tion is cer­ti­fied on time or not, I know for sure that it will be cer­ti­fied,” he added. “We are a coun­try of laws, and we’re gov­erned by them, whether we like it or not, whether we win or whether we lose.”

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