Contrary to President Trump’s claims, Detroit poll challengers were NOT illegally barred from observing the polls

Screengrab of a November 4 video by Twitter user Eric Gibbs showing blocked windows at Detroit’s ballot-counting center. President Trump misleadingly said it was illegal activity to prevent observation of the count.
Screengrab of a November 4 video by Twitter user Eric Gibbs showing blocked windows at Detroit’s ballot-counting center. President Trump misleadingly said it was illegal activity to prevent observation of the count.

As the ballots for the 2020 US Presidential Election are being tabulated, President Trump has discredited, with no basis, the legitimacy of many of the votes cast. In claims on Twitter and in a televised speech on November 5, the president accused poll workers at a ballot-counting centre in Detroit, Michigan of illegally barring Republican election observers from overseeing the count, in reference to contentious Twitter videos that showed the windows of the center being blocked. Here’s why the President’s claims are misleading.

On November 4, Twitter users and reporters began sharing videos of a commotion taking place at Detroit’s TCF Center, where ballots were being counted. This Twitter video posted by user Eric Gibbs shows a crowd of poll challengers filming and attempting to enter the room where the count was taking place, its windows blocked by pieces of cardboard. A woman yells: “If you’re not corrupt, you’d let me into the building.” The user’s caption reads: “Poll watchers locked out and windows blocked in Wayne County, Michigan.” [Editor’s note: poll challengers/watchers refer to people who are appointed or allowed to observe the election process in the interest of transparency.]

Another video posted by reporter Matt Fin shows the same scene from inside the room, where poll workers are covering the windows with large pieces of white poster paper. “The scene at Detroit’s absentee ballot counting center is growing more heated,” Fin writes. “Allegations of violations. Secretary of State says she welcomes challenges.” The reporter added in another tweet that a few poll challengers and workers expressed concern that there wasn’t a fair number of Republican and Democrat poll challengers in the room.

Several more videos posted by Eric Gibbs show police officers blocking the doors into the room as the crowd chants “Stop the count!”, this time in front of clear windows.

Incident interpreted as “illegal” by President Trump

The day after, President Trump retweeted an article by Breitbart News, a far-right syndicated news and opinion website known for publishing misleading stories, which insinuated that workers were attempting to restrict transparency in regards to the vote-counting process in Detroit.

He also cited the incident in a speech on the same day, saying that those working in the centre “didn’t want anybody seeing the counting, even though these were observers, legal observers that were supposed to be there”.

In another tweet on the subject on November 6, the president claimed that the “OBSERVERS were not allowed, in any way, shape, or form to do their job, and therefore, votes accepted during this period must be determined to be ILLEGAL VOTES.”

Detroit poll challengers were not being illegally obstructed from observing the count

Despite the confusing scene, further reports clarified the contentious videos.

The Detroit Free Press, the city’s largest daily newspaper, reported on November 4 that some poll challengers were prevented from re-entering the room because the number of poll challengers within had reached full legal capacity   not in an illegal attempt to obstruct poll observation. The state allows 134 challengers for each political group (Democrats, Republicains and non-partisans), for a maximum of 402 challengers at once. According to the newspaper, both Republican and Democratic challengers were being prevented from entry. 

In response to the commotion, the office of the secretary of state of Michigan released a statement, posted to Twitter by Matt Fin. The letter specified that those who saw legitimate concerns had legal avenues to address them and affirmed that the process was “bipartisan, open, and transparent from the start, with a record number of Republican challengers observing it”.

Windows in the room were also blocked under the orders of Detroit city attorney Lawrence Garcia, in response to requests from ballot counters, who felt uncomfortable about being filmed. A statement by Garcia, posted on Twitter by Fin, said that “the rule is if you’re in the room, you can’t take pictures or film unless you’re with the media. So it seemed wrong to allow people to do that from outside the glass”. Garcia also noted that not all the windows were blocked: “It’s not secret what’s going on.”

The day of the incident, President Trump’s campaign filed a suit to stop the counting of ballots in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In a statement from campaign manager Bill Stepien, the campaign demanded “to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access”. Joe Biden has since been declared the winner in Michigan, with 50.5 percent of the vote. 

Article by Diana Liu.