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Michigan Republicans: Election fight 'not over' despite Biden's lead

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel vowed Friday that the fight over the presidential election "is not over" despite Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's 146,000-vote lead in Michigan.

Three days after Election Day, supporters of President Donald Trump advanced theories of fraud and the need for an investigation into the state's vote. But they shied away from directly questioning the final result and Biden's victory and instead focused on anecdotal evidence — some of which experts immediately rejected.

"We need to pursue these irregularities, and we need people to be patient and give us the time to investigate," McDaniel said during a press conference at the Oakland County Republican Party's headquarters.

MI GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox, left, listens as RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel address members of the media.

Biden won Michigan 51%-48% in unofficial results with all precincts reporting. Trump has falsely claimed he "won" the state before more votes were added for the Delaware Democrat. But Trump had never won the state because votes were still to be counted.

Biden ended up prevailing in Michigan by nearly 14 times the votes Trump won the state by four years earlier.

Within hours of the press briefing by McDaniel and Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, the state's GOP legislative leaders announced that a joint hearing of the Senate and House oversight committees would take place Saturday to "ensure the integrity of our state elections."

"The ongoing turmoil surrounding the recent general election underscores my fervent desire, and our state’s need, for a fair and honest result," said Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee.

In front of a crowd of media members and Trump supporters, McDaniel didn't directly answer whether there was enough potential fraud to call into question Biden's 146,000-vote lead in Michigan.

Republican poll watchers had been denied access to the TCF Center in Detroit, where absentee ballots were being counted, she said. She also emphasized problems in Antrim County, where votes were initially allocated to Biden but were then switched to Trump after county election officials questioned the results.

The problem in Antrim County was attributed to human error when the clerk failed to updated software from Dominion Voting Systems used to pull data from tabulators and then store it in a central counting system, according to the Michigan Department of State. 

As a result, the tabulator counts were not combined correctly before they were reported out by the clerk. The accurate counts remained accessible in the individual tabulator data and the ballots themselves.

The issue was identified by local election officials and reviewed on Wednesday.

McDaniel said 47 other counties use the same software as Antrim County.

The Republican National Committee has deployed legal teams to four states, including Michigan, but no lawsuit was announced Friday.

Citizens holds their pro-Trump signs during the press conference.

"We will not give up on this process until every last issue has been resolved," McDaniel said.

Another lawsuit rejected

On the same day, Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny denied a request to stop the certification of election results in Wayne County filed by poll challenger Sarah Stoddard and the Election Integrity Fund. 

Detroit’s corporate counsel Lawrence Garcia submitted an affidavit saying Republican and Democratic poll inspectors were at the TCF Center, Kenny noted, but Stoddard provided no affidavits or specific evidence that there was a shortage of bipartisan inspectors or misconduct related to ballot handling. 

“…it is mere speculation by plaintiffs that hundreds or thousands of ballots have, in fact, been changed and presumably falsified,” Kenny wrote. He noted Stoddard had other options to pursue, such as bringing their complaints to the Wayne County Board of Canvassers or requesting a recount.

At the GOP press conference, McDaniel also alleged poll workers were directed to backdate some ballots by Chris Thomas, Michigan's retired 36-year director of elections under Republican and Democratic administrations. Thomas had come out of retirement to help with Detroit's election process after the city had problems in the August primary election. 

Thomas told The Detroit News on Friday that he believed McDaniel was referring to clerical errors that required correction in the qualified voter file. Throughout the absentee counting process, workers at various tables brought absentee ballot envelopes to Thomas for which the bar code would not scan into the system. It appeared as if clerks at satellite offices had physically marked the envelopes as being received on a certain date, but then failed to register the date into the qualified voter file, Thomas said.

Thomas said he instructed workers to add the received date written on the envelope by the satellite clerks into the qualified voter file so the ballots could be logged. Most of the ballots were received Monday, Nov. 2, he said. None of them were received after 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, Thomas said.

"We told them to use the date, and it was clear on there (the envelope),” he said. "The bottom line here is: We don’t disenfranchise voters in Michigan based on clerical errors.”

Thomas said some challengers approached him about the date issue during the counting and after he explained the issue, "they declined to challenge it."

Republicans had "way more than 134 poll challengers" at the TCF Center during the counting of absentee ballots, he said. 

"It's nonsense, and they know that," Thomas said. 

The process at the TCF Center was "methodical and accurate and both partisan and nonpartisan challengers were present in large numbers up to the cap permitted by law, all of which is routine," said Sharon Dolente, voting rights strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The Republicans' press conference came as conspiracy theories about Michigan's election have flooded social media. Many of the theories already have been proven false

'Democracy will prevail'

State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, who served eight years as secretary of state, said it's important that serious issues involving poll challenger access and ballot mismatches be examined.

There are systems in place to do that through the courts, she said. Michigan also has bipartisan boards of canvassers in each county that review the numbers of voters who participated in an election and the numbers of ballots cast.

While there are claims about the election that are concerning, swinging 146,000 votes would be an uphill climb, Johnson said. In the end, "democracy will prevail," she said.

Articia Bomer, Jr., of Detroit, waves her Trump flag before  MI GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox then RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel address members of the media, Friday afternoon, Nov. 6, 2020, at the Oakland County Republican Party Headquarters in Bloomfield Hills to address legal action the GOP is taking, saying that several election boards in the state and country are corrupt.

"I just don’t see how the issues would sway the number of votes to different candidates," said Johnson, referencing Trump and the Senate race between U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Republican John James of Farmington Hills, who has refused to concede.

Peters led James 49.8%-48.3%, or by 84,000 votes, with all precincts reporting. Johnson called the total "an awful high number."

The former secretary of state had advice for Michigan residents stressed out about the election: "Go outside and take a walk.”

Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Republican, expressed confidence in the computer system used to collect data from voting machines in Antrim County and elsewhere, including her own county. She argued the Michigan Republican Party used the same system for its nomination process.

The party was unable to say what system it has used historically. But spokesman Tony Zammit said the computer system at issue in Antrim County has not been used under the tenure of Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox, who took office in early 2019. 

"It’s starting to appear what happened in Antrim County was human error," said Posthumus Lyons, who ran on the GOP gubernatorial ticket with Bill Schuette in 2018. 

"If that would have not been caught by the public or what have you, that error would have been caught in the county canvass," she said. 

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens on Thursday said she was rejecting a Trump campaign request for an injunction to stop the counting of votes in Michigan. She said the counting was largely finished and the proper jurisdiction was in a local county or city, not a state court.

The Trump campaign has said it is considering an appeal of Stephens' decision.

cmauger@detroitnews.com