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Peters on James' refusal to concede: 'It's pathetic. They lost'

Rochester — Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters officially declared victory Thursday and called on his Republican opponent to accept defeat, while John James refused to concede and called for investigation into what his campaign is calling cheating in the balloting process.

In a news conference with his family and campaign staff at his favorite cider mill, Peters laughed heartily when told that the James campaign said it was cheated out of an election win amid allegations of voter fraud. An attorney representing James said there are irregularities that called into the question the integrity of the election during a Thursday meeting of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, answers questions from the media during a press conference at Goodison Cider Mill in Rochester on Thursday, November 5, 2020.

“It’s sad and it’s pathetic. They lost,” Peters said to reporters at the Goodison Cider Mill. “It’s very clear. Just count the votes. I understand Mr. James has been running for four years, he’s lost twice now. I understand that doesn’t sit well with him.”

But Peters said James, the 39-year-old Army veteran and businessman, should not be a sore loser. He said he had not heard from James in a campaign Peters decried as filled with smear attacks on his record.

“This is where you see someone’s character,” the senator added. “And they come up and realize that they need to accept the vote of the people of the state of Michigan. I would hope that this nonsense could go away.”

About three hours after Peters' remarks, James said in a statement that "while Sen. Peters is currently ahead, I have deep concerns that millions of Michiganders may have been disenfranchised by a dishonest few who cheat."

He called for an investigation so voters are confident the election "was fair and honest."

"When this process is complete, I will of course accept the results and the will of the people," James added, "but at this time there is enough credible evidence to warrant an investigation to ensure that elections were conducted in a transparent, legal and fair manner. Those who object likely have something to hide."

At a Thursday meeting of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, James' attorney Charlie Spies said he had "very serious concerns" about the way the election was administered in the Democratic-dominated county, but he didn't provide specific evidence to back up his comments.

Spies made a variety of claims about problems in the county, saying Republican poll watchers had faced intimidation and weren't able to "meaningfully participate" in monitoring the vote count.

"We have seen and we have witnesses that saw the mysterious appearance of ballots at the TCF Center that can't be accounted for," Spies said.

But it would be normal for legal votes to show up in batches at the center, where Detroit's absentee ballots are tallied. The claims by Spies came as election workers in Michigan neared a final unofficial tally of votes across the state.

The Wayne County board met Thursday morning to approve the beginning of the election's canvass  — the process of examining and confirming ballot and voter totals. In Michigan, counties must complete their canvass on Nov. 17 and then forward results to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Later Thursday, Spies and two other attorneys sent a letter to Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett asking her to preserve absentee ballots, footage from all ballot drop box locations and personnel records, among other documents.

"It has come to our attention that due to apparent widespread fraud and irregularities, the absent voter ballots counted in Wayne County may be in question," the attorneys wrote on behalf of the James campaign. "The vote counts in Wayne County appear to be irregular, if not fraudulent.

"This letter places you on notice to preserve and not destroy any evidence related to the absent voter process in Wayne County."

The attorneys said they had documented "hundreds of reports of irregularities that occurred during the processing" of Wayne County absentee ballots. They listed challenger intimidation, lack of access, insecure ballots, improper processing, failure to verify signatures, mismatched envelopes and ballots, and ballot back-dating.

Peters called the lawsuits filed by President Donald Trump in Michigan and elsewhere to stop the counting of votes “frivolous.”

“I would just say to Mr. James and their campaign: Accept the opinion and the votes of the people of the state of Michigan,” Peter said. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Peter, D-Bloomfield Township, said he expected a close race since Michigan is a battleground state where Trump won four years ago. But that won’t stop him from doing his job and “to be able to work in a bipartisan way to solve the tough problems that we face," the senator said. 

Since the election is over, Peters said he hopes the country can get past hyper-partisanship and division. No matter who voted for him or not, the senator said he would continue to work hard for all of Michigan.

“We have to come together, particularly right now when we’re in the middle of this pandemic. This is a significant crisis,” Peters said. “Every time we come together as a country, every time we come together as Michiganders..., we can get through anything.“

Peters said when he returns to Washington next week, he will push Senate Republicans to pass a COVID-19 relief package. In September and October, Senate Democrats filibustered or blocked a vote on a $300 billion Senate GOP COVID-19 relief package that Democrats said was inadequate as they held out for a vote on the Democratic House's $2.2 trillion package.  

“We have to do that,” he said.

When Biden is officially declared president, Peters said he is looking forward to working with the incoming Democratic administration on the coronavirus pandemic and “put together the comprehensive national strategy that we should have had right from the beginning.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com