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Detroit lawsuit alleges new problems at TCF counting center, citing 5 affidavits

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A third lawsuit has been filed over Michigan's vote count, this one filed in Wayne County Circuit Court and alleging problems with the counting process at TCF Center in Detroit. 

The filing relies on the affidavits of four Republican poll challengers and a city of Detroit employee who said she worked in the city's election headquarters through September, a satellite clerk's office in October and the TCF Center the day after the election. 

Besides the affidavits, no actual evidence of the alleged issues was presented.

Detroit absentee ballots are processed at TCF Center, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

The allegations range from restrictions on poll challengers to late arriving batches of absentee ballots to the encouragement of early voters to cast their ballots for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Election officials have said they allowed the maximum number of poll watchers for both Democrats and Republicans, only restricting access to any additional poll watchers because of COVID-19 concerns.

The suit, filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center, seeks an independent audit of the election, a halt to the certification of Wayne County votes, an order voiding the county's election results and the initiation of a new election in Wayne County. 

Judges in the Michigan Court of Claims and the Wayne County Circuit Court have already denied similar requests to stop the counting of Detroit ballots, citing a lack of evidence of wrongdoing. 

The city of Detroit, a defendant in the case, rejected the suits as "another belated lawsuit, raising baseless allegations" to shake people's confidence in the election. 

"Like two previous lawsuits, this case is not based upon actual evidence of any election fraud or misconduct, it is based upon various conspiracy theories, which have already been debunked," said David Fink, the city's lead lawyer on the case. "We are confident this case, like the others filed last week, will be dismissed."  

It's significant, Fink said, that only five of the more than 200 GOP challengers at the TCF Center throughout the counting have come forward for the suit. 

Jessy Jacob, a Detroit employee "for decades," said she observed election workers trying to coach voters to cast their ballots for Joe Biden and fill out a straight Democratic ballot while voting at the satellite clerk's office ahead of the election, according to Jacob's affidavit.

Several people already issued an absentee ballot cast a separate ballot at the satellite office but did not surrender their old ballot nor did they sign an affidavit disqualifying the first ballot as required by law, Jacob said.

Last Wednesday, as ballots continued to be processed, Jacob said she worked at the TCF Center and said she was told to pre-date the absentee ballots' receipt date into the qualified voter file.

Jacob, the city said, has been on furlough since earlier this year. 

City officials have explained that the receipt date of some absentee ballots was entered into the qualified voter file at the absentee counting board because some Detroit satellite clerks' office stamped the date on the absentee envelope but forgot to enter the information into the electronic voter file. Chris Thomas, Michigan's 36-year elections director who came out of retirement to help in Detroit in the Nov. 3 election, has said none of the ballots entered into the system were received after Election Day. 

Another affidavit came from a former assistant attorney general who left Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel's office for the private sector in January after eight years with the office. 

Zachary Larsen was working as a Republican poll challenger last Tuesday in Lansing and East Lansing before moving his efforts to the TCF Center in Detroit on Wednesday. 

In his affidavit, Larsen alleged that poll workers at the TCF Center appeared to be inconsistent in deciding which ballots were placed in the "problem ballots" box, which he was concerned lent itself to diverting Republican ballots into the "problem ballots" box. 

At another point, Larsen said, he was barred from viewing the supplemental polling book because he was breaching six feet of social distancing. The supplemental polling book included more recent registrations or absentee ballot drop-offs that weren't included in the qualified voter file. 

"I understood that this was a ruse to keep me away from a place where I could observe the confirmation of names in the supplemental poll book," Larsen said in his affidavit. 

He left for lunch between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday, at which point the city barred additional people from entering the TCF Center. Larsen was not able to re-enter.

Elections officials have argued that at least 134 Republican poll challengers observed the absentee ballot counting before a surge of other challengers demanded entrance that was barred because of COVID-19 capacity restrictions. 

Two other affidavits — from poll challengers Andrew Sitto and Robert Cushman — alleged they were present at TCF Center when additional ballots were delivered Wednesday, past the time when the ballots should have been received. Cushman contended that the new ballots he saw were not from individuals listed on the qualified voter file or supplemental poll books.

A conservative website claimed it obtained a video from "a poll watcher in Detroit" that showed "wagons, suitcases and coolers moving in and out of a vote-counting center during the early morning" at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. But Detroit area WXYZ-TV said the man featured in the video who was wheeling equipment into the TCF Center was actually one of their photographers.

Republican former State Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township submitted an affidavit, but his name mistakenly was listed as Cushman's at least once in the affidavit. 

Colbeck claimed he was denied proof that the computers used at the TCF Center were disconnected from the internet and believed that they were in fact connected to the internet. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com