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Judge rejects request for Wayne County audit, halt to election certification

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny denied Friday a request to stop the canvassing and certification of Wayne County's election results, noting that Detroit officials "offered a more accurate and persuasive explanation of activity" within the TCF Center last week. 

Kenny also rejected poll challengers' request for an independent audit of the county's results, citing that state law governs the audit process. 

The judge cast doubt on the affidavits of several GOP poll challengers who were present during the absentee counting process, writing that they had not attended an Oct. 29 walk through of operations at TCF Center and "did not have a full understanding" of the process. 

"No formal challenges were filed. However, sinister, fraudulent motives were ascribed to the process and the city of Detroit," Kenny wrote in a Friday opinion. "Plaintiff's interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible."

Judge Timothy Kenny of Wayne County Circuit Court

Poll challengers, represented by the Great Lakes Justice Center, requested an independent audit of the Wayne County election results before the scheduled Tuesday completion of certification, a halt to the certification process, an order voiding the county's results and a new election in Wayne County.

Wayne County's bipartisan board of canvassers is expected to certify the city's results on Tuesday, followed by a state certification vote on Nov. 23. 

The lawsuit's allegations targeted purported restrictions on poll challengers, late arriving absentee ballots and clerk's office workers who encouraged early voters to cast their ballots for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and Democrats. 

The city of Detroit has denied each allegation and said they are proof the plaintiffs "do not understand absent voter ballot processing and tabulating."

"It is clear also that they did not operate through the leadership of their challenger party, because the issues they bring forward were by and large discussed and resolved with the leadership of their challenger party," according to an affidavit by Chris Thomas, a retired 36-year elections director for Michigan under both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. 

Thomas was a senior adviser to Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey during the Nov. 3 general election after issues with unbalanced poll books in Detroit surfaced during the August primary. 

Kenny appeared to agree with Thomas Friday, noting that some affidavits by poll challengers alleging unsecured ballots or too many ballots cast for Biden were "rife with speculation" and showed they knew little about the counting process.

He also questioned an affidavit by Republican former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township that alleged the computers at TCF Center were connected to the internet, noting there was "no evidence" to support the position. 

Colbeck, a GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2018, said in a pre-Election Day Facebook post that "Democrats were using COVID as a cover for Election Day fraud."

"His predilection to believe fraud was occurring undermines his credibility as a witness," Kenny wrote. 

Many of the statements supplied were "generalized," Kenny said, citing a statement by a Detroit worker who alleged voter influence was taking place at satellite clerks' offices but provided no specific names, no employees' names, no specific offices and no specific dates. 

"Ms. (Jessy) Jacob offers no indication of whether she took steps to address the alleged misconduct or to (alert) any supervisor about the alleged voter fraud," Kenny wrote. 

Democratic challengers also were barred from the TCF Center when it reached COVID-19 capacity limits, undermining claims that Republicans alone were targeted, he said. 

Kenny said stopping the canvassing and certification process would be "judicial activism" that infringed on a process created and approved by the Legislature. 

"It would cause delay in establishing the presidential vote tabulation, as well as all other county and state races," the judge wrote. "It would also undermine faith in the electoral system."

The city has said in its defense that the "unsecured ballots" the poll challengers allege were delivered to the TCF Center likely were blank ballots meant to be used to duplicate ballots too damaged to run through the tabulator,. 

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 case in Wayne County included an affidavit from Republican former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who is now a state senator. Johnson advocated court intervention and an audit of the results. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com