Michigan Senate hearing puts new spotlight on unproven claims of election fraud

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan lawmakers spent more than six hours Tuesday probing for evidence of wrongdoing in the presidential election as unproven claims of fraud flew from Republican poll challengers who monitored vote-counting in Democratic-heavy Detroit.

With supporters of President Donald Trump chanting outside the meeting room's windows, the Senate Oversight Committee provided the most visible platform yet in Michigan for Republicans who have raised concerns about the way the election was administered. The spotlight will continue Wednesday as the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appears before the state House Oversight Committee.

Trump tweeted several clips of Tuesday's Michigan hearing as it continued. At one point, he posted, "Michigan voter fraud hearing going on now!"

Demonstrators chant outside the window of the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee's meeting room on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

More than five hours into the meeting, Bill Schmidt of Livonia, who described himself as a lifelong Republican before this year's election, said he served as a poll challenger at TCF Center, where Detroit's absentee ballots were counted. Schmidt said he saw mistakes but not fraud.

There was a lot of confusion at TCF Center, and people who were told there would be fraud occurring were predisposed to see it, he said.

"Evil can be seen by evil people," Schmidt said after he testified.

"Good people see goodness. What I saw is, I saw hardworking people working hard," he continued. "That’s what I saw. That’s America. That’s democracy.”

But many of those who appeared before the Oversight Committee said they witnessed "irregularities" and "fraud" in Detroit. Some of them demanded a forensic audit take place before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14.

Randy Bishop, a conservative radio host from Antrim County, said people won't accept President-elect Joe Biden as the winner until an audit proves nothing illegal occurred in the election.

"If you do that, the truth will be shown and our land will be healed," Bishop said. "Until you do it, we’re not going to buy it."

Biden, the Democratic former vice president, won Michigan by 154,000 votes, 14 times Trump's margin of victory in 2016. And there hasn't been evidence presented yet that throws that result into legal question. Tallies have been certified by bipartisan boards of canvassers in all 83 counties and by the Board of State Canvassers.

On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press that the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

No "actual evidence of any wrongdoing or fraud" was presented during Tuesday's committee, said Jake Rollow, spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Michigan's top election official.

"Instead, we saw a regurgitation of vague accusations based on lack of knowledge of election procedure and widely debunked conspiracy theories," Rollow said.

Many of the claims voiced Tuesday focused on speculation about situations that could have allowed for fraud, like stacks of blank ballots being left out and GOP challengers having to stand far away and not being able to see ballots as they were counted.

A demonstrator holds a sign while looking through a glass emergency exit door outside the meeting of the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

Other claims, like a mysterious early morning van delivery of ballots, have been explained by election experts or rejected in court. For instance, multiple Republicans talked about seeing voters' birthdays listed as Jan. 1, 1900, while watching the workers tally results in the TCF Center.

In a previously filed affidavit, Chris Thomas, Michigan's longtime former elections director, said the voters in question had been verified before their ballots were delivered to the center.

"Inspectors at the TCF Center did not have access to voters’ birth dates," Thomas, who worked as a consultant in Detroit for the election, said in his affidavit. "Therefore, due to the fact that the software (but not the law or the Secretary of State) requires the field be completed to move to the next step, 1/1/1900 was used as a placeholder.

"This is standard operating procedure and a standard date used by the State Bureau of Elections and election officials across the state to flag records requiring attention."

Similarly, Thomas has said the van delivery in the early morning hours of Nov. 4 brought approximately 16,000 ballots. The ballots had been verified by the City Clerk’s staff prior to delivery in a process prescribed by Michigan law, Thomas added.

Multiple individuals who appeared before the Oversight Committee were involved in a lawsuit that sought to block the certification of results in Wayne County, Michigan's largest county. That suit was rejected by Judge Timothy Kenny of Wayne County Circuit Court.

Melissa Carone said she had been contracted by Dominion Voting Services to work at the TCF Center. Carone said she saw ballots counted multiple times and never saw a vote for Trump while watching for about 27 hours.

However, Kenny said Carone's past affidavit of what she saw "does not square with any of the other affidavits."

"Neither Republican nor Democrat nor city officials substantiate her version of events," Kenny ruled. "The allegations simply are not credible."

At one point during Tuesday's meeting, Senate Oversight Chairman Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, threatened to adjourn it because of "disorder" as demonstrators yelled into megaphones from the sidewalk on the other side of windows along one of the committee room's walls.

The pro-Trump demonstrators chanted, "Do your job." They held signs that read, "We demand independent audit."

Afterward, McBroom said there were several theories voiced Tuesday that could swing Biden's 154,000-vote margin. But those theories haven't yet proven true, he acknowledged.

"They’ve offered some circumstantial evidence, maybe even been intriguing," McBroom said. "But I haven’t yet seen the proof come in that says, ‘Yeah, absolutely, there were 300,000 fraudulent votes.'"

Biden got 93% of the ballots cast in the reliably Democratic city of Detroit. Four years earlier, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton got 94% of the ballots cast.

For much of Tuesday's hearing, senators were quiet and simply listened to the testimony. Sen. Michael MacDonald, R-Macomb Township, said claims that GOP poll challengers were intimidated by election workers in Detroit were "reprehensible."

Lawmakers asked several questions of former Sen. Pat Colbeck, a conservative who is helping lead the push to question the election's results. Colbeck focused on his concerns about election software and technology at TCF Center, which he believes allowed for fraud to take place.

McBroom pressed Colbeck for specific evidence.

"How do we move from what's possible to what's actually happened?" McBroom asked.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, asked Colbeck why Trump's campaign hadn't asked for a recount if fraud had occurred.

“All we’ve got here is conjecture and musings by former Sen. Colbeck," Irwin said at another point.