Michigan Supreme Court denies Trump case over election challengers

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Supreme Court declined Friday to consider an appeal from President Donald Trump's campaign over the access provided to poll challengers at TCF Center, where Detroit's absentee ballots were counted.

"The application for leave to appeal the Dec. 4, 2020, order of the Court of Appeals is considered, and it is denied, because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court," the Michigan Supreme Court ordered in what appeared to be a unanimous decision.

In this Feb. 28, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C.

The Republican president's campaign had asked Michigan's high court to find Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson violated the state Constitution and election law because challengers' observations of the absentee ballot counting and ballot drop boxes were allegedly inhibited by local clerks and, by extension, Benson. 

Officials at the TCF Center in Detroit have repeatedly said challengers were given adequate access to the counting process. During a Dec. 2 Michigan Senate Oversight hearing, dozens of Republican challengers who were at the absentee ballot-counting center spoke about their firsthand experiences.

"Kicking challengers and observers out of counting boards and denying challengers a meaningful opportunity to observe the conduct of the election and tallying of ballots further undermines confidence in the integrity of the election," Trump's campaign argued in its application to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The campaign's attorney, Thor Hearne, wanted the Michigan Supreme Court to order "that designated challengers must be granted meaningful access to observe and review the tabulation and processing of absent voter ballots."

On Nov. 6, state Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had denied the campaign's initial lawsuit on grounds that Detroit had already completed its absentee vote counting and that Michigan's elections were run by more than 1,500 local clerks rather than Benson, against whom the suit was filed. 

Benson has already told local election officials to give access to poll challengers, said the judge, who was appointed by Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But the responsibility to give that access ultimately lies with the local election officials, who are not listed as defendants in the complaint, she ruled.

"I have no basis to find that there's a substantial likelihood of success on the merits as it relates to this defendant, nor am I convinced that there is a clear legal duty on the part of anyone who is promptly before this court to manage this issue," Stephens said.   

Last week, a 2-1 order from the state Court of Appeals said the Trump campaign's request to appeal the Stephens ruling was moot since the Wayne County Board of Canvassers and the Board of State Canvassers already certified the election. 

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

cmauger@detroitnews.com