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Judge rules against challengers in Detroit vote counting case

Those who made the claims "did not have a full understanding" of the vote counting process, judge says in ruling.
Election workers count absentee ballots at TCF Center on Nov. 4, 2020 in Detroit.JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP - Getty Images

A Michigan state court judge Friday declined to block the certification of election results in Detroit, rejecting claims in a lawsuit filed by two poll challengers who said they saw several kinds of irregularities that allowed invalid ballots to be counted.

Timothy Kenny, the chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court, said those making the claims "did not have a full understanding" of the vote counting process and their "interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible."

In their lawsuit, filed Nov. 8, the poll workers said they saw troubling conduct at the TCF Center, where Detroit ballots were processed and tabulated. They asked the judge to block certification of the results and order an independent audit. Their suit also said the judge should consider invalidating the results and ordering a new election.

Affidavits attached to the lawsuit from other election observers claimed that workers at the counting center backdated mail-in ballots, accepted ballots that arrived after the 8 p.m. deadline on election night, and failed to verify ballot envelope signatures. These were examples, the lawsuit said, of “fraud and misconduct.”

But city and county officials, in their response to the suit, said the complaints were based on “an extraordinary failure to understand how elections function.” They said ballots were not backdated and that none received after the deadline were counted.

“Although they are challengers, they did not bring formal challenges. Instead, they waited until the votes were cast, the count was well-underway, and their favored candidate was declared a loser in Michigan by the national news services, before deciding to challenge the process,” the city said in its response filed in court.

The Wayne County officials said that in satellite offices where ballots were first received, some workers failed to enter the date the ballot was received, which was stamped onto the envelope, into the master computer file. When those missing dates were entered, the ballots could then be counted. And signatures were not checked in the counting area because they had been verified earlier by the city clerk's office, the city said.

Some observers said election officials blocked them from entering the area where ballots were counted. But the city said when the number of challengers exceeded the allowable legal limit, some were not allowed to come back after they left.

The lawsuit also sought to invoke a provision of the state constitution, adopted by voters in 2018, that says Michigan voters have the right “to have the results of statewide elections audited, in such a manner as prescribed by law, to ensure the accuracy and integrity of elections.” The city, however, said the legislature has determined that those audits would be performed by the secretary of state once the election process is over.

Friday's defeat for the challengers in Detroit is significant. The lawsuit was one of the more substantive of all the legal challenges filed since Election Day and sought to disrupt the vote count. Similar claims are made in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Michigan, and federal judges typically defer to state courts in interpreting state election laws.

Matthew Sanderson, an election law expert at Caplin and Drysdale in Washington, D.C., said the judge’s ruling was expected.

“City and county attorneys explained very effectively what seemed to be simple misperceptions about the vote-counting process. The plaintiffs asked for an extraordinary order from the court and failed to make a case that would have warranted a suspended vote count or a new election.”

This is the third time a court has had to dismiss Trump supporters’ completely fabricated claims of voting problems in Detroit,” David Fink, a lawyer for the city told NBC News.

“Once again, the court record showed conclusively the Detroit City Clerk ran a fair and proper election. The bottom line is the election was not close — Joe Biden carried the State of Michigan by more than 145,000 votes. It’s time for the sour grapes to end.”