Trump targets Detroit, falsely claiming he won Michigan

President Donald Trump held a Thursday night press conference where he railed against Democrats, polling and the counting of ballots in cities, including Detroit, but didn’t provide hard evidence about the voting allegations.

At one point, Trump falsely claimed he “won” Michigan. While he was ahead in the early counting of votes, there were many more ballots to be counted when he was in the lead.

With 100% of precincts reporting, he lost to Democrat Joe Biden by 145,000 votes, about 14 times the total of 10,704 votes he won the state by four years ago. Biden’s margin is also more votes than Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by combined four years ago.

Absentee ballots are counted at the TCF Center in Detroit on Nov. 3, 2020.

The Republican president specifically targeted Detroit, saying Michigan’s largest city doesn’t have the best reputation for election integrity. 

Detroit has had a pattern of troubles over at least 15 years that have included judicial intervention, recounts of ballots by state election officials and an FBI investigation into potential voter fraud.

From outdated voter rolls to special deliveries of absentee ballots to obsolete equipment to mismatched poll book numbers, Detroit has become a regular epicenter of voting irregularities that haven’t resulted in widespread voter fraud but have raised questions about the counting of ballots.

At issue in Tuesday’s election is the counting of absentee ballots at the TCF Center in Detroit, where there were Republicans present.

Still, Trump claimed his campaign had been barred from observing vote counting in Detroit. A Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens said Thursday she was denying the Trump campaign’s request for an injunction to stop the voting in part because the counting was almost complete and the proper venue for the complaint was in local communities.

The president also claimed that a batch of ballots arrived in the early morning hours Wednesday to be counted at the TCF Center — a claim that has been levied this week without specific evidence about the circumstances of the ballots’ delivery.

It would be normal for batches of absentee ballots to be delivered to TCF Center, where they were being counted. Michigan has a verification system for tracking ballots as they move through the tabulation process. 

“Detroit and Philadelphia, known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country, easily, cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race,” Trump said. 

The Republican president actually performed better in Detroit this year than he did four years ago. Trump got nearly 5,000 more votes in the Democratic stronghold than in 2016, improving from 3% of the vote to 5%. 

Turnout in the city was up only slightly from 2016, which suggests there wasn’t a large injection of fraudulent ballots. There were 248,265 votes cast in Detroit’s 2016 presidential election compared with 250,138 votes this year, an increase of 1,873 votes or 0.7%, according to currently available unofficial results. 

Michigan has a decentralized election system with multiple checks and paper ballots that experts argue would prevent widespread fraud. Counties in Michigan also have bipartisan boards of canvassers that are in charge of confirming election results. 

Michigan has numerous procedures to maintain the accuracy, safety and security of its elections, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said.

The bipartisan boards of canvassers go through all of the results to make sure there is a voter for each ballot voted, said Byrum, a Democrat. This can be proven by the voter’s signed application to vote or their signed absentee voter return envelope, she added.

“Michigan elections are safe and secure. If the president was so concerned about fraudulently voted ballots then perhaps he should not have told people to vote twice a few months ago,” Byrum said.

The final county election results are then scrutinized by the bipartisan State Board of Canvassers and are certified in a board vote.

Michigan lawmakers immediately criticized the president’s comments.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican turned Libertarian from the Grand Rapids area, tweeted: “Half-truths and deliberate obtuseness are two hallmarks of the Trump presidency.”

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, tweeted in response that it was time for leaders to choose between “fealty to President Trump or democracy.”

“History is presenting a real test for the people who have downplayed the president’s anti-democratic words and deeds. Leaders can no longer dodge their responsibilities to our democracy,” Slotkin said. “These responsibilities are bigger than one man or any one party.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, was more blunt.

“Per usual, he is lying,” Tlaib tweeted. “But seriously, these lies are dangerous and must stop.  Shame on anyone who continues to enable him. Stop the madness.”

Every legal vote should be counted, but issues should be addressed if they arise, retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden tweeted.

“Where there are issues there are ways to address them. If anyone has proof of wrongdoing, it should be presented and resolved. Anything less harms the integrity of our elections and is dangerous for our democracy,” he wrote.

“I have experienced both losses and victories in elections. Losses hurt deeply — I know that personally. But our nation demands that its political leaders accept both wins and losses with grace and maturity. Let the voters decide.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, argued that the electoral process is working.

“Votes are being counted, then a winner will be declared. Republican attacks on the integrity of our electoral system are shameful,” Kildee tweeted. 

The Trump campaign’s lawsuit in Michigan alleged damages to election challenger Eric Ostergren of Roscommon County and argued that Michigan’s absent voter counting boards were not allowing inspectors from each party to be present.

It did not say which specific absent voter boards were denying access to inspectors, but Trump campaign attorney Thor Hearne said during a Thursday hearing that Ostergren was denied access to an Oakland County absentee counting board. He did not say when Ostergren was denied access or why.

Staff Writers Beth LeBlanc and Melissa Nann Burke contributed.

cmauger@detroitnews.com