COMMENTARY: Election 'fraud' is all too real


By Jacob Kahn   

Before Donald Trump was elected, before he was even a gleam in Steve Bannon’s eye, Republicans have been bleating their horns about election fraud. Way back in August of 2016, Donald Trump was already working hard to sow distrust in American elections.

“The election is going to be rigged—I’m going to be honest,” then-candidate Donald Trump said. “People are going to walk in and they’re going to vote ten times, maybe.”

My experience as a Democratic Challenger at the TCF Center on November 4 convinced me Trump is right – our process is rife with fraud. At law, the word “fraud” is a term of art, meaning a reckless misrepresentation made without justified belief in its truth to induce another person to act. For an entire day, I witnessed with abject horror, countless such acts of fraud by Republican election challengers seeking to disenfranchise Wayne County residents. It was at this point that I realized just how successful Russia and other foreign actors have been at interfering in our elections.
I do not think our adversaries actually care to affect the outcome of our elections. What I have come to believe is, regrettably, far more pernicious. I believe the swaying of American elections, which is the ostensible goal of interfering foreign actors, is actually tangential to their true objective – the mobilization of huge numbers of GOP voters, trained, for years, to believe that American elections are subject to fraud. Ironically, by preying upon Republicans’ fears that American elections are mired in corruption and marred by incompetence, foreign actors have actually activated countless GOP voters and paved the way for them to create those conditions, precisely. Our enemies do not need to hack any computers, or send in secret agents. Simply posting false news stories online has been far more impactful. By distributing terabytes of false information, America’s adversaries have groomed countless Republicans, who in the name of preventing election fraud, have proceeded to actually perpetrate it by way of false challenges in our own tabulation centers, in a twisted ends-justify-the-means approach.

Upon entering the tabulation room at the TCF Center, I found myself in a “corral” formed by several adjacent tables, leading to a narrow opening that let out into the rest of the expansive room. Before reaching that opening, every challenger was made to check in with election workers.

Everyone was asked to print their name, party affiliation, and time of entry. It was also requested that we sign out and mark our time of exit upon our departure. From there, we were left to roam unimpeded. Immediately behind the entryway was a taped-off square crammed with journalists, far removed from the actual proceedings. Had the reporters been granted greater access, perhaps this country would not be locked in a bitter debate over what actually transpired.

At the center of the room was a raised dais with the leadership. Closest to the dais stretched a line of tables adorned with several computers. At each computer sat one Democrat and one Republican, reviewing problematic ballots together. The racial divide here was pronounced. Shortly after lunch there was an exact split between Black and white, Republican and Democrat, among the teams reviewing the problem ballots. Thinly interspersed throughout the room were a handful of police as well, and off to the far corner, some tables set up with drinks and snacks. The room itself was hot, almost humid, but such are the conditions when well over a thousand people are crammed together for hours on end. The remaining space was occupied by 134 tables, each identified by precinct number and absentee vote counting board number. Every table was home to roughly six election workers, sharing the responsibility of opening ballots, entering them into the computer, setting aside those which may be defective, and generally counting the votes. All of the aforementioned individuals were working together with tremendous efficiency, a well-oiled machine built for one purpose – to deliver to America the results of the election with expedience and reliability.

Enter, the election challengers. The monkey wrenches in the gears. The quicksand on the trail. The molasses in January (or November, as the case may be). As Republican challengers filtered in, they began finding fault with everything. One man, prominently displaying his MI GOP credentials, exclaimed aloud as he discovered a hidden, crushed ballot under an election worker’s foot – finally, concrete evidence of election fraud – the destruction of a ballot by a young, black, female Detroit election worker. It was everything he had come to thwart. With a look of triumph perhaps only paralleled by a small child convinced he has discovered the contents of his Christmas presents, the man snatched the paper from underfoot, and raised it high – to discover that it was an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of printer paper with notes on how to tabulate. Democracy was saved. Later, another hero of the GOP prominently declared that she had witnessed an election worker surreptitiously slip a ballot into a black cardboard box, no doubt in an effort to withhold votes from our fearless leader. However, when a supervisor arrived to settle the commotion of the ranting woman, he opened the box only to discover it was devoid of ballots.

All morning, GOP challengers worked tirelessly to raise countless frivolous issues. One particularly acrimonious exchange involved a GOP challenger ordering (well beyond the scope of his authority) election workers not to count a ballot for which there was no corresponding entry on the roster provided by the precinct. I watched in near disbelief as the election workers explained repeatedly that the ballot would be set aside pending the distribution of the remaining supplemental rosters turned in by various precincts. He adamantly insisted no additional rosters would be forthcoming. How fortunate are the GOP to be blessed with the omniscience to know the contents of every scrap of paper floating through a room filled with tens of thousands of sheets.

The cumulative effect of these efforts was to drastically slow the count prior to the Trump Campaign filing suit in the Michigan Court of Claims, alleging that the GOP challengers were being denied “meaningful access” to voting centers. Around the time of the filing, dozens of would-be Republican challengers congregated outside the room pounded their firsts on the windows, chanting, “Stop the count.” It was at this point the goals of foreign actors seeking to destabilize our democratic process were fully realized. Here were real Americans screaming until they were red in the face, demanding the votes of other Americans not be counted – and it was no accident that those votes were cast by predominantly Black voters, and the tantrum in the hallway was thrown by whites.

If there is any inkling of truth to the motto printed on our money, “United we stand” – then America today is not standing. She is kneeling, or maybe splayed, contorted on the ground. Following the filing in the Court of Claims, MI GOP challengers switched tactics, demanding every ballot be challenged, because “a lawsuit has been filed,” and “the count must stop.” For those lacking a legal education but possessing common sense, of course it is well understood that the mere filing of a lawsuit cannot grind an election to a halt, absent a court order. Those most cognizant of this fact did not appear burdened by it. A number of GOP challengers, claiming to be lawyers, aggressively ordered election workers to stop counting ballots, or to set each one aside as challenged, solely on the basis that a lawsuit had been filed.

At one point, the GOP challengers inside the room began chanting and stomping their feet, shouting for the count to be stopped. Police quickly ended this, as the cacophony utterly disrupted the process. Election workers sitting across the table must be able to hear each other clearly. To this end, the decision was made by election officials to tape cardboard over some of the glass windows on which outside agitators were pounding, and making obscene gestures. At the crescendo, the pounding on the glass and screaming was so loud that election workers in that corner of the room were unable to process ballots. To anyone who thinks this is not realistic, I would challenge you to read to a friend a several digit number they must perfectly transcribe into a computer, as well as the spelling of a corresponding and unfamiliar name, while an intimidating stranger breathes down your neck and dozens of all-but riotous others pound on glass and scream just a few yards away.

In the afternoon, I tried to elicit from a GOP attorney challenger, his rationale for contesting repeated ballots on the basis of a “denial of meaningful access.” He was supporting an extremely combative GOP challenger who was causing quite a scene at a table, the supervisor of which was then otherwise occupied. Note that a strict instruction given to everyone by election officials was that it was impermissible for any table to have more than one challenger of each party. GOP-challenger-attorneys completely shirked this rule, arguing that they were not just challengers, but other challengers’ actual attorneys, and in that capacity they should be allowed to support them. After taking the gold medal for that feat of mental gymnastics, the challenger told me that because the GOP was being denied meaningful access to the voting location, none of the remaining ballots ought to be counted, or if they were to be counted, each ballot must be individually noted as challenged. I gestured first to the swarm of GOP challengers standing immediately around us, and then more broadly at the dozens more spread throughout the room, and asked him, “If this is not meaningful access, what is?” For this, no GOP challenger had an answer.

Finally, as the evening wound down and the majority of ballots had been counted, I hoped the remaining work would go peacefully. All that was left were military ballots – the absentee votes cast by those Americans perhaps most deserving of all to have their voices heard – our troops stationed abroad. Irrespective of one’s feelings on foreign policy or the military, it is incontrovertible that brave men and women risking their lives in hostile environments to defend our liberties must enjoy an absolute right to vote. Given the age-old Republican slogan of, “Support the troops!” I assumed the GOP challengers would stand down and allow these final ballots to pass unmolested. I could not have been more wrong. Some of the most contentious challenges of all were fought during the final minutes of ballot processing, in a concerted GOP effort to disenfranchise American soldiers, whose xeroxed ballots might have received a little smudge or folding somewhere between the sands of the Middle East and the building formerly known as Cobo Hall.

The purpose of this column is not to suggest that challengers working on behalf of the Democrats were saints. Occasionally more than one congregated around a table. A few broke the rules of social distancing. Some may have even raised their voices to a GOP counterpart. No, my purpose here is not to lambast the GOP and paint the rest of us as angels. Rather, I hope that this description of my experience will help readers sort fact from overwhelming fiction with regard to what happened at the TCF Center on November 4.
Jacob Kahn attends Wayne State University Law School, where he is a student attorney through Wayne’s Disability Law Clinic and its Access to Bankruptcy Court program. He serves as editor of Wayne’s Journal of Business Law.