Problems broke out in the main counting room in Detroit in the late morning of November 4th.
It was a day after Election Day, and by then the process of tabulating the votes of the city’s various scoring boards at the TCF Center, the cavernous convention hall where the North American International Auto Show takes place, had been going smoothly.
When a series of ballot papers came in from a delivery truck, workers methodically inspected them and registered them at 134 different tables, each monitored by voting monitors and so-called election challengers from each party.
But the attitude of the Republican challengers changed when the Count swung in favor of Joseph R. Biden Jr., spreading the news that President Trump was about to sue. A witness, an impartial observer, Julie Moroney, heard a Republican organizer say, “Now we’re going to challenge any ballot.”
Republican volunteers suddenly heightened objections across the room: allegations that the workers doing the census obviously entered incorrect birth years or backdated ballot papers. In some cases, the volunteers filed blanket claims for misconduct.
“What do you do?” A worker asked a Republican observer who was challenging ballot papers before he could even begin inspecting them, recalled a Democratic observer, Seth Furlow. The Republican Observer replied, “I was told to challenge everyone.”
Mr Furlow vividly recalled his discomfort at a scene in which mostly white Republican challengers faced the mostly black election officials.
The police had already led a handful of particularly disturbing observers out of the room. But Tensions increased when election officials noticed that the number of challengers had exceeded what each side was allowed and prohibited entry in order to reduce their ranks. The Republicans called for “Stop the Count”.
The fraud Republicans claimed to watch was not fraud at all, a Michigan state judge ruled Friday when he dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mr. Trump’s allies. Indeed, the various alleged misconduct cases were well-established procedures for dealing with the specifics of data entry, correcting minor errors, and social distancing protocols – all with the aim of ensuring a careful and accurate vote count.
But in the fact-changing narrative of Mr. Trump, his political allies, and his supporters, the Detroit Counting Center was a crime scene where Democrats stole an election, a miscarriage that demanded outrage from the courts, President Twitter posts, and cable news stem winder is directed.
And that was the plan the pro-Trump forces had envisioned all along.
Like similar episodes in Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, the Detroit scene was the culmination of a year-long strategy by Mr. Trump to harness the power of the executive, an army of lawyers, the echo chamber of conservative news media, and Republican obedience to his own Trying out the boldest exercise in bending reality: transforming loss into gain.
Masked by the noise of the by-election over the president’s efforts to falsely portray the electoral system as “rigged” against him, was how much Mr. Trump and his allies did in advance to promote an unfounded conspiracy designed to work around his He addressed the most passionate supporters with the opportunity to make his historically anomalous bid to hold onto power in the face of defeat.
This command is now on its last legs. The judges dismiss the President’s complaints as various alleged pieces of evidence alleged box of illegal ballot papers that was indeed a case of camera equipment and “dead voters“They live – unravel. And yet, Mr Trump has not given up casting doubts about the integrity of the elections as he tries to tarnish Mr Biden’s clear victory – with more than 5.5 million votes and also in the electoral college – with false hints of illegitimacy. On Sunday alone, he posted more than two dozen election-related tweets and appeared to briefly acknowledge Mr Biden’s victory before declaring, “I don’t admit anything!”
The roots of Mr. Trump’s approach go back to prior to his election in 2016, and he has continued to develop his plans during his tenure. However, his strategy of doubting the 2020 campaign outcome took serious shape when the coronavirus pandemic changed normal life and prompted states to encourage voting by mail.
From the outset, the president viewed postal ballot papers as a political threat that would appeal to more Democrats than his supporters. And so he and his allies tried to block movements to make postal voting easier and to slow down the counting of postal ballot papers. This enabled Mr Trump to do two things: claim an early victory on election night and paint ballot papers that would later be counted as fraudulent to his opponent.
After the United States Postal Service came under the leadership of an ally of Trump’s, Louis DeJoy, it took several cost-saving measures that significantly slowed mail delivery rates and caused great concern over on-time postal votes.
In the Senate, Republicans, led by majority leader Mitch McConnell, blocked Democratic efforts to get more money to states so they could buy more sorting machines to help them count the enormous influx of postal ballot papers faster.
In key states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, Republican-controlled lawmakers have opposed attempts by civil rights groups and Democrats to amend or suspend laws prohibiting poll workers from starting ballot counting before election day. And when the count started, the Trump campaign and the president’s allies used other tactics to slow or stop the count and cast doubts about the validity of the results.
Before Election Day, party officials at the state and national levels helped organize observation groups, a role that was once a symbol of the transparency of American democracy. In this instance, Mr Trump and his allies encouraged their key state observers to act aggressively to stop what they portrayed as widespread cheating and provide information that could feed into lawsuits and encourage demonstrations and coverage from friendly commentators and journalists .
As a Pennsylvania state senator, Mike Regan, a Republican, has it on one Rally in Harrisburg Last week: “The State party and our leaders have no doubt told me that they are coordinating with the Trump campaign, and Pennsylvania has so far done everything the Trump campaign has asked of them.”
Almost everything would be done in the name of a lie: that the American electoral system had been so corroded by fraud that loss to the president could not be legitimate.
There was no greater proponent of this notion than Mr. Trump, who promoted it heavily behind his lectern or from his phone. A presidency that started with a lie – that President Barack Obama was not a citizen – now ends with one.
How it started
When Mr. Trump confirmed in September 2016 that Mr. Obama was indeed born in the United States, he was well on his way to promoting a new false story that the election had been rigged in favor of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Given what he and the entire political world expected as a loss, Mr. Trump regularly reiterated the claim when he was supported by international and national allies: ambush video activist James O’Keefe, Russian troll networks, Sean Hannity and Infowars.
Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime advisor to Mr. Trump and a longtime Republican trickster, formed an outside group. Stop the theftwho tried to enlist election monitors to collect evidence of democratic fraud. Mr Trump’s advisors prepared legal go teams to fly anywhere he could make a claim.
He also hired a local general for his efforts to bring election fraud charges: a Philadelphia agent named Mike Roman. Mr. Roman had Gained fame in Conservative circles in 2008 for helping to post videos of a Philadelphia voting location where two members of the New Black Panther Party patrolled outside, one with a Billy Club, and became one much controversial Cause in conservative news media.
Trump’s electoral college victory made those plans unnecessary for 2016. However, the new president had reason to hold on to the lie to cast doubt on the fact that he lost the referendum by nearly three million.
Mr Trump even went so far as to impan a presidential commission to back his charges of widespread electoral fraud, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kris Kobach, a former Kansas Secretary of State and prominent proponent of the baseless idea that electoral fraud is a national threat .
The Commission disbanded after several months due to litigation and disagreement without making any findings. However, internal documents later released through litigation indicated that they had already worked out the outline for a before starting their work report to claim systematic electoral fraud and that it wanted to produce one extensive database Identify fraudulent registrations based on information from government agencies.
Such matching exercises are a necessary part of the correctness of the voting lists. In recent years, however, sloppy data comparisons have led to flawed but sensational-sounding claims by supposedly dead or non-citizenship voters that repeatedly fell apart after careful scrutiny.
Prior to the 2020 elections, Republicans in several states aggressively “purged” their roles based on such inaccurate data matching, often with the assistance of Mr Trump, before making embarrassing revelations that their lists were grossly flawed and threatened legal voters mistakenly removed from their roles.
For example, a poorly conducted data match resulted in Texas announcing in early 2019 that it had identified around 95,000 “non-citizens” on its registration lists. The state moved quickly to remove these allegedly illegal voters – many of whom are of Spanish origin – from its lists as Mr. Trump posted on twitter this “election fraud is widespread.”
After further review Texas learned that its data was incorrectand civil rights groups successful sued to stop the proposed purge. Wisconsin belated plans for a major purge last year over concerns about the accuracy of the information, prompting a Conservative lawsuit to move forward that is pending.
Up until then, Wisconsin, along with Pennsylvania and Michigan, was a critical battlefield for both parties.
That November, Justin Clark, a senior Trump adviser, visited Republicans in Madison, Wisconsin to emphasize the importance of the state to Mr. Trump’s prospects. He signaled that election fraud allegations would be key to any Trump strategy in 2020, according to a record leaked The Associated Press In December.
Mr. Clark explained how an intimidation ruling against Republicans in New Jersey in the early 1980s had resulted in a long-standing court order prohibiting the Republican National Committee from sending and organizing election observers to elections. But this decree finally expired in 2018 what, Mr. Clark saidgave the national party a new way to send challengers to polls in 2020 and coordinate in each battlefield state.
The challengers would focus on democratic “cheating,” he said. And the Republican Party would have the ability to spread these allegations far and wide through the President of the United States’ social media accounts.
“How often do you have a problem in a county that is just egregious and terrible but never gets the attention it deserves because the media doesn’t report it?” Mr. Clark told the Republicans. “We have a committed man who is able to get the media’s attention to things and just say things.”
Clashes in the States
Wisconsin was one of three major battlefield states, along with Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the president had loyal allies who controlled the state legislature but were Democrats in the governors’ mansions.
During the pandemic, these political dynamics resulted in clashes that intensified as the key role of postal voting became apparent. The Democrats voted in large numbers by mail in the spring primaries. The need for more money and new methods to process postal ballot papers more quickly became clear.
An explosion of litigation and legislative maneuvers ensued, with constituencies and Democrats pushing for postal balloting and counting to be made easier, and pushing Republicans to maintain deadlines and restrictions to prevent fraud.
A case that reached the Supreme Court gave Wisconsin extra time to count ballots in its primary as the state struggled to run the election during the pandemic.
After the Pennsylvania primary in June, Philadelphia officials counted for a week. Negotiations began in state legislation on changes that would allow the November census to go more smoothly.
Local electoral administrators and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, tried three weeks before election day to allow early processing of postal ballot papers, known as prevavassing. Statehouse Republicans publicly signaled a willingness to work on the issue, but continued to adhere to conditions.
One demand was aimed at eliminating dropboxes that voters could use for voting papers, unlike the regular postal system. Another wanted new requirements for signature conformity or the removal of a requirement that all election observers in the county must live by.
“Every time we agreed on something that was published there, they raised the bar,” said Jay Costa, the Senate Democratic minority leader who led the negotiations.
After all, there seemed to be some dynamic behind an agreement that would have allowed it to advertise three days in advance, improving security for dropboxes and ballots that were postmarked on election day and counted within three days. But the deal fell apart abruptly after a meeting of Republicans in the lower chamber.
In Michigan, Republicans performed a similar dance in state law and seemed willing to devote more time to ballot processing, just to negotiate the extra time down to just 10 hours and only in counties with more than 25,000 people .
Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic Secretary of State, was forced to accept the deal as better than nothing and called it a “small step forward”. In an interview back in September, however, she expressed concern that the count would remain so slow that there was room for misinformation about the process of dissemination.
States like hers, Ms. Benson noted, were in dire need of more federal funding for devices like high-speed envelope openers that could speed up counting.
In Washington, Congress earlier this spring allocated $ 400 million to prepare for pandemic elections under a $ 2 trillion recovery package known as the CARES Act – a welcome injection, but it was $ 3.6 billion shy of what election officials projected would be needed nationwide.
Democrats like Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota pushed for more all summer and into early fall. Several influential Republicans, including Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the rules committee, said they were doing so open to morebut nothing would come of it. Mr Trump had made clear his opposition to more money to support increased postal voting, and aides to Mr McConnell argued that Congress had already allocated enough.
Looking back, Senator Klobuchar said she saw Republicans’ decision to block more money to run the elections and support the postal vote as part of a plan to “wreak havoc because that was one of the few avenues he’d go to Saw victory “.
“Wrong and not credible”
That fall, it was increasingly likely that Mr Trump had an early advantage on election day when the personal vote kicked in, but lost the mail-in vote and possibly the presidency as a result. A digital consulting firm founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, Hawkfish, called the “red mirage” returns early.
The President and his allies embarked on a concerted campaign to turn this situation – to which they contributed by opposed the early counting of postal ballot papers – to something more sinister.
“They’re planting stories that President Trump will have a landslide lead on election night but will lose when they count the mail-in ballots,” Donald Trump Jr. said in one Video posted on Twitter At the end of September it was viewed almost 2.5 million times. “Your plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that could cancel your vote and topple the election.”
The president urged his supporters to become election observers. “If you go there, watch all the thieves steal and rob them,” he said at a rally in North Carolina.
Mr. Roman, the Philadelphia agent involved in the New Black Panther Party case, would be responsible for overseeing the polls. His Twitter account quickly began to dispel misleading allegations that, for example, electoral officials in Philadelphia were keeping Trump observers away from satellite websites for early voting.
Thousands heard the call and the message. The day before the election, a Detroit Republican election observer named Bob Cushman posted a meme on Facebook with a photo of Mr. Trump with a shotgun and the caption “Election theft is not tolerated in America.” (As Detroit city attorneys later reported in court records, Mr. Cushman shared other posts advocating the QAnon conspiracy theory.)
About 24 hours later, Mr Trump delivered the same message as he addressed White House staff, supporters, and supporters while the voices were tabulated across the country and his early leads slipped off.
“We won everything and suddenly it was just canceled,” he said. “We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find ballots at four in the morning and add them to the list. “
From there, a fire hose of confusion flooded the conservative news media and major social media platforms.
“We believe these people are thieves. We believe that the big city machines are corrupt, ”said the former house spokesman Newt Gingrich said on Fox & Friends.
When Democrats, opposing attorneys, fact-checkers, and in some cases, judges pressed for evidence, the Trump campaign released what White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called “234 pages of affidavits” by Trump election observers in Detroit: ” real people, real accusation, signed with notaries. ”
The affidavits were tied to a final federal lawsuit through the Trump campaign to ban Detroit from confirming its findings. As the city’s attorneys pointed out with expert testimony on similar affidavits in another Republican lawsuit in a state court, what the Republicans saw was standard practice designed to ensure an accurate and legal count.
For example, Republicans who believed they experienced fraud when workers entered 1900 birthdates for some postal ballot papers did not appear to understand that it was done in cases where information other than birthdates was used for verification and the data was not readily available were available. The date 1900 was a placeholder for the computer program that required something in the Date of Birth field.
Other witnesses reported that ballots arrived at the convention center after 8 p.m. Deadline; Detroit officials said the ballot papers arrived at other polling stations and boxes in the city on time and were perfectly legal.
On Friday, Judge Timothy M. Kenny dismissed the lawsuit in a Michigan court, mainly on the grounds that the affidavits were meaningless. The “interpretation of what happened in the suit is wrong and not believable,” he noted.
When thousands of the President’s supporters demonstrated in Washington on Saturday, the legal losses and implausibility of the elections were irrelevant. As marched through the streets They held a huge Trump flag with white stars against the background of the Navy and repeatedly sang the phrase that Mr. Stone had planted four years ago: “Stop the theft.”
Michael Wines contributed to the coverage.