Raucous supporters of President Donald Trump tried to get election officials to stop counting ballots in Detroit, Michigan Wednesday afternoon—chanting "Stop the count!" and banging on windows—as major news outlets called the battleground state for Democrat Joe Biden and the Trump campaign filed lawsuits to temporarily halt vote tallying there and in Pennsylvania.
"The simple act of counting ballots is not a political act, it's an act of democracy that happens throughout the year."
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Detroit Free Press reported that "a chaotic scene erupted outside the vote tally room at TCF Center in Detroit as election officials informed dozens of challengers that they could not reenter the room due to it being over-capacity." Police were called in response to the rowdy crowd, which pounded on windows and doors while shouting "let us in."
In a statement Wednesday Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that "in no uncertain terms, we condemn the efforts by private individuals seeking to sow chaos in the orderly counting and handling of ballots in Detroit, an area that is home to the state's largest number of Black voters. The simple act of counting ballots is not a political act, it's an act of democracy that happens throughout the year."
"We must not stand back as so-called challengers seek to interject themselves in the process and disrupt the counting of ballots," Clarke added. "When we take the time to count and verify every ballot, it is a sign that our democracy is working. What's happening in Detroit is intended to politicize and jeopardize the integrity of an otherwise transparent and orderly process, one that establishes rules and restrictions that must be adhered to."
50-60 Rs wanted to get into TCF Center in Detroit. Clerk said no, they already had 250 Rs/250 Ds. Crowd of 50-60 Rs pushed thru doors and tried to get in counting area. Detroit PD dispatched officers. City says it’s under control and crowd of 50-60 are now outside counting area https://t.co/sVdMG5jB4O
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) November 4, 2020
— Steve Patterson (@PattersonNBC) November 4, 2020
Meanwhile, Trump's campaign was already giving early signs of how the president—who declared a false victory before dawn on Wednesday—is trying to use the nation's courts to help him secure a second term by calling for a recount in Wisconsin and filing suits to temporarily stop the counting of votes in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
According to the Associated Press:
The new filings, joining existing Republican legal challenges in Pennsylvania and Nevada, demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted, the campaign said. However, at one Michigan location in question The Associated Press observed poll watchers from both sides monitoring on Wednesday. Nevada is undecided as well.
The Trump campaign also is seeking to intervene in a Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court that deals with whether ballots received up to three days after the election can be counted, deputy campaign manager Justin Clark said.
The actions reveal an emerging legal strategy that the president had signaled for weeks, namely that he would attack the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean his defeat.
Like Wisconsin, which has 10 electoral votes and has been called for Biden by various news outlets, Pennsylvania and Michigan—which respectively have 20 and 16 electoral votes—could play key roles in determining the outcome of the contest. Shortly after the suits were announced, both the New York Times and the Washington Post called Michigan for Biden.
Trump 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien said that "we have filed suit today in the Michigan Court of Claims to halt counting until meaningful access has been granted. We also demand to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access."
"When we take the time to count and verify every ballot, it is a sign that our democracy is working."
Biden's campaign, when asked by CNBC about the suits, referred to comments made earlier Wednesday by campaign senior legal adviser Bob Bauer, who said on a call with reporters that "as far as our own planning: we're winning the election, we've won the election. And we're going to defend that election."
"We don't have to do anything but protect the rights of voters, and to stand up for the democratic process," Bauer added. "If it's attacked, as the president suggests it will be attacked, we're going to successfully repel that attack. So that's our mission. His mission is to attack the democratic process, and our commitment is to successfully defend it.
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CNBC also spoke with Jordan Acker, a lawyer and Democratic poll observer in Michigan who challenged the Trump campaign's claims of inadequate access to the tally locations.
"It's quite frankly ridiculous," said Acker, who arrived at the TCF Center in Detroit—the site where chaos later ensued—around 7:15 a.m. Wednesday. "There's a Republican at every table."
Christopher Trebilcock, an election law specialist representing Democratic interests in Michigan, told the Washington Post that he hadn't seen the suit but pushed back against the Trump campaign's suggestion of fraud in the state, saying, "I would find any such challenge spurious."
"Michigan election workers have been working through the night to ensure every legal vote in Michigan is counted," Trebilcock said. "The election should be decided by the people of Michigan... not lawyers for a candidate."
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf condemned the Trump campaign for filing suit, vowing that the state not only "is going to count every vote and make sure that everyone has their voice heard," but also "is going to fight every single attempt to disenfranchise voters and continue to administer a free and fair election."
"Our election officials at the state and local level should be free to do their jobs without intimidation or attacks. These attempts to subvert the democratic process are disgraceful," Wolf said. "In Philadelphia, officials are administering the election with the highest degree of transparency. There has been a livestream of the ballot-counting process available throughout the count, and all parties have canvass observers."
— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) November 4, 2020
According to the AP, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a CNN interview the lawsuit was "more a political document than a legal document."
"There is transparency in this process. The counting has been going on. There are observers observing this counting, and the counting will continue," Shapiro said.
Former Obama administration Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal blasted the campaign's actions in a pair of tweets. "The incoherence of the Trump election litigation strategy is on full display here," he said. "I know they are afraid of democracy, but at least be more competent about it."
"without our action, Pennsylvanians...may be forced to wait yet another several days for the outcome of the election." The 2 lawsuits contradict 1 another, all in 2 mere paragraphs
I know they are afraid of democracy, but at least be more competent about it.
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) November 4, 2020
Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware on Wednesday afternoon, Biden echoed his late-night remarks, saying, "Now, every vote must be counted... No one's going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever."
"America has come too far," said the former vice president. "America has fought too many battles. America's endured too much to ever let that happen. We, the people, will not be silenced. We, the people, will not be bullied. We, the people, will not surrender."
This post has been updated with comment from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.