Political observers reacted with amusement as well as alarm late Wednesday after the Trump campaign presented a federal judge in Michigan with what it called "shocking" evidence of rampant so-called voter fraud—and what turned out to be a collection largely of poll watchers' affidavits describing unpleasant encounters at ballot-counting centers on Election Day and in the days after.
As part of its lawsuit asking a federal court to block the state of Michigan from certifying its election results—in which President-elect Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 148,000 votes—the campaign produced 238 pages of the affidavits which described poll watchers' experiences of being stared at, disturbed by loud noises at the polls, and in some cases simply not understanding ballot counting procedures.
Washington Post reporter David Farenthold summed up the affidavits as detailing "loud noises, mean stares, and a big man"—but no election fraud.
NEW: @realdonaldtrump's campaign promised "shocking" proof of fraud in Michigan.
Instead, they provided a list of small-bore complaints from GOP poll-watchers about the ballot-counting room in Detroit, including:
--A big manhttps://t.co/bmNkFSBy4S
— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) November 11, 2020
A number of poll watchers reported feeling "intimidated" while observing voting and the tallying of ballots at the TCF Center in Detroit, the majority-Black city where Biden won 94% of the vote and Trump won only 5%. One affidavit described a group of union members coming across as intimidating to a poll watcher, while another woman said a "man of intimidating size" walked too closely to her and that she observed poll watchers wearing Black Lives Matter gear.
"Really the themes that we see, that persist, are this: Black people are corrupt, Black people are incompetent, and Black people can't be trusted. That's the narrative that is continually espoused by the Trump campaign and their allies in these lawsuits."
—Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel
"A generous way of stating it is that a lot of these Republican challengers seemed pretty uncomfortable around Black people," HuffPost reporter Ryan J. Reilly tweeted.
One observer complained that a public address system in the ballot counting center emitted loud messages from time to time, disrupting his concentration, while another found reason to suspect fraud after observing an unspecified, large number of ballots from military service members which cast votes for Biden.
"I had always been told that military personnel tended to be more conservative, so this stuck out to me as the day went on," the poll watcher wrote.
304/ One of the 234 affidavits the Trump team dropped in Detroit is a poll watcher saying it was suspicious that Joe Biden got votes from the military. This really is the whole thing right here. Just disbelief that Trump could lose. pic.twitter.com/OOsUP3jtWJ
— Isaac Saul (@Ike_Saul) November 11, 2020
"This really is the whole thing right here," tweeted Isaac Saul, author of politics newsletter Tangle. "Just disbelief that Trump could lose."
Polls taken in the run-up to the election found Trump's popularity declining steadily among members of the military. Two months before Election Day, The Atlantic published an article describing comments the president made in which he called Americans who died in wars "losers" and "suckers."
The president's numerous legal challenges to the election results have largely failed so far, with Trump lawyers forced to admit in a Pennsylvania court Tuesday that although the campaign wanted a judge to stop the Montgomery County Board of Elections to stop the counting of mail-in ballots, they could not argue that 592 ballots they were disputing were actually fraudulent.
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) November 11, 2020
The campaign and state-level Republican officials have even offered cash rewards to poll watchers and others who can present evidence of fraud, to no avail.
"This is an effort to find a problem when one does not exist," Roopali Desai, an attorney for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), said Monday in court in Arizona, where the campaign disseminated a false rumor that went viral on social media, alleging that ballots were rejected because voters used Sharpie pens to fill them out.
In Michigan, some of the poll watchers who filed affidavits appeared unaware of standard ballot-counting procedures and safety protocols that have been put in place to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
One poll watcher noted that some absentee ballots were in "pristine condition" and suspected that they had not gone through the U.S. Postal Service—entirely possible, because Michigan allowed voters to drop off absentee ballots in drop boxes this year due to the pandemic.
Others raised concerns about the ballot duplication process, in which election workers duplicate a ballot, marking the same selections made by the voter, if a counting machine is unable to read the document. Detroit officials confirmed that the duplication process was done correctly, according to the Post.
"Really the themes that we see, that persist, are this: Black people are corrupt, Black people are incompetent, and Black people can't be trusted," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday of the campaign's lawsuits alleging fraud. "That's the narrative that is continually espoused by the Trump campaign and their allies in these lawsuits."