An Election Observer’s Report: A Guest Post

by Lobo Loup, reposing remarks by Linda Seeley, Director of the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution:

From a someone, who is an official Democratic election observer in Detroit, recounting his experience yesterday:

As exhausted as i was last night i had a hard time getting the images from the day out of my mind and feel like i need to do a little public catharsis and record setting for posterity. This is going to be very long so bear with me.

Yesterday I spent 18 hours at the TCF Center in Detroit working as a Democratic Poll Challenger. What does that mean? It means I was credentialed by the Democratic party to observe the counting and recordation of votes in the City of Detroit. Any challenger’s (regardless of party) role is to observe the process, to ensure election laws are being followed, and to witness certain actions by poll workers. It does not mean challenging the votes cast in favor of the opposing party. This is about the PROCESS of counting votes. Not the substance of those votes.

When I arrived at the TCF center in the wee hours of the morning, Republican challengers outnumbered Democratic challengers 3/1. How do I know this? Because each challenger is required to sign in upon arrival through a single secure door. The law allows for one democrat and one republican per counting table. The TCF Center, like all commercial buildings, has a fire code limit and a local ordinance COVID limit that also impacted the total number of people in the room but I can assure you that the Republicans were extremely well represented in the room including those “independents” that registered as poll watchers but were coordinating with the Republican challengers. I personally witnessed nine independent poll challengers taking direction from the Republican leadership in the room.

The room is a large cavernous rectangle with four rows of “pods” that span the length of the room which I believe to be the size roughly of a football field. The pods are a series of four long folding tables with workers around the table counting and scanning ballots. There is a monitor on each table so that the challengers can view everything that is happening on the computer and watch the ballots register as they are being scanned. Challengers were required to stay 6 feet from poll workers and are allowed to ask questions but not allowed to interfere with the work or to touch any of the ballots.

When I arrived, the process seemed to be going smoothly. The workers were extremely professional, courteous, and mostly excited to be there if not a little tired. Republican challengers were mostly busy checking monitors for the number of votes cast and everyone was calm. The process is slow. If you don’t live here, what you need to understand is Detroit is 139 square miles with roughly 500 precincts and 180 polling locations plus drop boxes. Before a single vote is counted there is an extremely elaborate chain of custody process that involves the polling locations securing the ballots, checking their counts, observation by poll watchers and then a massive sorting process. It takes a long time because the integrity of the process is so important.

Once the ballots finally get to the pods (counting tables) there is a very specific process of how the envelopes are opened, how ballot numbers are checked against the number on the envelope and then doubled checked in the electronic voter record. Imagine how many couples who were voting absentee decided to just put both their ballots in the same envelope or accidentally switched envelopes. Every time something like that happens there is an additional process to verify the authenticity of the ballot and a record made of the correction.

I know that was long and boring but it’s important to understand this was not a free-for-all. They don’t dump all the ballots in a pile at say “have at it”.

The trouble began when we started to notice a coordinated attempt to systemically challenge valid ballots. The first attempt we witnessed was to challenge all ballots at any given table because the configuration of the table was not correct. Republican challengers walked around with maps of the facility and stated the configuration of the table did not meet election law standards. This was a meritless challenge. There is no such requirement.

Shortly after Republicans then challenged any ballots that were counted where there was not a republican and democrat challenger present. Again, this was a meritless challenge. The law allows for but does not require challengers present. Were that to be true you would throw out virtually every ballot in rural communities because there is rarely a poll challenger of any party present.

By that point we were reaching mid-day and Joe Biden had closed the gap. I couldn’t tell you what time it was as there are no windows in the room, and we were very busy. The tension in the room had grown and there was an influx of republican challengers who began to get aggressive. I personally witnessed Republican challengers, six to a table in some instances, demand to see a worker’s driver’s license, demand to know their party affiliation, demand to know where they lived, demand to personally count ballots, touch the voting equipment and/or ballots, and badger the team captain with questions to slow down the voting process. In one instance I personally witnessed an elderly African American woman brought to tears after being so harassed by a republican challenger she had to excuse herself from the table and gather herself before she could continue working.

Republican challengers were repeatedly told to stand back and to follow the law of one challenger per table and refused to do so. Although, I am sure Democratic challengers also violated the one to a table rule as well as a crowd draws a crowd.

By the afternoon it was clear Joe Biden had pulled ahead in Michigan and a large crowd gathered outside of the glass double doors to the room. Republican challengers, a great many of them uncredentialled by their party as required by law, demanded entrance to the count room. They were denied entrance because they did not have credentials and because the room had already exceeded its occupancy limits. Again, there was already a very large number of Republican challengers in the room and the party knows this because they had to sign in and the party provided them with credentials.

At some point things got scary. Protesters began to loudly beat on the doors and windows chanting “Stop the Count”. Armed police were brought in to create a human barricade at the door. I witnessed 4 Republican challengers being escorted from the room for interfering with the counting of votes.

Picture in your mind what that scene must have felt like for the people working in that environment. A room of mostly African American women sitting at tables trying their best to do very detailed and important work while many angry, agitated, mostly white men stood overtop of them peppering them with questions and accusing them of fraud or mistakes, for hours and hours. All-the-while a mob of angry mostly white people pound on the doors screaming “Stop the Count” while dozens of heavily armed police officers patrol the room and barricade the door.

This is white supremacy in its most unbridled form. Imagine the counter factual. Imagine if hundreds of angry black people rolled up into Macomb county, Clare, Alpena, or Escanaba and spent 18+ hours incessantly harassing and badgering your grandmother while she tried to count votes. Then imagine what would happen if hundreds more angry black people showed up and pounded on the glass demanding entry without authorization and began to chant “stop the vote” pounding on the glass while police in riot gear blocked the door.

And yet the people of Detroit persisted.

I also want to make the point that while the Democrats had many challengers in the room, I do not believe we filed a single challenge to any ballot. Not one. Nor do I believe the Democrats have deployed a single lawyer or poll challenger anywhere in the state with the explicit goal to suppress the vote.

The Republicans challengers became so desperate that they began challenging every single mail-in military vote cast. These ballots do not come in through traditional means (for obvious reasons) and must be processed through a different procedure. Republicans challenged this procedure over and over. Again, meritless.

I personally witnessed and personally attempted to defend the counting of nearly a hundred of these ballots. A great many of which were cast for President Trump. This was maybe the lowest point of the evening and in my mind a completely despicable attempt to increase the number of challenged ballots to give credence to a lawsuit at the expense of silencing the voices of people who are literally dying to defend our country.

I need to stop writing at some point, but I want to remember this moment. I want to remember these feelings and to record them for myself so they pop-up every year in my feed. I also want my children to be able to read this someday (or today) and to know that we fought for a better world for them.

I want people I know and love who don’t agree with my politics to at least read about the events of yesterday not through a partisan media lens or a twitter feed. This was my lived experience. I saw these events with my own eyes, and I will never forget what I witnessed.

I get asked a lot why I love Detroit so much not being from here. This is why. My eyes have been full of tears just writing this. The level of adversity people in Detroit face every day is more than many will experience in a lifetime. Many of the workers I met yesterday walked or took a several hour bus ride just to get to the TCF center to count these votes. They faced an angry white mob just to preserve their right to be counted in this country. This isn’t the deep South in the 1950’s. This happened in Detroit Michigan……yesterday. It was racism.  Just plain racism wrapped in the guise of “protecting the vote”.

The resilience, grace, and fortitude of the election workers was simply breathtaking. The adversity they faced was soul gutting and at times made me lose my faith in humanity and this country. I have such deep, respect and admiration for the people of this city I struggle to find the words to express it. I love you Detroit. You give me hope in an otherwise dark world.”