Late Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign announced a lawsuit focused on “irregularities, incompetence, and unlawful vote counting” in Detroit, a city that helped President-elect Joe Biden win Michigan and the presidency.
But HuffPost’s review of 234 pages of affidavits released by the Trump campaign — which White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was waving around on Fox News Monday night — found only a mix of routine election issues, complaints about lines of sight and social distancing measures, and an environment supposedly hostile to white Republican poll watchers who seemed ready to treat any and all actions by election workers as nefarious criminal activity.
The day after the election, Trump supporters gathered at TCF Center in Detroit to chant “Stop the count” and bang on windows as election workers went about their jobs. There was even a bomb threat against the facility. Because all the ballots weren’t yet counted, Republicans falsely believed that Trump had won Michigan. (Biden now leads in the state by an enormous margin: more than 146,000 votes.)
The mostly white Republican suburbanites who went to watch ballots being counted in Detroit — because the Trump campaign had suggested that elections officials in the majority-Black city were engaged in a massive criminal conspiracy to steal the election — didn’t find any direct evidence of mass voter fraud.
But they did find a lot of “suspicious” people who weren’t as welcoming as they thought they should have been. A common complaint in the affidavits was that some people in the room were wearing “Black Lives Matter” masks and shirts.
One such complainant was Jacqueline Zaplitny, a Trump supporter who has posted multiple Covid-19 conspiracy theories on her Facebook page. In an affidavit stating she was certified as a ballot box inspector and poll challenger, Zaplitny complained that a supervisor motioned for her to stand back when she tried to register a complaint and that she was “able to observe closely for only a couple of minutes.”
An Associated Press photographer snapped a photo of Zaplitny lingering over elections workers, a loose face mask hanging below her nose. The Republican later posted the photo on her Facebook page, which also features a painting of Jesus Christ with his arms resting on Trump’s shoulders, numerous debunked right-wing memes, and a lengthy post about the rapture, the Antichrist and microchips.
Zaplitny says she was asked to leave the area, which she found suspicious. Another thing she found suspicious: a “man of intimidating size with a BLM shirt on.”
Another affidavit, from John M. Downing, a New Jersey attorney who was working as a volunteer with Lawyers for Trump, laid out how a Republican poll challenger named Karen had parked in the wrong location. She called Downing several times, he said, because a security guard wouldn’t let her into the building, and they eventually summoned the security manager of the TCF Center, who arrived on a Segway.
“Karen was upset,” Downing wrote. “They were all on the rooftop parking deck (where they parked because there was free parking) of the Convention Center, and were not being allowed into the building.” Downing complained that a security guard never tried to redirect the poll challengers to where they were actually supposed to park, so they never did find the right garage. By the time they got to the convention centre doors, their fellow Republicans had created a massive disturbance outside, blocking their way.
Many of the complaints centred on how election workers weren’t very nice to Republicans. One said they were told they were part of a Trump “cult.” One said they were called “a bigot and a c*nt.” Another said she was called “Karen.”
“I was told ‘go back to the suburbs Karen’ and other harassing statements,” Jennifer Lindsey Cooper wrote. “The Democrat challengers would say things like ‘Do you feel safe with this [woman] near you’ and ‘is this Karen bothering you?’ I believe this was designed to intimidate me and obstruct me from observing and challenging.”
One woman complained about a “tactic of fake befriending,” and said some people would “ask lots of questions to Republican challengers to either gather info or distract you while trying to observe.” The observer, Kristy Klamer, also complained that a Democratic challenger had asked her a reasonable question: “Why did you come here?” When Klamer said they needed more Republicans at the location in Detroit, she wrote that the Democratic challenger said, “I’m sure there is fraud everywhere I think I’ll go to your town next time.”
The Trump campaign lawsuit, filed by a St. Louis-based lawyer who previously litigated for the George W. Bush campaign and defended Virginia’s voter ID law, complains that “unlimited members of the media” were allowed inside to observe ballot-counting while Republican challengers were not. It seeks a court order to bar Michigan from certifying its election results until officials have “verified and confirmed that all ballots that were tabulated and included in the final reported election results were cast in compliance with the provisions of the Michigan Election Code.”
Many of the complaints centered on how election workers weren’t very nice to Republicans. One said they were told they were part of a Trump “cult.”
There are a few actually disturbing accusations among the Trump campaign’s affidavits. One poll watcher, an American of Chinese descent who speaks Mandarin, said a young man asked why the poll-watcher was allowed to be there, wrongly believing the poll-watcher wasn’t American. The poll watcher wrote that the “ethnic intimidation and discrimination continued for five minutes.”
Another person said an election worker remarked that they should not be taking part in the process because English wasn’t their first language. Another said that because they were admittedly not respecting social distancing guidelines, an election worker shoved them.
But overall, what the Trump campaign offered up is a mishmash of complaints from a number of poorly trained poll watchers who didn’t seem to know what they were doing or what they were looking for. One GOP poll challenger who signed an affidavit notably said they were given 20 minutes of training. Yet many of them seem convinced there was a massive criminal scheme afoot that they were about to break wide open if they could just get a few feet closer.
Take Braden Gaicobazzi, who says police eventually escorted him out of the facility. Gaicobazzi wrote that he showed up because he saw “an online note” from someone “within my GOP network of friends” about 35,000 ballots being received “in the middle of the night.”
Despite his admittedly minimal training, Gaicobazzi exuded enormous confidence about how he thought the ballot counting process should work. He said elections workers laughed at him and that he got the “Covid runaround” from elections workers who said he was trying to “kill or endanger their ballot counters with Covid.”
He also said an election supervisor made him “uncomfortable” by remarking that Gaicobazzi was “playing with” him, and Gaicobazzi claimed the supervisor either said he would “kick my ass or kick me out.” He also complained that, based on his “casual, friendly conversation” with other poll watchers that “EVERY single one of the lawyers/law students” he spoke with were “ideologically far-left, supporting things like CHAZ/CHOP in Seattle and condoning the crime skyrocketing around the country.”
He also didn’t like that a woman who appeared to be doing temperature checks “had a BLM mask on.”
Gaicobazzi also thought it very suspicious that so many members of the military from the Detroit area would vote for Biden, who he estimated received 80% of the military ballots he saw.
“I had always been told that military personnel tended to be more conservative, so this stuck out to me as the day went on,” Gaicobazzi wrote.
Yet another Republican poll watcher, an actual lawyer, wrote and signed an affidavit laying out precisely how he interfered with a police officer performing their duties as an “agitated” crowd banged on the windows outside and created a civil disturbance.
“I put my foot in the doorway, which kept it from closing,” wrote James P. Frego, a Michigan bankruptcy attorney. “The officer asked me to remove it.” But Fego didn’t. Eventually, he was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. “At no time did I swear at the officer, and up to this point had never been arrested in my life (I am 57 years old),” wrote Frego.
Articia Bomer, a Black Republican who ran against representative Rashida Tlaib as a congressional candidate for the US Taxpayers Party, wrote that she heard one man “say racist remarks about black people who support Donald Trump” and that she believed the remarks were directed at her. Bomer also claimed that she witnessed elections workers roll their eyes when they opened ballots with Trump votes. Without citing any evidence, Bomer speculated that “some of these ballots may not have been properly counted.”
Another woman, Amanda Posch, said she found out about the need for GOP challengers on the Facebook page of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which has since posted conspiracy theories about voting and promoted the #StopTheSteal movement. She said that when Republicans began pounding on the glass outside the room, a worker remarked how they were “acting like kindergarteners” and how they hoped the police would “come and shoot them, like you do to us.”
Despite assertions by Trump and many of his supporters to the contrary, there’s simply no evidence of mass voter fraud. The New York Times contacted officials in every state in the country, and none of them said there were any major issues in the 2020 election.
But Republicans are highly susceptible to such claims, and as Republican-appointed former federal prosecutors warned, this could have devastating consequences. Law enforcement officials are worried that, even though Trump’s claims smell of “desperation,” conspiracy theories about mass voter fraud will lead to violence.