Unfortunately for his reelection chances, he fared much worse in other parts of the state. As of writing, he trails the president-elect by nearly 150,000 votes. Michigan is one of the three states he flipped in 2016 on his way to winning the White House; it’s now the state out of those three where he suffered the worst loss.
For some reason, though, Trump’s zombie campaign organization has decided that it will focus on Wayne County as it elevates its unfounded allegations of rampant voter fraud in the recent election, allegations that have been repeatedly rejected by state officials and for which no evidence has been presented.
On Tuesday night, the campaign sought to rectify that gap. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, donning her legally dubious Trump-campaign-worker hat, appeared on Fox News to inform host Sean Hannity that the campaign had collected hundreds of affidavits alleging improprieties in the vote in Wayne County.
She rifled through them in front of the camera, offering a taste of what the documents contained.
“They are saying that there was a batch of ballots where 60 percent had the same signature,” she said. “They are saying that 35 ballots had no voter record, but they were counted anyway. That 50 ballots were run multiple times through a tabulation machine. That one woman said her son was deceased but nevertheless somehow voted. ”
Those accusations are, in fact, in the documents, which the campaign provided to reporters. It’s just that McEnany’s summation lacks context.
The 60 percent with the same signature, for example, was from an affidavit filed by Anne Vanker. The figure was her own estimate — of ballots from a pile she describes as being “flagged that they were not on any voter registration list and not in the poll book.” There’s no indication that the votes were counted; from her description it seems likely that they were not.
The allegation that 35 ballots had no voter record is from an affidavit by Braden Gaicobazzi. He claims that the ballots were flagged as being challenged, but it’s not clear why they might have been counted anyway. Gaicobazzi also wrote that he saw a number of military ballots filled out for Biden and since he “had always been told that military personnel tended to be more conservative, [this] stuck out to me as the day went on.”
The ballots that were run multiple times through the tabulation machine is from Patricia Rose’s affidavit. It’s not that they were simply run repeatedly; the stack of ballots (50 was her estimate) kept getting jammed. The affidavit goes on to explain that there was a mechanical problem with the machine that was resolved. It’s not clear whether any votes were counted multiple times.
The last allegation is the most serious, offered in an affidavit by a woman named Anita Chase. She said that a check of the state's online tool showed that her deceased son had been flagged as voting twice by the state after he died. Voter files from Michigan do show someone matching her son's name and middle initial registered to vote, but that individual is older than Chase's son.
Most of the affidavits center on allegations that volunteers who wanted to watch votes being counted weren’t able to be as close to the count as they wanted (given the coronavirus pandemic) or alleging vague claims akin to the examples cited by McEnany. Beyond the claim made by Chase, no other specific allegations of fraud appear to be included. In a response to the affidavits, the city of Detroit put a fine point on it: “Most of the objections raised in the submitted affidavits are grounded in an extraordinary failure to understand how elections function.”
McEnany seems to have thought that the examples above made her case most effectively, given that they are the ones she highlighted on Hannity. Even assuming they all demonstrate fraud — not at all a fair assumption — the total constitutes maybe 100 votes. If you further assume that every one of those votes was cast for Joe Biden, his lead in Michigan drops from 148,645 to 148,545 votes. It goes from 2.687 percentage points to 2.686 percentage points.
To put it bluntly: There's no evidence at all of any sort of fraud anywhere close to enough to swing the results of the election.
But this wasn’t really McEnany’s goal anymore than it was Hannity’s goal when he invited her on his program. The goal, instead, is to create the sense that something massive occurred, not to show that it did. The goal was to wave around that big stack of paper to imply a lot was going on, even if the stack of paper showed nothing of the sort.
This has been a favorite Trump tactic for decades: impress through size instead of quality. As president, it’s been the focus of his rhetoric, whipping up enough claims that it’s tricky to sort out what’s accurate (little) from what’s useless (nearly all of it). To create enough of a volume of assertions that even skeptics can say things like, well, most of what Trump says is nonsense, but there is that one thing …
Sure enough, the Trump campaign's proclamation that it had those hundreds of affidavits tricked the credulous into thinking that this meant it had tons of proof of wrongdoing. Gullible voices on the right conflated the number of affidavits and the imprimatur of their having been attested to under penalty of perjury as necessarily suggestive of importance. But heft isn't evidence.
Imagine a baseball game with a traditional pre-covid audience. There’s a close play at home. Do you think you could generate 100 affidavits from members of the audience attesting to the player having been improperly called safe? Sure. That doesn’t mean that the player was out. It also doesn’t mean that the umpire got the call right, of course, but there’s pretty good reason to prefer his assessment to the crowd’s.
Again: This is what Trump has done since taking office. He tried for years to undercut the investigation into Russian interference by throwing out or retweeting any allegation that called it into question, however ludicrous. He tried to set the stage for his reaction to losing the election for months by amplifying ridiculous allegations about fraud, conflating things like improperly discarded ballot applications with proof of fraudulent activity. He tried to impress CBS News’s Lesley Stahl with a big book outlining his health-care plan; in reality, it was, like McEnany’s affidavit stack, just a collection of vaguely health-care related documents.
There is no evidence that the 2020 presidential election was tainted by fraud. Republican claims that it might have been aren’t even internally consistent, assuming wins in Senate races from the same votes that they say improperly favored Biden over Trump. Even if you were for some reason inclined at this late hour to consider their assertions remotely credible, the allegations made by McEnany, Hannity and Trump don’t show any widespread impropriety, much less anything at a scale that would call the election results into question.
This is what Trump does. He tries to create enough uncertainty that the truth gets obscured. But in this particular case, the mist of fraud claims is easily dissipated. Trump lost, and he has nothing to suggest otherwise.
This article was updated with the city of Detroit’s response to the affidavits.