Michigan judge denies Trump campaign’s request to stop vote counting

By: - November 5, 2020 2:59 pm

President Donald J. Trump at the G20 Japan Summit Saturday, June 29, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

A Michigan Court of Claims judge plans to deny President Donald Trump’s campaign’s request to stop counting votes in the state.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has been declared the winner in Michigan by the Associated Press and other major media outlets. He has a 3-point lead of 149,390 votes over Trump in unofficial returns.

Through a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the campaign’s request was that ballot counting be stopped in the state until additional poll challengers, either from Trump’s campaign or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, are allowed “meaningful access” to observe the ballot counting process. 

The lawsuit was filed after a majority of ballots had already gone through the counting process and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who was listed as the defendant, was the wrong person to sue, Stephens said. 


“We’re seeking the court to order Secretary Benson to direct election officials to allow observers and challengers in Michigan counting jurisdictions as provided by Michigan State law,” Trump campaign attorney Thor Hearne said. 

However, Judge Cynthia Stephens said she doesn’t believe there is enough evidence that local election officials are suppressing poll challengers’ access to the counting process.

Stephens stated that even though Benson is the state’s supervisor of elections, the duty to ensure that poll challengers have access to the counting process is in the hands of local election officials.

Benson settled a lawsuit last week that granted meaningful access to poll challengers after she initially set social distancing guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The settlement directed local election officials to adhere to the updated guidance.

“I have no basis to find that there’s a substantial likelihood of success on the merits as it relates to this defendant, nor am I convinced that there is a clear legal duty on the part of anyone who is promptly before this court to manage this issue,” Stephens said.


The campaign also requested that challengers would be able to review videotape footage of ballot dropboxes from each jurisdiction. 

Under Michigan election law, outdoor ballot drop boxes installed after Oct. 1 are required to be monitored by video surveillance. But there is not a statutory requirement that ballots be separated based on what dropbox they were placed in, making it difficult to trace ballots back to dropboxes at this point in the election process. 

However, the campaign requested that ballots submitted in drop boxes be separated until challengers can review video of the drop box. 

“The ship has really sailed on the relief they’re requesting in this case,” Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast said. 

The campaign also submitted an affidavit claiming that an unnamed poll worker was asked to change the dates on absentee ballots that were postmarked after Election Day.


“What I have at best is a hearsay affidavit, I believe, that addresses a harm that would be significant, but that’s what we got,” Stephens said. “We’ve got an affidavit that is not firsthand knowledge.”

Stephens said she will officially issue a written order by Friday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Trump supporters crowded outside of the TCF Center in Detroit — where poll workers were counting the city’s ballots — to demand counting be stopped. 

But Benson said this was just an intimidation tactic and remained steady that the election process is fair and secure, adding that representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties were able to observe the counting process. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.