In a conspiracy laden seven-hour hearing, Republican poll challengers and watchers testified in front of the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee. Despite accusations, they did not provide evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Dozens of mostly aggrieved Republicans testified Tuesday. Many raised concerns with the ballot counting process at the TCF Center in Detroit and said they were harassed by election workers.
Others repeated debunked conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, errors in Antrim County, birthdates from the year 1900 on ballots, and a batch of ballots that arrived in the middle of the night — all of which have been explained by state and local election officials or debunked by reporting.
Democratic state Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said some Republican officials are playing into the Trump campaign’s strategy of smoke and mirrors, simply to obfuscate and undermine the results — which show President-elect Joe Biden won the state by 154,188 votes.
Speaking to former Republican state senator Patrick Colbeck, who cited Sidney Powell lawsuits in his testimony and encouraged the legislature to appoint electors, Irwin said:
“You just go back and repeat the same old misconstrued statements about what happened in Antrim County. So, forgive me if it’s difficult after reading these lawsuits and listening to your testimony to understand even what you’re talking about.”
Many affidavits, little evidence
Most Republicans who testified said they’d be submitting written testimony or affidavits to the state Senate Oversight Committee, but most affidavits that were part of lawsuits have already been tossed out of Michigan courts.
Phillip O’Halloran, who testified early in the day, filed an affidavit and was a plaintiff in one of the Trump campaign’s failed lawsuits in the state. O’Halloran’s affidavit, along with the lawsuit, was voluntarily withdraw by the Trump campaign in late November.
Yet, O’Halloran and others like him had a renewed platform for their grievances Tuesday. Republican lawmakers offered little pushback at times calling the testimony “insightful” and “compelling.”
President Donald Trump tweeted several videos from the hearing, at one-point tweeting “Michigan voter fraud hearing going on now!”
State Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) and Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) occasionally corrected testimony or pressed for specifics.
At one-point Sen. Lucido asked O’Halloran, “What lawyer was that? I’m sorry Mr. Chairman for digging deep but these are individuals who are testifying under an affidavit that I need to know the name of the lawyer.” O’Halloran was not able to provide a name.
Lucido also asked several people if they’d submitted any evidence to the attorney general, “They need to be brought to our attention as policy makers, [we’re] not a court of law. This is not a judge sitting here… We’re elected officials, but we don’t wear robes and we don’t make decisions on what is going on here.”
He added, “But, we will listen to it for policy purposes to ensure the sanctity and security of the voting system.”
When Melissa Carone, a Republican who said she was working as an IT contractor for Dominion Voting Systems testified that she saw fraud, Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Township) mused “Did you contact anybody from the Trump campaign? Wouldn’t they have a pipeline to the Department of Justice?”
During the hearing, U.S. Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press the Department of Justice had not uncovered widespread voting fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 election.
Sen. MacDonald called Carone’s testimony “excellent” despite the fact that her claims have been debunked by Michigan’s longtime former director of elections, Chris Thomas, who said on Twitter during the hearing, “If batches of 50 ballots run through 8-10 times as Melissa Carone stated on affidavit and on media, the poll books would be grossly out of balance. That is not the case.”
Judge Timothy Kenny also said “Ms. Carone’s description of the events at the TCF Center does not square with any of the other affidavits. There are no other reports of lost data, or tabulating machines that jammed repeatedly every hour during the count. Neither Republican nor Democratic challengers nor city officials substantiate her version of events. The allegations simply are not credible,” when denying a petition for injunctive relief and an independent audit in an earlier lawsuit.
Sharp elbows and hurt feelings
Bill Schmidt was one of the few who testified who said he saw no evidence of fraud in his time at the TCF Center. He described himself as a lifelong Republican until this election. He said he served as a challenger at the TCF Center.
“I saw a lot of poll workers work really hard. And I think there were some hard feelings on part of many of the challengers. There was a lot of sharp elbows and people got their feelings hurt. And I think that’s what we’re seeing here today: hurt feelings,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt attributed the fervor to social media callouts beckoning untrained poll challengers and watchers to the TCF Center, “At every single rally the president had he said, ‘This election is going to be filled with fraud,’ Tweets galore, same thing.”
He added, “If you’re predisposed to see fraud, you will see fraud in just simple mistakes.”
The burden of proof
Despite no clear evidence, the crowd’s spirit wasn’t dampened — at times they chanted “Do your job” and “Four more years” outside of the hearing room so loudly it could be heard via the livestream and Chairman Sen. Ed McBroom threatened to adjourn the hearing, pleading with anyone who had “credibility with the crowd” to get them to stop chanting.
Calls for the state legislature to appoint electors, void the election in Wayne County, or hold another election persisted.
Conservative Radio host “Trucker” Randy Bishop threatened, “We won’t accept Biden and Harris as our president and vice president until we’re given proof that nothing was illegally done in this election,” requesting a “forensic accounting,” in several key counties, before adding, “and if you prove to us Mr. Biden, with all due respect, we’ll accept you as our president.”
It’s not clear what form of evidence or legal ruling would be satisfactory to prove that there wasn’t large-scale fraud in Michigan’s election.
Mr. Biden was not at the hearing. No Democratic poll challengers or watchers, nor election officials from Wayne County or otherwise testified at the hearing.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called the hearing “a regurgitation of vague accusations based on lack of knowledge of election procedure and widely debunked conspiracy theories.”
The statement also noted, “No actual evidence of any wrongdoing or fraud was presented, despite repeated questions requesting such evidence from lawmakers” calling this election “one of the most, secure, well administered in our state’s history.”
Trump campaign lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is expected to testify before the State House Oversight Committee Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. Giuliani, who’s not been successful in dozens of his lawsuits attempting to prove fraud, is set to appear in a “legal briefing” with Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox in advance of the hearing.