As Congress convenes to count votes, Detroiters reflect on their role

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Photo caption: Detroit election workers say the challenges at TCF Center have given them strength as Trump and his supporters have attempted numerous legal challenges to Detroit’s votes (Devi Bones/Shutterstock.com)

It’s a hard image to forget: dozens of white conservatives pounding on a glass wall, demanding to get in a convention hall room of predominantly Black election workers tabulating Detroit  ballots. 

“Let us in!” some protesters shouted, according to numerous accounts. The pounding on the glass wall was so forceful that workers in the back of the 90,000-square-foot room at TCF Center could hear it. Some workers like Carolyn Geck worried the huge glass was going to shatter. Some Republican challengers inside the room tried to feed the chaos by chanting, “Stop the count!”

And yet the more than 1,000 Detroit election workers — most of them temporary workers and many never having worked an election — kept doing their job of processing the record number of absentee ballots cast by Detroiters for the 2020 election. 

The scene at TCF Center happened Nov. 4. Ten weeks later, several Detroit election workers say that moment has given them strength as Trump and his supporters have attempted numerous legal challenges to cancel Detroit votes. Trump still routinely spreads baseless accusations about the city’s election. 

“It was something we will absolutely never forget,” said Sommer Woods, a Detroit election worker, of the attempted storming of the city’s ballot counting. “The image of it was real, it will forever be cemented in my brain. And it’s the reason I’m like, ‘When can we sign up for the next election?’ ” 


First-time election worker Carolyn Geck said watching an angry mob helped her realize the level of outrage and misinformation that was spreading. 

“That moment really put it in perspective. It helps me see how ludicrous some of these accusations about fraud are — and how some people’s anger is fueled by something that’s not true,” Geck said. “You would have [to be] some kind of James Bond to pull off widespread fraud in that environment,’” she said, referring to the massive room where ballots were processed. Hundreds of Republican, Democrat and nonpartisan observers and challengers were on hand every step of the way. “It’s been infuriating to see these accusations being kept alive.” 

Geck, like other election workers, wants to recruit more friends to work in Detroit elections. She’s looking into ways to get more politically involved. 

On Wednesday, Congress will certify the election of President-elect Joseph Biden. But not before the lies that widespread voter fraud occurred in places like Detroit get hurled again. 

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The Senate and the House of Representatives are set to hold a joint session in the House Chamber at 1 p.m. Wednesday when the president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, will open and present the certificates of the electoral votes. Yet members of Congress are expected to parrot previously debunked false claims of election fraud in another Republican attempt to discredit Michigan’s election. For a detailed look at what happens Wednesday, read this Bridge Michigan story.

Outside Congress, thousands of die-hard Trump supporters are converging in Washington to protest the election results. That includes several busloads of Trump supporters from Michigan. 

Like many, the Detroit election workers say the events in Washington today are emotionally challenging.

“Oh yeah, I have had tough moments like everyone else,” Woods said. “But getting involved locally helps balance that.” Woods also said the election results in Georgia, in which Democrats won one at least one of two U.S. Senate seats were encouraging. 

Geck said she’s had to “distance” herself from some friends in Macomb County who continue to believe Detroit’s election was rigged. “I try to remember that so many people have stood up to the challenges.”

On Tuesday, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had to once again remind the public that Michigan’s election was conducted fairly and securely. 

“This was the most successful election in our state’s history, in which a record-setting 5.5 million citizens cast ballots, and clerks and election workers processed every vote meticulously, despite the challenges of the pandemic,” Benson said in a press release. 

There is no evidence of widespread election misconduct, as has been confirmed by President Trump’s former U.S. Attorney General, the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as well as numerous election officials of both political parties, and state and federal judges and justices, Benson said.  Additionally, state and local election officials have conducted more than 100 post-election audits, all of which have demonstrated the integrity of Michigan’s election.

Sofia Nelson is an attorney who worked the Detroit election for the first time this year. The protest at TCF Center happened on the third and final day of dealing with the record number of absentee ballots. Nelson worked on the second day.

“It was civil, no confrontation at all,” Nelson said, recalling her shift.  A Republican challenger stood behind her and her fellow workers for hours as they handled absentee ballots. 

When she heard of the confrontation the next day, she “thought of the imagery.”

“Most of the workers were Black women. To have a group of white conservatives trying to halt the process — I was just dismayed.” 

Nelson says it’s been a “roller coaster” to watch the numerous legal challenges against Detroit and Michigan’s election. 

As a lawyer, she’s been struck how baseless the claims are and yet numerous lawsuits have been filed. “To see courts weaponized that way is very scary. But to see judges from both pirates reject these challenges is very encouraging,” Nelson said. 

She intends to work in future Detroit elections and is hoping to persuade more Detroiters to also participate. 

On Tuesday, lawyers for the City of Detroit filed a motion to disbar Sydney Powell, Lin Wood and other attorneys behind a November lawsuit that claimed massive voter fraud in Detroit and Michigan. At a November news conference with Trump’s legal team, Powell claimed voting machines distributed by Dominion Voting Systems were part of a “communist” conspiracy. That lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Linda Parker. She described the allegations in the suit as “an amalgamation of theories, conjecture, and speculation.”

Detroit election worker Woods played a big role in stopping the angry crowd in November from entering the city’s ballot counting center. Woods managed room capacity in the massive convention center which meant she had to stop dozens of people demanding to be let in. Room capacity was limited due to coronavirus restrictions. 

She remembers people hurling insults at her as she and police stood in front of the doors. And some of the crowd was still trying to somehow get in. 

“I was never afraid. I just sort of kicked into gear of doing what needed to be done to secure the room,” said Woods, who had never worked an election. But she has years of experience of handling the logistics at large-scale events, such as the Super Bowl, the Belle Isle Grand Prix and golf tournaments. 

“I was absolutely blessed to be there in that moment with the skill set and experience that I have,” she said. Later, she thought about previous generations and their fight to secure Black American’s right to vote . “And then I thought, ‘Wow, I guess the ancestors felt they were just doing what they felt was important to be part of this process. ‘

“Now it’s our turn. Because this fight is far from over.”

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