First Draft often references its “trumpet of amplification,” an infographic that illustrates the journey that disinformation often takes, during the many training sessions on information disorder that it provides to newsrooms across the country. The trumpet often starts off as rumors and fabricated content on the anonymous web (on platforms like 4chan and Discord), then moves into closed or semi-closed groups (Twitter DM groups, Facebook or WhatsApp groups), onto conspiracy communities on Reddit Forums or YouTube channels, and then onto open social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, frequently elevated when influencers share it. At this point, it often moves into the professional media.
In the months leading up to the election, the team at First Draft monitored the many platforms where disinformation flourishes to see the signs that the results of the election would be protested. The following timeline is based on live research conducted by First Draft journalists in the hours after polls closed on Election Day surrounding the events that took place at TCF Center in downtown Detroit in which right-leaning protesters made unfounded claims that widespread voter fraud was being committed by the election workers. You’ll see snippets of the chatter that began to bubble up late Nov. 3 and came to a head the following day. It started with posts encouraging poll challengers to show up to help “protect” the Republican lead and escalated with unfounded claims that challengers were being blocked from entering the building.
The following is a timeline of events that First Draft watched in real time on Nov. 4 and documented.
At 2:02 P.M. EST Mike Roman, Trump 2020 Executive Director of Operations, shared a video purporting to show poll challengers being ejected from an absentee ballot counting center in Detroit. Rumors of malfeasance at the tabulation center have been spread by political figures like Roman and elected officials like Aric Nesbitt as well as former state senator Patrick Colbeck.
The earliest calls for additional poll challengers at the convention center on November 4 are from Democratic officials, and were made in response to an influx of right-leaning poll challengers showing up on the 3rd. We were then able to see quick calls to action from local Republican groups, claiming they were prompted by a Trump campaign field director to volunteer to be poll challengers.
The crowds gathering at Detroit’s TCF Center — where ballot counting is expected to finish by 6 p.m. on November 4 — are leading to a number of videos of crowds and claims of fraudulent activity. Michigan law allows for poll watchers and poll challengers. Poll watchers monitor voting sites and can report issues. Poll challengers, on the other hand, can challenge a voter’s eligibility and the validity of mail-in ballot. The events at the TCF Center concern poll challengers.
Poll challengers must be appointed by political parties or other organized groups. They can, among other things, look at election materials and even sit at the tables where voters are processed. They can challenge both the validity* of mail-in votes and the procedure by which they’re processed**.
So why the crowds at the TCF Center? In the lead up to Election Day, Republicans sent out a call for poll challengers. By only 134 poll challengers for each party are allowed into TCF Center at any one time, though each party seems to be exceeding its limits. And as people are being removed for violating the rules, new challengers aren’t replacing them
Calls to action
12:28 a.m.: ANNOUNCEMENT: We need credentialed challengers (Michigan registered voters) to join our team at TCF at 6 a.m. for the completion of the Detroit absent voter counting board. If you are interested in joining our team at TCF, please email Mike ([email protected]) Please meet at Hall E at TCF. [Facebook, Andy Levin]
2:21 a.m.: Reposting to ask for volunteers Attn Michigan voters! *repost* From Michigan election protection. If you can, please go down to TCF (formerly COBO) at 6:00am They need bodies! 60 republicans showed up at midnight and are challenging the counting of ballots [Facebook, University of Michigan Black Alumna]
7:15 a.m.: EMERGENCY HELP IS NEEDED AT TCF PROTECTING THE REPUBLICAN LEADER RIGHT NOW!! (7:15AM) 11/4/2020 [Facebook, Wayne 11th Republican Committee]
7:29 a.m.: Urgent & important! I just got this text from Wayne County Michigan Trump field director Ty. “Come to TCF Center 1 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226 (Room 260) help needed to protect our lead, will get you credentialed upon arrival. Tell others.” Who is interested/available? Or can you think of anyone who would be? Please send a private message to Michigan for Donald Trump and I will reach out to you. [Facebook, Michigan for Donald Trump Group]
8 a.m. From Macomb County Republicans on Facebook: Help Needed Downtown Detroit- TCF Center (formerly Cobo Hall) To Protect Our Lead. We Must Make Sure that all Voting Protocols are being followed. You will get credentialed upon arrival. Please, Please come down.
8:08 a.m.: From Livingston County Republicans on Facebook: Urgent & important! I just got this text from Wayne County Michigan Trump field director Ty. “Come to TCF Center 1 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226 (Room 260) help needed to protect our lead, will get you credentialed upon arrival. Tell others.” Who is interested/available? Or can you think of anyone who would be? Please send a private message to Michigan for Donald Trump and I will reach out to you.
From: Journalist Chad Livengood on Twitter: Republican voters got this email at 11:25 a.m. instructing them to “immediately” go to @TCFCenter and become poll challengers.
From: @Antifash on Twitter: GOP operatives are coordinating a “Stop” the Count” protest in Detroit the the TCF Center. Conference Room 260. In the same building where the vote is being counted. Whatever you do, do not drop by Conference Room 260 to skateboard and listen to doom metal and bother them. [emojis: rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughingRolling on the floor laughing]
Another Update: HHS is not allowing more people into the beguiling due to their COVID restrictions! [angry emoji] We currently have enough people right now. Looking to fill 5pm and later spots. DO NOT REMOVE YOUR MASK or they will have you removed from the building. Update: we have had an outpouring of Patriots stepping up! Thank you!! [American flag American flag heart prayers strong emojis We now have first shift covered. Next shift in need is 3pm and later. Thank you! [Facebook, Myuh Hahn]
*The relevant language: “Challenge Against an Absent Voter Ballot. If an absent voter ballot is challenged, prepare the ballot as a challenged ballot and make a notation on the Challenged Voters page in the Pollbook. Proceed with routing processing and tabulation of the ballots.”
**The procedures to challenge procedures are more complicated: “If a challenger has reason to believe that the precinct board is not following applicable election laws, the actions of the precinct board may be challenged by consulting with the precinct chairperson. IF the chairperson rejects the challenge, the challenger may contact the clerk to resolve the matter. The election inspectors must enter a complete record of the challenge in the Pollbook.
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