A white van that showed up in the middle of the night at Detroit‘s ballot counting center on Nov. 4 is Exhibit A for voter fraud, “Stop the Steal” advocates claim.
But as the tale reemerged last week, Michigan state officials call the narrative grossly misleading. The vehicle and teams were simply working late on the busiest ballot-handling election in state history. The Washington Times interviewed two Detroit officials and reviewed court records. The verdict: evidence of fraud falls flat.
The white van story sprouted shortly after Election Day as evidence of massive bogus ballot dumping. Jim Hoft, editor in chief of the right-wing blog Gateway Pundit, revived the conspiracy by publishing a closed-circuit TV clip from the downtown TCF Center’s cavernous underbelly. It shows a white van stopping up a ramp and trays of ballots being unloaded at 3:25 a.m.
Mr. Hoft wrote on Feb. 8, “We caught the fraud on video.”
“There were thousands of ballots in each box,” a pro-Donald Trump whistleblower tweeted. “There were at least 50 boxes that I saw unloaded at 3:30 a.m., well after the 8:00 p.m. deadline for ballots to show up.”
As with a number of “Stop the Steal” claims — such as 100,000 missing ballots in Wisconsin, computerized vote switching in Michigan and thousands of unregistered voters in Georgia — the white van tale helped drive deep-rooted conspiracy theories.
There have been dozens of lawsuits challenging former President Donald Trump‘s loss to President Biden. All failed.
Christopher Thomas, a 40-year veteran of Michigan’s Bureau of Elections, was called out of retirement for a stint as a Detroit voting adviser and was a firsthand witness at the TCF Center. He viewed the Gateway Pundit video and spoke with The Washington Times to provide context.
Mr. Thomas ran the Bureau of Elections under Democratic and Republican administrations. He was director the day in 2016 Mr. Trump carried the state by 10,000 votes. He helped plan the 2020 vote counting and stationed himself inside TCF, where shifts of 800 counters tallied absentee ballots.
Mr. Thomas told The Times that the van, an official city vehicle, played a key role Nov. 3 Election Day and afterward.
Detroit faced a record-breaking, pandemic-driven flood of 174,000 absentee ballots in 2020, about three times the number from 2016. Michigan by law cannot count ballots until Election Day.
However, workers can process them, such as verifying signatures and maintaining logs, at a central elections headquarters. Ballots arrived from 501 precincts and city clerk satellite offices. Vehicles then moved ballots to the TCF Center. Voting ended at 8 p.m.
Mr. Thomas said it is only logical to expect that the delivery and counting would last beyond Nov. 3. In 2016, with only about 60,000 absentee ballots, the TCF Center did not finish tabulations until 2:30 a.m. With 174,000 ballots, the task took until 8 p.m. Nov. 4. That is why, he said, a van was still delivering ballots at 3:24 a.m. though vote acceptance had stopped at 8 p.m. Nov. 3.
“All the mail ballots received on Election Day and those that were also received in the satellite sites first had to be taken to the Detroit elections department on West Grand Boulevard to be processed,” Mr. Thomas said. “That takes time and whether they could have completed it faster than that is a good question. But given where they are at that time of the day, probably very little of that work got done during the day because the same help that would have been doing that would have been on the phones dealing with voters with questions on where to vote, whether they were registered or not.”
After participating in many Detroit elections, Mr. Thomas said, “That is very standard.”
He said that after his Nov. 3 shift, he returned to the TCF Center at 2 a.m. Nov. 4. He called the Detroit elections director to see when the last ballot shipment would come.
“He said they were just putting 47 trays or so into the van,” with each holding 300 to 350 ballots, Mr. Thomas said.
Mr. Thomas submitted a sworn affidavit in Mr. Trump’s court challenges: “Early in the morning on Wednesday, November 4, approximately 16,000 ballots were delivered in a white van used by the city,” he said. “There were 45 covered trays containing approximately 350 ballots each. The ballots were not visible as the trays had a sleeve that covered the ballots. The ballots delivered to the TCF Center had been verified by the City Clerk’s staff prior to delivery in a process prescribed by Michigan law.”
“We have complete chain of custody,” David Fink, an elections lawyer for the city, told The Washington Times.
As for the issue of ballots arriving at TCF past 8 p.m., Mr. Thomas said: “It would have been impossible for any election worker at the TCF Center to count or process a ballot for someone who was not an eligible voter or whose ballot was not received by the 8:00 p.m. deadline on November 3, 2020. No ballot could have been ‘backdated,’ because no ballots received after 8:00 p.m. on November 3, 2020 were ever at the TCF Center.”
In the 2020 election, more than 5 million voted in Michigan, an 8% jump, from 2016. More than 3 million were by mail-in ballot. The Pew Research Center says nationally mail-in ballots hit the 70 million mark in 2020, nearly double 2016.
Gateway Pundit is not the only white van conspiratorialist. Well before the video surfaced on the website, Melissa Carone, an observer at the TCF Center on Election Day, was quoted in Mr. Trump’s lawsuit as saying the van was evidence of voter fraud.
Filed by Michigan lawyers and Trump advocates Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, the complaint states: “On November 4, Ms. Carone testified that there were ‘two vans that pulled into the garage of the counting room, one on day shift and one on night shift.’ She thought that the vans were bringing food, however, she ‘never saw any food coming out of these vans,’ and noted the coincidence that ‘Michigan had discovered over 100,000 more ballots — not even two hours after the last van left.’ Ms. Carone witnessed this illegal vote dump, as well as several other violations outlined below.”
Mr. Trump called Detroit vote counting corrupt.
“In Detroit, there were hours of unexplained delay in delivering many of the votes for counting,” he said. “The final batch did not arrive until four in the morning, even though the polls closed at 8 o’clock. So they brought it in, the batches came in, and nobody knew where they came from.”
Detroit‘s total presidential vote was 250,138, 95% of which were for President Biden, who won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the city by a similar margin in 2016.
The Gateway Pundit-posted video also showed a black car with out-of-state tags arriving and leaving. The city says it leased vehicles for the elections so that staff could circulate among offices.
“They don’t maintain a fleet of cars,” Mr. Thomas said.
At the raucous “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, Mr. Trump targeted Michigan. He said that 17,000 votes had come from the dead and that Detroit‘s 174,000 mail-in votes “were counted without being tied to an actual registered voter. Nobody knows where they came from.” He said Detroit‘s turnout was 139% of registered voters.
State officials say they believed they weeded out those who died before Election Day, that all 174,000 ballots came from legal voters and that Detroit‘s turnout was 51%, not 139%.
“I can conclude based upon my own knowledge and observation that Plaintiffs’ claims are misplaced and that there was no fraud, or even un-rectified procedural errors, associated with processing of the absentee ballots for the City of Detroit,” Mr. Thomas said in his affidavit.
Twitter suspended Mr. Hoft‘s account in early February for his election fraud promotion.