DETROIT (CN) — Democrat Joe Biden was declared the winner of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes Wednesday afternoon as President Trump’s reelection campaign filed a lawsuit asking a judge to halt vote counting in the state over claims that the campaign was not allowed to observe the counting process.
CNN called the race a few hours after Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien announced the lawsuit in a statement that accused Michigan election officials of denying the campaign access to inspect ballots and observe the count in progress.
“President Trump’s campaign has not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law,” Stepien said. “We have filed suit today in the Michigan Court of Claims to halt counting until meaningful access has been granted. We also demand to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access.”
The lawsuit, filed by the Trump campaign and election inspector Eric Ostergren, alleges Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson violated voters’ rights under the “purity of elections” clause in the Michigan Constitution by not allowing election inspectors to observe the counting of absentee ballots. The campaign seeks an immediate halt to all tabulations until an inspector from each party is allowed to watch.
The Detroit Free Press reported that dozens of Republican vote challengers in Detroit were angry that they were not allowed into the processing area at the TCF Center downtown, but members from both parties were kept outside by election officials who said they were over capacity inside.
Biden defeated Trump in Michigan by more than 65,000 votes, a much higher margin than Trump’s 10,704 vote advantage in 2016 over Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton. Trump initially took a big lead as in-person voting information was processed first but he steadily lost his advantage as the mail-in ballots were counted.
The president captured many of Michigan’s northern rural counties but struggled in the metro Detroit area, with the exception of Macomb County, which he won in 2016. Trump outperformed Biden by about 39,000 votes in the blue-collar county but lost by about 100,000 votes in influential Oakland County, located just north of Detroit. In Wayne County, home of Detroit, Biden won handily with more than 567,000 votes to Trump’s 258,000.
Biden’s campaign responded to the planned legal action from the Trump camp with a fundraising email that accused the president’s team of an “unprecedented” move.
“Never before in our history has a president of the United States sought to strip Americans of their voice in a national election,” the email said. “Our position remains the same as it was last night: we feel good about what we are seeing. We will win Wisconsin and Michigan.”
David Jesuit, department chair and professor of political science at Central Michigan University, surmised Trump’s move is mostly for theater.
“This is as much a political strategy as it is a legal one. In fact, there is probably less of a legal basis for the claim than there is a political opportunity. I expect more challenges wherever margin is so close,” he said in an email.
Secretary of State Benson, a Democrat, responded to the controversy and lamented that state lawmakers had a chance to get ahead of the inevitable delay for results.
“For about 18 months the election clerks throughout the state of Michigan and I called on our state legislature to update our laws and provide time for the pre-processing of ballots. Our state legislature chose not to make that change to our laws, and here we are, in Michigan, our counting process is continuing long after the polls closed,” she said on CNN.
She added, “The data can change, and the first count is still happening right now. So I just want to step back like we’re asking everyone to do and let that count happen. Once we’re through that process, we can kind of go back and evaluate what comes next.”
Despite the president’s claims, Benson said she was optimistic she would win a court battle if the Trump campaign challenged vote tallies and contested the election before the Supreme Court.
“We’re very familiar with the process and legality of our process, and I have great confidence in it, and we’re ready to defend it,” she said.