< Back to 68k.news US front page

Analysis | Donald Trump's rationale for seizing voting machines was worse than you might have assumed

Original source (on modern site) | Article images: [1]

Placeholder while article actions load

The main predicate President Donald Trump cited as his rationale for having federal officials seize every voting machine in the nation as part of his doomed effort to prove that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him was that Sheryl Guy had forgotten to update something on her computer.

Not directly, of course. In a draft executive order obtained by Politico, her mistake is framed as part of a sweeping international conspiracy to hijack the election to Trump's detriment. Dated Dec. 16, 2020, here's how it articulates the mistake in Michigan's Antrim County, where Guy served as county clerk.

"I, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, find that the forensic report of the Antrim County, Michigan voting machines, released December 13, 2020, and other evidence submitted to me in support of this order, provide probable cause sufficient to require action under the authorities cited above because of evidence of international and foreign interference in the November 3, 2020, election."

The document goes on to order that voting machines be collected and that an assessment of the devices be completed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — at the time, John Ratcliffe, a fervent Trump ally whose credentials for the gig were not robust. (Ratcliffe had already helped amplify another conspiracy theory, that Hillary Clinton had originated the Russia probe.) Ratcliffe's office was given 60 days to issue its report — a period that would extend well past the Jan. 20 date when Trump would be out of office. Should he still be planning on leaving.

But, again, it's worth picking out that specific assertion about Antrim County, about what — we later learned — Sheryl Guy had accidentally done.

On the morning of Nov. 4, 2020 — that is, the morning after the election — it was obvious that something was goofy with the results of the presidential contest in Antrim County. Trump had won the county by nearly 2 to 1 in 2016, 4,000 votes in total. Yet, this time, it appeared that Trump had lost to Joe Biden by about 3,000.

Time's Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague told the story of what happened next in a report published last month. Guy was in the McDonald's drive-through when someone texted her to point out that the results were hard to believe. She hustled back to the office and worked with her team to recheck the figures, quickly discovering that Trump had, in fact, won.

So what had happened? Well, at the last minute, she had needed to add a candidate to the ballots. That's where the mistake occurred.

"When she added that last-minute candidate for village trustee to the ballots," Bowden and Teague write, "she should have updated the counting machines with the new parameters. But she hadn't. So when the numbers started rolling in, they dropped into the wrong columns. A little over two thousand Trump votes had been shifted to Biden's column. Her error."

In their rush to fix their mistake, her office had inadvertently made another one, double counting some votes. The result was that a final tally wasn't confirmed until Nov. 6, three days after the election. Not that it really mattered. The Associated Press had called Michigan for Biden two days prior, given that he won by more than 300,000 votes. Even if Antrim County had needed to pull all of its votes away from Biden, he still would have won easily. It was a mistake that was caught, explained and fixed in short order, one that didn't affect the final results.

The Michigan secretary of state released a public statement explaining what had occurred. But it was too late.

A right-wing media ecosystem primed by Trump to look for evidence of "fraud" decided that fraud was precisely what had happened in Antrim County. Despite the fact that the results didn't effect the state outcome. Despite the fact that the error was explained. Despite the fact that it was a Republican county that Trump had won. Antrim County became a shorthand for "fraud committed via electronic voting machines."

That's in part because of the "forensic report" mentioned in Trump's executive order. It was published by an ad hoc organization called Allied Security Operations Group, tied closely to an activist named Russell J. Ramsland. Even by the beginning of December, Ramsland had not covered himself with glory, at one point that November mistaking data on voting in Minnesota with information from Michigan. But he was undeterred. Last May, The Washington Post documented Ramsland's sweeping efforts to dig up evidence of fraud, including his group's ultimately successful legal effort to obtain the voting machines used in Antrim County.

Over 23 pages, the report scraped together every nefarious-sounding allegation it could. It alleged, for example, that, while federal standards meant that only 1 in 250,000 ballots could return errors — articulated incorrectly as 0.0008 percent in the report — the figure in Antrim County was 68.05 percent. (Adding the hundredths place proves how precise the analysis was, obviously.) It also rejected Guy's explanation of human error with a wave of the hand: Actually, it asserted, the problem was the voting machines.

The state responded to these allegations quickly. A joint statement from the Michigan attorney general and secretary of state asserted that the report "demonstrates lack of credible evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing." The "qualifications of those who authored the report are suspect, with no evidence or credentials provided to back up their 'expertise,' " the statement reads. It points to an affidavit submitted by Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater, who stated that "the report makes a series of unsupported conclusions, ascribes motives of fraud and obfuscation to processes that are easily explained as routine election procedures or error corrections, and suggests without explanation that elements of election software not used in Michigan are somehow responsible for tabulation or reporting."

This was public two days prior to Dec. 16, the date on the draft executive order. As were various fact checks of Trump's efforts to elevate ASOG's claims. The Detroit Free Press debunked the argument about those error percentages, which were not error percentages, on Dec. 15.

And yet there's Antrim County, kicking off Trump's soberly considered decision to leverage the weight of the federal government to cobble together a reason he should get to remain president. The Michigan secretary of state's Dec. 7 news release had stated flatly that what occurred in Antrim County was "an isolated error" and that "there is no evidence this user error occurred elsewhere in the state." But here it was at the front of Trump's line of dominoes running from Sheryl Guy to an international criminal conspiracy.

The review of the vote in Antrim County was completed Dec. 18. It found that Antrim's final tally was, in fact, incorrect: It undercounted Trump's margin by 12 votes.

Last June, a legislative committee run by Michigan Republicans released a lengthy report examining the state's election processes in 2020. It found no evidence that anything suspect had occurred. But it took special pains to address the situation in Antrim County.

"The strongest conclusion comes in regard to Antrim County," it read. "All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further."

A remarkable summary of an incident that nearly upended American politics.

< Back to 68k.news US front page