GOP supporters change direction,
vote to certify Wayne County results
After an extraordinary 2-2 deadlock along party lines, with the two Republican members of Canvassers' Wayne County Board voting against certifying November's election results, the board overwhelmingly voted to certify the results late Tuesday night.
The board also passed a resolution calling on Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to conduct an independent, comprehensive audit of all county jurisdictions that recorded unexplained discrepancies between the number of absentee ballots recorded as cast and the number of absentee ballots counted.
The four board members overwhelmingly approved August's primary election certification, which also had mysterious differences.
After initially voting against certifying the election results, Monica Palmer, the committee's Republican chair, said she would be open to certifying election results for some jurisdictions but not Detroit and others that recorded unexplained discrepancies.
But Chris Thomas, Michigan's former election director who served as a special advisor to Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, replied, "I think that's absurd. I think that would make the situation mockery. Opening the door to selective canvassing would be a huge disservice to the election process."
Public commentators who spoke during the meeting accused Republican board members of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters—especially African-American voters—initially refusing to certify the election.
Kinloch accused Republican members of playing politics rather than fulfilling their legal obligation to certify the results. "I believe politics made its presence today," Kinloch said This is this board's reckless and irresponsible action," he added. Democratic board member Allen Wilson agreed.
The board has four members—two Democrats and two Republicans.
Just minutes after Republican representatives voted against certifying the results, Laura Cox, who chairs the state party, issued a statement from the Michigan Republican Party.
"I am proud that the efforts of the Michigan Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and the Trump Campaign have revealed sufficient evidence of irregularities and potential electoral fraud resulting in Canvassers refusing to certify their election results," Cox said.
Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, Lavora Barnes, called the initial vote "an outrageous display of partisan stance." She added, "Monica Palmer and William Hartmann chose to tarnish their personal legacy by picking up the GOP banner of making allegations without evidence. For the Republican members of Canvassers' Wayne County Board to buy into conspiracy theories and totally disregard Michigan's voters' will is not only shameful, but a complete dereliction of duties."
The complaint accused Palmer of running a "dark-money PAC" to promote candidates for the Grosse Pointe Board of Education, an election she oversees, and urged her to step down from the board. Wayne County Ethics Board will meet on Wednesday to discuss Palmer's complaint.
Tuesday was the last day the board could certify the county's election results. The majority decision to certify the findings arrives just in time for the board to reach the state's deadline.
Legal problems mounted in the aftermath of the referendum and gave greater scrutiny to the evaluation and verification of the results conducted by each county's board of canvassers, a procedure that usually unfolds largely unnoticed. The Zoom call for the board of canvassers' meeting was originally limited to 100 members, but was later extended to fit more than 300 participants.
The meeting was called to order at 4:46 p.m. about two hours late, when representatives sat on affidavits filed by persons present at TCF Center, where Detroit's election staff collected and counted the absentee ballots cast by the city's citizens.
A appeal made to the Michigan Supreme Court Tuesday morning urging the court to prohibit the Wayne County Board of Canvassers from certifying the election results before its planned 3 p.m. meeting also created last-minute confusion. The court did not give leave to appeal until the members of the board convened.
Protesters from the Metro Detroit Action Council, a grassroots political group that works on economic and social injustices, protested outside the building where the board of canvassers met, insisting the board certify the election results.
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a democratic lobbying group, also called on the Republican members of the board to certify the election earlier Tuesday.
"No canvassing board has ever declined to validate an election. Refusing to certify the results is simply a partisan effort to drag out the process, feed Trump’s propaganda about our votes, and set up a right-wing power grab that undermines the will of the people," Scott said in a press release.
Wayne County’s preliminary election results, which were released Nov. 5, shows former Vice-President Joe Biden received 587,074 votes — 67.99 percent of the votes cast for president in Wayne County — while President Donald Trump received 264,149, or 30.59 percent .
Trump has declined to concede the presidential race to Biden, citing unsubstantiated allegations that the election was rife with fraud. Trump's party and Republican challengers have filed litigation around the country to appeal the election.
Six Michigan lawsuits seeking to delay or stop the certification of the state's 16 electoral votes for Biden have focused on the three days Detroit's election workers processed and counted the absentee ballots cast by the city's voters at TCF Center. Lawsuits filed in the wake of the election have leveled allegations that thousands of invalid ballots were counted by Detroit election workers.
The lawsuits are based largely on Republican challengers' allegations that Detroit election workers counted ballots cast by ineligible voters, as well as ballots that arrived past the return deadline. Republican challengers also have claimed that they were singled out by election workers from reentering the counting hub when the room had reached capacity, though officials noted that challengers from all parties were prohibited from reentering because of capacity limits. The claims have so far been rejected in court.
Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny dismissed two of the cases. On Friday, Kenny dismissed a complaint brought by David Kallman on behalf of two Wayne County voters, writing in his view that the lawsuit offered an erroneous account of TCF events. Kallman asked the Michigan Court of Appeals on Monday to overturn the lower court decision. After a three-judge jury rejected the appeal, Kallman urged Michigan Supreme Court Tuesday morning to intervene promptly to prohibit Canvassers' Wayne County Board from certifying the election results and order a special election audit.
Republican boards quote unexplained variations
When auditing the primary election results for August, Canvassers' Wayne County Board discovered that in 363 of the 503 precincts of the city—about 72 percent of Detroit's precincts—there was no reason for minor differences between the amount of absentee ballots reported as cast in the precinct's polling book and the number of absentee ballots counted. This election, 94 of the city's 134 absent counting boards—around 70% of Detroit's absent counting boards—recorded unexplained discrepancies. But Detroit wasn't the only jurisdiction reporting this election unexplained discrepancies.
Of Detroit's 503 Election Day precincts, 66 recorded unexplained discrepancies in the total vote, as did 94 of the 134 absent counting boards of the city. The plurality of Election Day precincts and missing counting boards not in "balance," reported disparities of three or fewer votes. Ten electoral districts and 43 absent counting boards recorded discrepancies of four or more votes or more. Discrepancies are about 367 votes. Detroit's unofficial election results reveal about 150,000 Detroiters voted in November's election.
Under Michigan electoral law, a precinct not in "balance" is disqualified from participating in a recount, and the election results originally reported by the precinct are final.
Shortly after certifying the county's primary results, Kinloch told the Free Press that the board "saw no evidence of individuals who were not supposed to vote." Instead, election officials pointed to voter records that were not consistently updated to reflect whether a voter had returned an absentee ballot, as well as ballots that were placed in the wrong precinct container as explanations.
Speaking after primary, Palmer told Free Press that repeating November's errors would spell disaster. "We can't go to November to repeat what happened in primary. It couldn't happen," she said.
On Aug. 18, the board passed a resolution requesting that the State Department of Elections investigate Detroit's training for election workers staffing the absent counting boards tasked with processing and counting the absentee ballots cast by the city's voters. The resolution also called on Michigan State Secretary Jocelyn Benson to appoint a monitor to oversee the city's election worker.
In early September, Benson revealed she was working with Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey to ensure the legitimacy of the city’s absentee ballot tabulation. Former Michigan Bureau of Elections Chief Chris Thomas was brought into the relationship to act as a special assistant to Winfrey.
Palmer and Hartmann were not happy with the outcome. During a back-and-forth between Palmer and Kinloch during the meeting, Kinloch told Palmer that pointing to the differences in Detroit's August primary and noticing comparable errors were made in November, was "comparing apples and oranges" as the November election had an extraordinary amount of absentee ballots cast.
What comes next?
The Board of State Canvassers has until Nov. 23 to approve Michigan’s statewide election results. Recount applications for the executive, Senate, U.S. House and State House seats must be submitted with the Secretary of State within 48 hours after the board has approved the statewide results.
A change to Michigan’s recall procedure introduced after the 2016 presidential election allows candidates to claim they have a fair opportunity to succeed in order to initiate a recount. Biden won Michigan by a large margin — more than 146,000 votes — the state's preliminary results show. Legal analysts say they believe the State Board of Canvassers will reach the deadline for certifying the results of the presidential race, citing ongoing litigation trying to postpone the process.
If legal issues over the election are settled by Dec. 8, the ratified statewide results are immune from any additional legal action and Congress must recognize them as permanent. Michigan's 16 presidential electors are expected to convene Dec. 14 to cast the state's Electoral College votes.