Michigan Republicans Just Tried to Block Detroit's Votes From Counting

Local Republicans back President Trump's unproven claims of voter fraud as they seek to undo Biden’s 150,000-vote win in the state.
November 18, 2020, 12:41am
Election challengers demand to enter to observe the absentee ballot counting but were blocked after the room reached capacity during the 2020 general election in Detroit, Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.
Election challengers demand to enter to observe the absentee ballot counting but were blocked after the room reached capacity during the 2020 general election in Detroit, Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

UPDATE Nov. 17, 2020, 9:53 p.m.: After hours of public criticism, the two Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers abruptly reversed course and voted with the Democrats to certify their county’s election results.

The complete about-face occurred more than three hours after the board initially deadlocked, with the Republicans claiming voting irregularities. That led to a cavalcade of public criticism, with the board members sitting stone-faced as hundreds of people dialed into the Zoom call where the meeting was being broadcast to call them racist vote suppressors.

Shortly after 9 p.m. EST, the commission meeting suddenly was muted, then the commissioners returned to vote unanimously to certify the results as well as ask Michigan’s secretary of state to audit the county’s election results.

The flip-flop came as a surprise to everyone — including President Trump, who shortly after the reversal took place sent a tweet celebrating the original result:

The commissioners’ complete cave ends a potential threat to Michigan’s election certification, and undercuts Republicans’ attempts to overturn the results and cast doubt on Joe Biden’s clear win in the state.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers moved to disenfranchise their fellow citizens on Tuesday evening, in a transparent attempt to cast a shadow on President-elect Joe Biden’s Michigan win.

The two Republicans on the board voted against certifying their county’s results, leading to a deadlocked 2-2 vote to block Detroit’s votes from being certified. 

That move will be appealed up to a state-level decision by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, and may not stand up for long. But it gives President Trump and Republicans a talking point to back up their flimsy and unproven claims of voter fraud as they seek to undo Biden’s 150,000-vote win in the state.

The two Republicans on the committee argued that Wayne County’s election results shouldn’t be certified because the poll books didn’t exactly match up to the number of votes counted. But while Wayne County has historically struggled to run perfect elections, the same board-certified election results that had unbalanced poll books in both the August primary and the 2016 elections, and in spite of Republicans’ loud claims of voter fraud in Detroit, they’ve provided scant evidence to back it up.

Republicans immediately seized on the vote to insinuate something was amiss in the heavily Black city, which is home to the state’s Democratic base.

“This action will allow more time for us to get to the bottom of these deeply troubling irregularities,” Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said in a statement released within minutes of the vote. “I am proud that, due to the efforts of the Michigan Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and the Trump Campaign, enough evidence of irregularities and potential voter fraud was uncovered resulting in the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refusing to certify their election results.”

Democrats and some Wayne County local citizens who said they had volunteered as poll watchers said that any irregularities in the books weren’t based on serious complaints of voter fraud. 

“Most of this is ballots being jammed in the machine.”

“It’s not based upon fraud; it’s absolutely human error,” vice chair of the board of canvassers Jonathan Kinloch, a Democrat, told the meeting. “Most of this is ballots being jammed in the machine.”

Enraged local residents of Wayne County called in to the online meeting Tuesday night to hammer the two local Republican board members for refusing to certify the results, insulting them in ad hominem terms and branding them flagrant racists for attempting to disenfranchise Detroit voters. 

A woman who identified herself as a reverend and volunteer poll-watcher said she’d witnessed nothing on election night that could justify failure to approve the results. 

“What I witnessed was a fair and professional process,” the reverend said, before criticizing the GOP board members for “a blatant attack on the rights of the good voters of this good county.”

This attempt to stymie the county’s election results may not go far in a legal sense. The state will now decide whether Wayne County’s election results will count. That state board is similarly split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and one of those Republicans is a hardcore Trump partisan who’s already threatened to try to block the state from certifying Biden’s election win. If that board deadlocks, it could be ordered by the courts to certify the results. If that doesn’t happen, things could get dicey, with Democrats and Republicans potentially putting forth competing Electoral College slates.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said in a statement that the Bureau of Elections will likely recanvass the vote to “address clerical errors and improve the quality of the canvass overall.” But she made clear that the county’s imperfect vote count “is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted.”

If the state doesn’t certify its election results, Republicans who control the state legislature could try to appoint their own electors to the Electoral College. But Republican Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey declared Tuesday “that’s not going to happen.”

But while the move might not stand up legally, it does further damage to Americans’ trust in democracy, sowing discord and undermining faith in the fairness of Biden’s win with almost half the country’s voters.

Justin Levitt, an election law expert and professor at Loyola Law School, called the deadlock “insanity.” But he noted that by itself the standoff wouldn’t stop the Michigan vote certification from going through.

“Michigan law provides for a failure like this,” Levitt told VICE News. “If they don’t resolve the issue, the records get sent to the state board of canvassers, and the state board certifies instead. So there’s a failsafe.”