LANSING — As chairman of Michigan's 8th Congressional District Republican Committee, Norm Shinkle actively worked to re-elect President Donald Trump.
Now, he’s poised to play a key role in deciding whether to certify Michigan election results that Trump is publicly disputing and fighting in court.
Shinkle is a member of the Board of State Canvassers, a constitutionally created body that is intentionally partisan. The panel, appointed by the governor, is composed of two Democrats and two Republicans who cannot certify election results without bipartisan consensus in the form of at least a 3-1 majority vote.
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In the case of a 2-2 tie, legal experts say state courts would likely order the board to certify the Michigan election. In the unlikely event that doesn’t happen, Democrats fear the Republican-led Legislature could be put in position to decide how the state awards its 16 presidential electors.
As they prepare for what they expect to be a certification vote this month, canvassers told Bridge they are tracking the legal drama unfolding in Michigan, where Trump has claimed victory despite unofficial results that show he lost to Democrat Joe Biden by nearly 150,000 votes.
“I make no predictions on this,” said Shinkle, a former state senator who lives in Ingham County.
“If you just go ahead and certify everything that comes in front of you, what prevents people from cheating? There's got to be a penalty if there is cheating going on.”
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His wife, Mary Shinkle, is a witness in Trump’s federal lawsuit as one of more than 100 GOP poll challengers who filed affidavits about their experience at the TCF Center in Detroit, where absentee votes were counted.
“She saw a lot of strange things going on,” Shinkle told Bridge, pledging to keep an open mind about the statewide election overseen by local officials in 1,600 jurisdictions.
“I only know stuff second- and third-hand,” he said. “When it comes to my job on the Board of State Canvassers, I wait until I hear both sides before I make a decision.”
Michigan election timeline
Nov. 3: Election
Nov. 5: Canvasser boards in all of Michigan’s 83 counties meet to review local election results
Nov. 17: County canvassing boards certify local results and send to the Michigan Secretary of State
Nov. 23: Board of State Canvassers meet to review and certify statewide election results
Nov. 25: Deadline to petition for presidential recount
Dec. 8: Congress “safe harbor” date for states to dedicate electors
Dec. 14: Electoral College votes in state Legislatures
Shinkle said he doesn’t “make much” of Trump’s claim that he won Michigan: “I haven't seen evidence to back up the statement yet.”
And while he said he’s “heard about” possible election fraud, “I haven't seen it” and “I'm not convinced of it,” Shinkle told Bridge.
The state board is the last in a multi-step process designed to ensure the integrity of Michigan elections. First, local clerks tabulate results and work to fix mistakes, including the kind of human errors that temporarily inflated Biden vote counts in Oakland, Shiawassee and Antrim counties.
Then, bipartisan county canvassing boards from each of Michigan’s 83 counties review local vote counts and certify by Nov. 17.
Only then will the results reach the state board by Nov. 23, when canvassers are tasked with considering the county findings, a recommendation from the Michigan Bureau of Elections and any testimony that campaigns or other observers wish to offer.
“We’re like the third step in the process,” said Julie Matuzak of Clinton Township, a Democrat who has served on the state board for a decade and is a retired union political director for the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan.
“By the time it comes to us, we’re going to look at the report, which includes notations about errors and precincts that had problems, and we’re going to certify.”
Democrats expect certification
Statewide certification would effectively settle any lingering questions over how Michigan’s 16 presidential electors should be awarded before the Electoral College officially selects the next president on Dec. 14.
But state certification would also trigger a 48-hour window in which the Trump campaign could petition for a recount.
Matuzak said she’s confident both Republicans on the board “are going to do their jobs” and join Democrats to certify the results. That’s what happened four years ago in reverse, when board members unanimously certified a much closer election that Trump won by 10,704 votes.
“I don't blame anybody for their spouse’s actions,” Matuzak said of Shinkle, whose wife filed an affidavit in the Trump lawsuit.
“We don't get to choose whether we like a candidate or don't like a candidate or represent our party. We're going to certify so that people have confidence in the election result.”
Jeannette Bradshaw, an Ortonville Democrat and recording secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58 union, said Trump’s legal challenges and false victory claim should not affect certification.
“My job stays the same regardless of vote count,” she said. “We have backstops in place to ensure a fair vote in michigan. We have paper ballots. We have that.”
Democrats on the Board of State Canvassers say they’ve seen no credible evidence of election fraud and told Bridge they are concerned about Trump’s rhetoric.
“I don’t think it’s helping the integrity of our democratic process, our elections, not only in the state of Michigan, but other states,” Bradshaw said. “I think there’s always going to be questions now in every election, and I don’t think that’s fair to the clerks or the clerks’ staff.”
The other Republican on the board, Aaron Van Langevelde, did not respond to a Bridge voicemail or other attempts to reach him. He’s an attorney who currently works for the House Republican caucus.
Members are appointed by the governor to four year terms and can be re-appointed. They make $75 per day when they meet and also oversee recounts for state-level offices, canvass ballot proposal petitions and approve electronic voting systems used in local communities across the state.
Board members are aware of past election administration problems in Detroit. After an August primary marred by counting problems, canvassers directed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to step in and assist the city.
For the general election, the state helped recruit and train workers to count a flood of absentee ballots in Detroit. Former Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas came out of retirement to oversee the process in Michigan's largest city.
“I’ll be eager” to hear how that process worked, Bradshaw said. “You couldn't get more transparent than being open in the TCF Center.”
She questioned why Republicans sent scores of challengers to Detroit, and why the Trump campaign’s federal lawsuit specifically questions the validity of votes in the African-American majority city, as opposed to neighboring Oakland and Macomb counties.
“It's disheartening,” Bradshaw said.
Trump delay a long shot
In a new federal lawsuit officially filed Wednesday morning, Trump campaign attorneys alleged that Republican poll challengers were intimidated, harassed and denied full legal access to observe Wayne County absentee ballot counting at the TCF Center in Detroit.
The complaint asks the court to prohibit Benson and the Board of State Canvassers from certifying Michgian’s election results “until they have verified and confirmed that all ballots that were tabulated and included in the final reported election results were cast in compliance with the provisions of the Michigan Election Code as set forth herein.”
Jake Rollow, a spokesperson for Benson, called the lawsuit “a press release masquerading as a legal claim designed to promote false claims aimed at eroding the public’s confidence in Michigan elections.”
A separate lawsuit filed on behalf of GOP challengers by the conservative Great Lakes Justice Center seeks to stop the Wayne County Board of Canvassers from certifying results in Detroit and surrounding communities.
In a Wednesday hearing, David Fink, attorney for the City of Detroit, raised what he called the “desperately dangerous” specter of the Michigan Legislature attempting to appoint electors if Michigan’s election isn’t certified by Dec. 8.
He said doing so would make voters “completely disenfranchised” by “unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”
The Wayne County suit seeks an audit of local election results before certification, which Fink called a clear attempt at a delay because audits are typically conducted after canvassers complete the certification.
“The outcome undermines the very bedrock of democracy and provides fuel for right-wing fire for those who want to undermine democracy that voting isn’t fair,” Fink said.
A decision in that case is likely Friday.
Trump’s lawsuit, focused on Detroit but filed in the more conservative Western District federal court, is not likely to stop the certification process in Michigan, said David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research.
“I don’t think this has any chance of being successful,” he said, noting the president’s campaign is “0-for-12 in post-election lawsuits” nationally, including a Michigan Court of Claims case rejected last week as “hearsay.”
“If there’s a rogue judge that will be supported by his circuit court on one of these and delay certification, I guess that’s something that we’ll have to deal with at the time,” Becker said
“The chance of this happening is not zero, but it’s really close to zero.”