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GOP canvassers want do-over on Wayne County results. Too late, experts say

Absentee ballots
Absentee ballots, such as these in Lansing, are carefully sorted and placed in boxes before they are counted. Michigan clerks have sought more time to process them. (Bridge file photo)

Update: Trump withdraws Michigan suit, falsely claims Wayne County votes halted

LANSING — Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers want to “rescind” their Tuesday vote to certify presidential election results, a move Democrats and attorneys contend is impossible. 

GOP canvassers Monica Palmer of Grosse Pointe Woods and William Hartmann of Wyandotte initially voted against certification because of concerns over “out of balance” counts in multiple precincts in Detroit, meaning that numbers of voters who signed into poll books did not match the number of ballots.

But after two hours of intense public criticism and a promise of a potential audit by the state, they joined two Democrats in certifying results. That in turn produced outrage from fellow Republicans, including President Donald Trump. 

Twenty-four hours later, late Wednesday, a public relations firm released affidavits claiming that the pair regret their yes votes. The Associated Press, citing an anonymous source, reported the affidavits came after Trump reached out personally to Palmer and Hartmann. 

“We do not have confidence that the election held on November 3, 2020 was conducted in a fair and impartial manner in accordance with state laws, and there has been a distinct lack of transparency throughout the process,” Palmer said in the affidavit.  

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Wayne County provided Democrat Joe Biden his margin for victory statewide giving him nearly 333,000 more votes than Trump in a state the Democrat won by 150,000. The canvassers’ actions have sparked an outcry that they were trying to disenfranchise predominantly Black voters in Detroit.

Palmer alleged in her affidavit Wednesday that, after hours of pressure, she and Hartmann were “enticed into accepting a late-night agreement” for an audit that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has not yet publicly pledged to perform. 

Benson's office hasn't said anything about the post-election audit request, but spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer told Bridge there is "no legal mechanism" for the Wayne County canvassers to rescind their votes.

"Their job is done and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify."

Palmer also claimed that county election officials did not provide documents that might help explain discrepancies in out of balance precincts despite GOP canvassers’ repeated requests, an allegation Democratic canvass members disputed. She also said “mobs of left-wing activists” bullied them into certifying results. 

In a previous statement from Palmer obtained by Bridge Michigan earlier Wednesday night, Palmer said “there was not mob rule,” but a lot of pressure to certify.   

In his own affidavit, Hartmann said he initially "voted not to certify, and I still believe this vote should not be certified."

The affidavits are "not worth the paper that they're written on," said Jonathan Kinloch of Detroit, one of two Democratic canvassers in Wayne County. He told Bridge the board cannot legally revisit the certification vote because the state deadline has already passed. 

“It makes absolutely no sense for them to be doing this at this time,” he said. 

The affidavits mean “nothing” and will have “zero” effect on the election certification process, said Steven Liedel, a government policy attorney who served as legal counsel to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. 

“The county canvass was completed by the end of the day on Tuesday, and there is no mechanism for any activity at the county level after the end of the day on Tuesday,” Liedel said. 

Even if Republicans did want to formally reconsider their votes, they’d have to do so at an open and public meeting, not an affidavit, he added. 

The affidavits come days before a state Board of Canvassers (which is also composed of two Democrats and two Republicans) is set to meet Monday to consider certification of the statewide election.

And they come as Republicans continue to raise unfounded accusations of voter fraud in Michigan, including a request this week from some Senate and House Republicans for an independent audit of Michigan results before they are certified.

State canvassers are supposed to be bound by law to certify elections, but one Republican member, Norm Shinkle, has told Bridge Michigan he makes no predictions and is concerned about accusations of impropriety with Wayne County votes.

In Wayne County, Kinloch disputed the suggestion he had guaranteed a state audit but told Bridge he had assured his GOP colleagues that he was communicating with “stakeholders in the Democratic Party that would assist us in asking the Secretary of State to agree to conduct the audit.”

The unanimously approved resolution included a “demand” for Benson to perform the audit, language that Kinloch said Republican canvassers asked to be included.  

After the certification vote on Tuesday, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett transmitted the certification to the state, Kinloch said. Hartmann and Palmer didn’t physically sign any documents, but in what he called standard practice, stamps bearing their signatures were used.

“This goose is cooked,” Kinloch said. “It just seems like an insane version of Groundhog Day.”

State law gives the county 14 days to consider certification, and that expired at midnight Tuesday, said Kinloch, who also noted the board approved a motion to waive reconsideration of the vote.

Democrats are concerned by the “out of balance” precincts in Detroit as well, Kinloch said, but “precincts being out of balance does not mean fraud.”

In most cases, the precincts were out of balance by less than three votes, and could be explained by a number of reasons, including that voters left lines, ballot machines jammed or other human error. The Detroit Free Press reported that the issue involved roughly 400 ballots of the nearly 241,000 cast in Wayne County.

After relenting to pressure from the political left during public comment on Tuesday, Democrats speculated that Republcian canvassers are now relenting to pressure from the political right upset that they did not deliver for Trump. He and his supporters are also contesting counts in other key battleground states. 

"It is clear that Palmer and Hartmann are simply kowtowing to the GOP party leadership. There is no legal basis to their claims nor does there exist a path for them to 'take back' their vote,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes in a statement. 

“Certifying all election results for the state is now in the hands of the Michigan Board of Canvassers."

Benson's office, which is already planning a statewide risk-limiting audit after the election, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Wayne County affidavits. 

Earlier Wednesday, the Department of State announced that "all counties have certified their election results" and it is now up to the Board of State Canvassers to certify full Michigan election results on Nov. 23. 

In their affidavits released Wednesday night, Hartmann and Palmer again raised concerns over “out of balance” precincts.

Out-of-balance precincts are "common in Michigan and across the nation and "essentially represent clerical errors," Benson's office said Wednesday. "There are many reasons why this can occur: for example, a voter being checked in at the right polling place but the wrong precinct, or a voter checking in but leaving with their ballot if the line was long." 

Precincts remained unbalanced and unreconciled in several of Michigan’s largest counties, including Saginaw, Ottawa, Ingham and Genesee, but that did not prevent canvassers from voting unanimously to certify county election results. 

Palmer and Hartmann’s affidavits also referenced similar arguments made by the Trump campaign in their Michigan lawsuits, in which they alleged poll challengers were denied “meaningful access” to the absentee ballot counting process at the TCF Center in Detroit. All of the campaign lawsuits have been dismissed.  

Both Hartmann and Palmer went to the TCF Center on Election Day to “observe” Detroit’s absentee ballot counting process. Palmer previously told Bridge Michigan she had concerns about what she saw. 

But election law experts said a canvasser’s role is only to examine the documents that are presented to them during the canvass. Kinloch told Bridge it was inappropriate for Hartmann and Palmer to participate in the “front end” of the process by observing the count.

Wednesday night, Wayne County Commission chairwoman Alicia Bell D-Detroit told Bridge she had drafted resolutions seeking to “censure and rebuke, in the strongest possible terms” Palmer and Hartmann and demand their immediate resignations.

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