After two weeks of relentless, unsubstantiated attacks on the integrity of elections from President Donald Trump, the winner of Michigan’s presidential race likely will take a big step toward being finalized this week.
Or more like 83 smaller steps, as boards of canvassers in all of Michigan’s counties have until 3 p.m. Tuesday to vote to certify their local election results.
Despite the president’s lawsuits, unproven claims of fraud and other efforts to slow the process, several Republican county canvassers from across the state told Bridge Michigan they intend to certify the election, as they always do.
“Truthfully, in all of the 10 plus years I've been doing this, that’s never even been a question,” said Michelle Voorhies, 63, of Clio, a Republican member of the Genesee County Board of Canvassers.
Same goes for Ruth Braun, 88, a Republican canvasser for 16 years in Saginaw County, where Democrat Joe Biden won by 303 votes in unofficial results after the county went for Trump in 2016.
“Any questions we’ve had have been resolved, and there hasn’t been anything unusual this year,” said Braun.
Unofficial results have Trump losing Michigan by 146,000 votes. His efforts to halt certification of ballots took a hit Friday when Wayne County Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny dismissed a lawsuit from supporters seeking to audit absentee ballots in the heavily Democratic county.
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Kenny called GOP poll challengers’ claims of fraud “incorrect and not credible,” noting that they didn’t issue any challenges while absentee votes were being counted in Detroit and skipped training sessions that explained procedures.
Also Friday, Republican leaders of the state Legislature confirmed to Bridge they won’t intervene in the election process. That helped quell fears from Democrats that Michigan’s GOP-led Legislature would ignore the state’s popular vote because of false allegations of voting fraud, and award electors who would favor Trump when the Electoral College meets Dec. 14 to select the president.
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 Legislature
The first step in that process is certification of results from county canvassing boards, which ensure each valid vote is counted in official results, inspect ballot containers and resolve claims involving defective voting equipment or ballots.
The boards have 14 days from the election to review results, and are composed of two Republicans and two Democrats. At least three must vote to certify results.
The results are then sent to the State Board of Canvassers, which also consists of two Republicans and two Democrats. It has until Nov. 23 to make statewide results official and can certify results from individual counties if county boards can’t decide.
One Republican member of the Michigan State Board of Canvassers, Norm Shinkle, has told Bridge he “makes no predictions” on his vote.
In Wayne County, members of the canvassing board said they can’t comment on whether they’ll vote to certify the results before the canvassing process is finished.
But William Hartmann, 62, of Wyandotte, a Republican on the board, said it would take something “really grievous” to prevent him from voting to certify Wayne County’s results.
As of Friday, when 20 percent of the county’s votes were canvassed, Hartmann told Bridge he hadn’t found anything yet that concerned him.
Jonathan Kinloch, a Democratic member of the board, said canvassers’ sole job is “ministerial” and they do not have the power to investigate “wild allegations.”
Bringing precincts into balance
By their nature, canvassing boards are partisan. Members are nominated by political parties, approved by county boards of commissioners and are typically activists.
In most years, their work is hardly noticed, one of several bureaucratic steps in a process that culminates with inauguration of presidents every four years at noon Jan. 20.
Monica Palmer, 40, chair of the Wayne County canvassers, said politically engaged citizens know more about election processes and are willing to dedicate several days to canvassing for nominal pay (rates vary by the county population, but this year, amount to less than $100 for two weeks in Wayne County).
Over the past ten years, Palmer has served as township trustee, district vice chair and county chair with the Michigan GOP in several different communities. Her colleague, Kinloch, 47, has been involved with the Democratic Party since he was 16 and is now chair of its 13th Congressional District.
Kinloch said canvassers’ primary job is to “bring precincts into balance” – to ensure the number of ballots equal the number of voters who signed into poll books.
Where there is an imbalance, canvassers seek to provide explanations.
Palmer said canvassers check with clerks for supplemental documents that could account for extra or missing ballots and sometimes bring in ballot containers in order to hand count them.
If the imbalance cannot be reconciled, under Michigan state law, the precinct is not eligible for a recount. This was an issue during Detroit’s August primaries, when 72 percent of the city’s absentee voting precincts could not be balanced.
The Genesee County Board of Canvassers encountered similar problems with the City of Flint during the primaries, said Voorhies, the Republican member. Canvassers were not allowed to open five of Flint’s ballot containers, she said, since the chain of custody of the ballots was not properly recorded in the poll books.
Voorhies said this has not been an issue for Flint in the current election. But even if it were, she said there’s no reason why canvassers wouldn’t certify results.
But sometimes, the lines can be blurred for canvassers.
In Wayne County, Palmer and Hartmann said problems during the primary in Detroit prompted them to observe absentee ballots being counted this month in Detroit at TCF Center.
Hartmann said some processes “raised questions” for him, and said that poll challengers did not have proper access to view computer monitors or the absentee ballot duplication process.
The assertions are similar to those from poll challengers who submitted affidavits in lawsuits from the Trump campaign and supporters seeking to halt the count. Detroit officials have said the allegations have no merit and social distancing protocols were in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kinloch said he wishes Palmer and Hartmann had removed themselves from the “front end” of the election process.
Hartmann said what he witnessed as a citizen would have “no bearing” on his vote on whether to certify Wayne County’s election results.
“Those are two separate things,” he said. “Our job [as canvassers] is just to make sure everything balances.”
There’s only one instance in which Hartmann said he would not certify election results.
“There would have to be a violation to the state or the U.S. Constitution, like if you found somebody totally fraudulently voting some way on the ballot,” he said.
“I haven’t seen anything like that so far.”
This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.