LANSING — President Donald Trump is courting top Michigan Republicans in a bid to overturn statewide election results showing he lost to Democrat Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes.
As part of his long-shot effort, Trump on Tuesday appealed to GOP members on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers before they filed affidavits attempting to rescind their votes to certify results, a step legal experts say carries “zero” weight.
And with the Board of State Canvassers set to vote Monday for possible certification of statewide election results, the president is reportedly inviting Republican leadership from the Michigan Legislature to the White House for a Friday meeting.
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Experts say Trump appears to be engaging in a two-pronged fight: delay the certification of Michigan election results until the Electoral College is poised to meet, and encourage the Legislature to resolve the contested election by picking presidential electors itself.
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake have publicly denied plans for an Electoral College coup, but activists are openly encouraging it as the GOP leaders head to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with the president.
The Michigan 14th Congressional District Republican Committee this week circulated a draft resolution that would urge the state Legislature to "appoint a full slate of electors who are fully supportive of the re-election of President Donald J. Trump."
As of Wednesday, the resolution had not been adopted, said Bill Rauwerdink, who is a 14th District representative on the Michigan Republican Party's state central committee. He said he thinks the resolution is a “waste of time” but confirmed that leadership was considering it and suggested Chair Mayra Rodriguez would "defend" the idea.
Rodriguez did not respond to multiple voicemails seeking comment.
The push to appoint pro-Trump electors is the latest front in the president's push to "sow confusion and discord and to steal the election," said Mark Brewer, an attorney and former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.
"This is simply an attempt to undermine the will of the voters," he said.
Brewer argued the Legislature has “no authority” to unilaterally change the Michigan elector selection process that has been on the books since the 1950s. “It's been amended since, but you can search high and low in the election codes and there is no role for the Legislature here."
The Trump campaign on Thursday withdrew its lawsuit seeking to block certification in Michigan, dubiously claiming that affidavits rescinding canvasser votes on Wayne County election results mean they aren’t certified.
During a news conference Thursday in Washington, the Trump campaign highlighted Michigan on a map depicting “multiple pathways to victory” for the president. Attorney Rudy Guiliani claimed the Trump campaign has identified 300,000 “illegitimate ballots” in Michigan — but provided no specifics beyond claims already rejected by courts.
Trump’s pathways, if they exist, are closing fast: If and when unofficial results are certified in states across the country, Biden would be positioned to win 306 votes in the Electoral College, whose electors will meet Dec. 14. That would surpass the 270 needed to win and would match Trumps’ Electoral College total from four years ago.
Biden's unofficial 154,187-vote margin in Michigan is nearly 15 times as large as Trump’s in 2016, when the first-term Republican won the state by 10,704 votes. The Trump campaign is attempting to toss all ballots from Wayne County, where voters provided Biden his margin for victory in the state with a 597,000 to 264,000-vote thumping.
"All the meetings in the world can't take away the fact that Joe Biden won Michigan by over 150,000 votes," Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday when asked about Shirkey and Chatfield’s trip to the White House.
Wayne County and Detroit, the state’s largest city, are home to a sizable African American population, fueling accusations Trump is attempting to disenfranchise Black voters there, but not in majority-white regions like Kent County, where Biden significantly outperformed 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
When asked during a legislative hearing Thursday why Trump is targeting Wayne County and not Kent, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum was succinct.
“Racism,” she said.
The draft resolution circulated by Republicans in the 14th District, which includes portions of Wayne and Oakland counties, alleges that state and local election officials engaged in behavior "consistent with a pattern of deliberate and illegal actions that caused irreparable harm to the integrity, accuracy and credibility of the election results."
Michigan GOP spokesperson Tony Zammit said the state party "was not involved" in the draft resolution but declined further comment.
The U.S. Constitution directs states to appoint electors “in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” The Michigan Legislature decided how to do that long ago: by awarding electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote, a rule written into state law.
The 14th District resolution asks the Legislature to ignore state law and appoint the full slate of electors previously nominated by the Michigan Republican Party, saying lawmakers have an “obligation to protect the integrity and security of the vote.”
“The Executive Committee and Officers of the 14th Congressional District Republican Party of the state of Michigan ask that you demonstrate the courage to fully execute your duties in preservation of the sanctity of the vote and the future of our free republic, and in representation of the electorate you swore to serve."
The popular vote
Before Trump’s White House invitation, Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature said they do not plan to award any presidential electors to a candidate who does not win the popular vote.
"That's not going to happen," Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield was less definitive in a Wednesday interview with Bridge, noting the GOP-led Legislature is conducting an ongoing “inquiry” into the election.
"At the end of the day, once those investigations are done, and once the subpoenas are done and we receive that information, we're going to treat this election like we have any other election," Chatfield said. "The person with the most votes in the state of Michigan is going to get our electoral votes, plain and simple."
By visiting with Trump as the president lobbies for Michigan electors, Shirkey and Chatfield are in “dangerous territory,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a group that led the push for the state’s new independent redistricting commission.
“Either they are attempting to overturn the will of Michigan voters, or they are willingly engaging in political theater being orchestrated by the White House,” Wang said in a statement. “Either way, they are undermining public confidence in fair elections and doing a terrible disservice to all voters.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly suggested "history has come" for Chatfield and Shirkey: "These two men will soon have to choose between our democracy, and fealty to one man,” she wrote in a Thursday tweet.
Several Republican legislators are on record opposing any immediate changes to the state’s electoral process.
"The Legislature has the power to change the system for choosing electors in advance of any election," but to do so "AFTER an election would bring untold chaos to any presidential election and destroy a centuries-old trust in the Electoral College," state Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, wrote on Facebook last week.
Bridge on Thursday asked a handful of other Republican lawmakers if they are committed to awarding Michigan’s 16 electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote.
Some dodged the question and declined to weigh in.
“I don’t have anything to say on that,” Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, said after a meeting of the joint oversight committee reviewing Michigan election results.
“I’m committed to making sure that every legal vote is counted, and only every legal vote is counted,” said Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland.
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“No comment on that,” said Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township. “I’d have to take a look at the whole situation.”
Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, said he would honor the popular vote “as soon as we find out what that is,” noting statewide certification is not complete.
“The will of the people will be done,” LaFave said. “This election is not close in Michigan… So unless I find 150,000-plus fraudulent ballots, then Joe Biden won.”
Finding that many votes is unlikely, he added.
As the Trump campaign moved to dismiss its Michigan lawsuit on Thursday, attorney Mark “Thor” Hearne told a federal judge that Wayne County canvassers had “met and declined to certify results of the presidential election,” which is not true.
The county board unanimously certified results on Tuesday night, but GOP canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann released affidavits late Wednesday attempting to “rescind” those votes, which legal experts say is not possible.
The city of Detroit asked Judge Janet Neff to strike Hearne’s claim that Wayne County declined to certify the results from the court record.
While federal law allows the Trump campaign to dismiss its complaint, it "does not allow them to use a notice of dismissal to spread disinformation,” wrote attorney David Fink.
Fink noted the Trump campaign and GOP allies have lost a series of Michigan lawsuits. He told Bridge it is “no surprise” that others are being voluntarily dismissed, including separate federal lawsuits from conservative law firms Great Lakes Justice Center and True the Vote.
“Every time one of their cases gets to a judge, their baseless conspiracy theories are rejected,” he said. “All of these lawsuits have not documented a single vote that was fraudulently cast.”
Guiliani, in a Thursday afternoon news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters, repeated unsubstantiated claims of fraud and irregularities at Detroit’s absentee counting board, citing GOP poll challenger affidavits that Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, a Republican appointee, deemed “not credible” and misrepresentative.
Guiliani, the former New York mayor, also alleged a “truck” that was purportedly delivering food to the TCF Center in Detroit was actually full of ballots, exaggerating a claim from a GOP witness who has acknowledged she didn’t actually see ballots but suspected foul play because there wasn’t enough food for all the election workers.
Guiliani also repeated a conspiracy theory that Dominion voting equipment used widely in Michigan and other states was used to rig the election for Biden.
That theory was fueled by a human error in Antrim County, where Republican Clerk Sheryl Guy’s office misapplied a software update in a way that skewed unofficial results for Biden.
"I cannot express how very unfortunate it is that our human error has called into question the integrity of Antrim County's election process and placed it front and center at the national level,” Guy said Thursday in testimony before the Michigan Legislature.
She noted the error was quickly corrected after voters and reporters contacted her office asking how Biden could have won the heavily Republican county. If it wasn’t discovered earlier, it “certainly” would have been flagged during the canvass, when officials review “tabulator tape” from each voting machine, Guy said.
“I take full responsibility, but I must emphasize that the human error did not in any way, shape or form affect the official results of Antrim County,” she told lawmakers.
— Bridge reporters Mansur Shaheen and Kelly House contributed to this report.