Wayne County changes course, certifies election as GOP members relent

After the election, paper ballots are stored in the clerk’s office and opened only in case of a recount or in case the Board of County Canvassers asks to inspect the ballots from a precinct. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

Nov. 19: GOP canvassers want do-over on Wayne County results. Too late, experts say
Nov. 19: Trump withdraws Michigan suit, falsely claims Wayne County votes halted

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10 p.m. Nov. 17 after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers voted to certify the election after initially refusing. An earlier story with a different headline stated the board refused to certify.

Michigan's presidential election was thrown into temporary chaos Tuesday night as Republican canvassers in the state's largest and most Democratic county refused to certify results — only to backtrack a few hours later.

In a 2020 twist, after President Trump had already tweeted a celebratory message, the dramatic vote reconsideration took place while the Wayne County Board of Canvassers was inadvertently on mute to the public during a Zoom broadcast.

Earlier Tuesday, the board voted deadlocked along party lines 2-2, with Republicans citing concerns that a large number of Detroit precincts were “out of balance,” meaning that the numbers of voters who signed into polling places did not match the number of ballots there.

But after hours of withering criticism from public commenters who accused them of disenfranchising Black voters in the state’s largest city, GOP canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann relented. 

Under a revised motion, announced by Hartmann, canvassers voted unanimously to certify the Wayne County election results but demanded a “comprehensive audit” by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

Jonathan Kinloch, one of two Democrats on the board, said the audit will commence after the Board of State Canvassers certifies Michigan election results, which could happen as soon as Nov. 23. 

The promise of an audit swayed GOP colleagues, Kinloch told Bridge Michigan in a late-night phone interview, noting that canvassers want Benson to share results of that audit with GOP leadership in the Michigan Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

They also hope to present potential reforms to the state Legislature to prevent similar issues in the future, “because we don’t want to keep being here every election cycle, Kinloch said. 

“I really am very appreciative of my colleagues finding a pathway that we could both support.”

Wayne County has struggled with unbalanced precincts in past elections, which could prohibit some ballots from counting in the event of a statewide recount, but that hadn’t prevented canvassers from certifying results before. 

The initial vote drew a swift rebuke, particularly because Palmer proposed certifying the entire county, but not Detroit, a city that is 85 percent non-white.

“We should [certify] this election like we are supposed to,” Kinloch said during the initial debate. “We aren’t going to be picking out people of color.”

“I smell politics,” he added.

The hearing followed weeks of unproven accusations and five lawsuits from Trump and other Republicans about irregularities on election night in Detroit. Among other things, they have claimed poll challengers didn’t have unfettered access to review the counting of absentee ballots. 

Unofficial results show Democrat Joe Biden winning by 146,000 votes in Michigan, which awards 16 electoral votes when the Electoral College meets Dec 14. In Wayne County, Biden beat Trump by roughly 241,000 votes, 552,000 to 311,000.

A deadlock would have punted Wayne County election results to the State Board of Canvassers, which would have had 10 days to complete the review. Already, Republican member Norm Shinkle, whose wife served as a GOP poll challenger in Detroit, has told Bridge Michigan he “makes no predictions” on his vote.

And, for a few hours anyway, the prospect of state canvassers giving Michigan to Trump bolstered his supporters after his campaign has lost a series of legal challenges in recent days.

If the state board follows suit, the Republican state legislator will select the electors. Huge win for @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted his legal adviser, Jenna Ellis.

The president joined in, tweeting “Flip Michigan back to TRUMP” and “having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!”

Bipartisan experts disagreed and said the election would have been certified by the state and not changed Biden’s victory. But the debate sowed doubts and fueled discord in a process that has been riddled with them since the Nov. 3 election.

“Shame on you for leading to this level of corruption,” the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, told GOP canvassers on Zoom after the vote.

“You have disavowed your rights to even sit in the seats you occupy. You are a disgrace as it relates to the ability to have a fair and impartial election in this nation."

Democratic attorneys and election officials had suggested the Wayne County canvassers could even face criminal penalties for failing to do their duty and certify results. 

“Glad to see common sense prevailed in the end,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan wrote on Twitter, thanking residents who spoke out in public comment. “Every court on the Detroit election results has ruled that Trump’s claims of error were baseless.  Had the Board of Canvassers disenfranchised 1.4 million Wayne County voters over partisan politics, it would have been an historically shameful act.”

Republicans including Palmer have pointed to lingering issues with Detroit’s ballot counts. She initially voted against certifying because she said final tabulations showed that 71 percent of Detroit’s absentee precincts didn’t balance. That means that the number of people who signed into poll books didn’t equal the number of ballots in voting machines.

There can be simple explanations for those problems, such as voters getting tired of long lines and leaving, or paper jams that cause ballots to be read twice. In most instances, the ballot counts were off by less than four votes.

But Palmer noted that Detroit had 72 percent of precincts out of balance in August, when the canvassers persuaded Benson to recruit thousands of workers to Detroit and persuade the state’s former elections director, Chris Thomas, out of retirement to assist with the effort.

“I do not have good faith that the poll books were complete and accurate.” Palmer said.

She also noted that Livonia had problems with the election and unbalanced precincts. After the deadlock, she proposed certifying the rest of the county, excluding Detroit, which favored Biden 232,908 votes to 12,654 for Trump.

The idea went nowhere, but drew heaps of criticism.

Ned Staebler, a Wayne State University vice president, compared Hartmann and Palmer to Bull Connor and George Wallace, two notorious segregationists.

In remarks that went viral online, Staebler predicted the two canvassers would  “forever be known in southeastern Michigan as two racists who did something so unprecedented that they disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Black voters in the city of Detroit.”

The Republican canvassers had caused controversy before the canvass vote by visiting the TCF Center in Detroit to view the counting of absentee ballots, a role that fellow board member Kinloch had questioned and raised as a conflict of interest. 

Palmer asserted that she was going as an observer, not as a party challenger. Likewise, the wife of Shinkle — the state canvassing board member — was at TCF as a Republican poll challenger.

“There is no reason under the sun for us not to certify this election,” Kinloch argued.

“A precinct out of balance is based on human error,” he added. “You need to wrap your head around the fact that individuals come to do their job for one day. .. It is not even realistic for anyone to stand here and try to imply that votes were cast improperly.”

The balancing issue is important because Michigan is one of few states that forbid recounts in precincts whose books are out of balance. 

Ultimately, after more than two hours of excoriating public comment over Zoom, Palmer and Hartmann changed their minds. 

The unanimous vote came the day of the deadline for all counties to complete their canvasses before sending them to the state.

Several of Michigan’s largest counties, including Saginaw, Ottawa, Ingham and Genesee County, also had unbalanced precincts that could not be reconciled this year, but that did not prevent their canvassers from unanimously certifying results. 

In Ingham County, Clerk Barb Byrum told Bridge some precincts weren’t balanced and COVID posed obstacles to the canvassing process. Still, the board finished its canvass at 1 p.m. Monday.

“Although their party affiliation is necessary to allow for proper canvassing of the election – two Democrats and two Republicans – they didn't play partisan politics,” Byrum said. “They took their oath and responsibilities seriously.”


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.

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Comments

Anonymous
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 9:11pm

Republican scum !

Arjay
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 9:20pm

I voted absentee in Wayne County. I asked my local clerk if my ballot went to TCF Center to be counted. She assured me that it was handled locally and did not go to the TCF Center. Thank goodness for that. We need a federal process for handling the ballots and we need competent people working the polls so that we can match records and arrive at the same result. Maybe the pay to the workers is contingent on them doing their job correctly. Remember, every ballot counts and do not concede for any reason, says Hillary Clinton.

What?
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:23pm

Why? No evidence of problems, fraud, abuse, wrongdoing. Get over it, your loser lost.

Arjay
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 9:20pm

I voted absentee in Wayne County. I asked my local clerk if my ballot went to TCF Center to be counted. She assured me that it was handled locally and did not go to the TCF Center. Thank goodness for that. We need a federal process for handling the ballots and we need competent people working the polls so that we can match records and arrive at the same result. Maybe the pay to the workers is contingent on them doing their job correctly. Remember, every ballot counts and do not concede for any reason, says Hillary Clinton.

Never going
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 10:23pm

to rest! Until this is done!

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10 p.m. Nov. 17 after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers voted to certify the election after initially refusing. An earlier story with a different headline stated the board refused to certify.

Maybe I can rest now that I refreshed the page!

To those who are crying now?

https://politicalwire.com/2020/11/17/fbi-investigating-texas-attorney-ge...

https://apnews.com/article/ken-paxton-austin-texas-crime-f8413d14842d848...

Real Story
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 11:24pm

Colbeck, Shirkey, Michigan GOP are all Q-Anon crackpots. Certifiable nutcases.

Gerrymander thi...
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:32pm

Time to clean house and senate in Michigan.

JW
Tue, 11/17/2020 - 11:26pm

How can all these crazy lying Republicans be allowed to govern our state with impunity.

Paul Jordan
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 12:41pm

Most of them got elected, often in gerrymandered districts.

Anonymous
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:24pm

Yes, but THEY need to be impeached.

Linda
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 7:50am

Palmer "noted that Livonia had problems with...unbalanced precincts." Yet she wanted to certify the votes in that community, which is 4% black, but not certify the votes of people living in Detroit, who are 78% black. She said racism has nothing to do with it. Well then, exactly what was her reason?

M
Thu, 11/19/2020 - 6:24pm

The reason is racist because you look at it with a narrow near sighted view. If you enlarged that view to the entire nation and understood the irregularities were primarily within the largest counties within each state. Which makes sense because the largest number of votes come from the largest city. The racist outlook is that for some reason people believe that black americans have the inability to think for themselves and the inability to change course. In an election highly flagged for irregularities and potential fraud, it would be irresponsible and racist to quickly certify the results in the largest county of michigan by assuming that the count must be correct since it favored biden because black american don't vote republican. That is racist. What the two republicans were attempting to do was ensure there was a fair and accurate count. How easy it would be to fraudulently claim that biden won because the county is primarily black. Again racist and that is what every sitting democrat in michigan just bullied the 2 "minority" republican canvassers to go along with. It's exactly what Democrats do to black americans year after year. That is true racism!

B.S.
Sat, 11/21/2020 - 2:14am

You be you.

We get it.

Fred
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 8:55am

I try my best (it's hard) to respect the views of Republicans that believe the election was somehow fraudulent, but this is absolutely ridiculous. I am glad that they finally relented, but this is just another example of our democracy losing its power because of Trump's loyalists that will believe anything he says. He has proven to tell lies constantly and this is just another example of dangerous rhetoric.

Ridiculous
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:29pm

Trump has not spoken with Biden since the election. Meanwhile Trump was planning to nuke Iran!!! No information about vaccines or vaccine distribution. No leadership over Covid-19. What a despicable creep We the People have as a "president". Trump is the absolute worst in the history of the US and he has his power ONLY because of his enabling sycophants.

Cindy L.
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 9:01am

Enough already! Needy folks seeking national attention. You got your 15 minutes of 'fame.' Now can we get on with reality?

Rick
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 9:23am

It's time to start charging Trump and the Republican Party for all these frivolous audits and recounts (Wisconsin does and Trump is not going to go forward there because he knows he'll end up paying millions...). If they're convinced they're right then they'll know it's worth spending the money. But here they just want to obstruct, delay.

'Under a revised motion, announced by Hartmann, canvassers voted unanimously to certify the Wayne County election results but demanded a “comprehensive audit” by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. '

Wondering
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:30pm

Why is Giuliani reping Trump for $20K a day and not in jail?

Rose
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 9:29am

I am genuinely interested in what qualifies someone to sit on a Board of Canvassers. How, exactly, are these members vetted? Or are they vetted at all? Perhaps a knowledgeble Bridge reader can address these questions.

Mr. Hartmann's Facebook posting of Nov. 7 stated, "I’m reading the news on how great things are now that Biden and Harris are in as declared by MSM. What will happen it it doesn’t happen once the official results are tallied? I wouldn’t sell the farm yet.”

This statement seems to imply that he had no intention of certifying the results at least a full 10 days prior to yesterday's meeting to certify. Is that legal?

Source: https://twitter.com/Amy_Siskind/status/1328867964125388803

Ms. Palmer meets with the Wayne County Ethics Board today, 11/18/20, for a conflict of interest issue related to a school board election.

Source: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2020/10/30/can...

Again, what qualifies people to sit on this board?

I call BS
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:33pm

Just ask your pal Ronna McDaniel.

George Hagenauer
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 9:47am

Given that multiple counties not just Wayne had jurisdictions where ballots and machines did not balance this suggests a training and maybe a systems problem. An area to look is how voter logs are kept. In Wisconsin we had to keep a log on any irregularities . For instance a person spoiling 3 ballots could not get a fourth and thus would not be counted as voting. With that type of tracking while it took time we were always able to balance . That also meant though having enough pollworkers to keep track of people entering and leaving. We did that by having multiple shifts which increased the ability of people to work the polls as they did not need to commit to 12+ hour days. It also kept them fresh and more able to do their jobs. Not sure whether this type of reform would be allowed here but improving the system can lead to improving the results.

Paul Jordan
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 12:38pm

This situation was a good example of how the Republican and Democratic parties work together as a political cartel. They behave as if elections just belong to their two parties rather than to the People of Michigan.

This is in great contrast to how voters from both parties came together two years ago to force the state to put redistricting firmly in the hands of the people ourselves.

The People of Michigan clearly need to similarly take the operation and certification of elections out of the hands of political parties. Certification boards should only have genuinely non-partisan members.

It would also help if we had non-partisan primaries where the top two vote-getters--regardless of party--proceeded to the general election!

Lp
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 1:22pm

Until someone puts their foot down and refuses to certify defective counts....70 percent not balanced...this will continue. It is a shame that they agreed to certify the count. It should not have happened. Wayne County should be doing a hand recount in all precincts right now. Nobody should feel comfortable. When one part of a process is broken, other parts are also likely to be broken. The count should not have been certified. Every race should be hand recounted. Every single one of them.

I call BS
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 4:36pm

Where is your source?

JWK
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 5:18pm

70% does sound like a lot. But the article does go on to state that most of those were off by under four votes (would love to see the data out of curiosity). If that's true then we're really splitting hairs here about 'numbers being off'. With something so large and complex that comes along one or twice a year at most, there is bound to be human error. As long as it's relatively small, which it appears to be, then I think we just need to live with it. Is it really worth the extra cost to solve such a small issue that has almost no bearing on the results? Why waste taxpayer dollars on something so inconsequential? It certainly doesn't point to anything nefarious as has been suggested, only something invariably human, all too human.

Josh
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 2:37pm

Source on the 71% of precinct poll books not matching?

Rijjio
Sun, 11/22/2020 - 1:26pm

BS , Sources are coming in From Dominion Software consultants , Poll Watches, Statistical numbers which show fraud for e.g.. More votes passed in to precincts then actually live in the precincts, also dead and illegal people, there is the proof !!!! Biden will never be a legitimate President , And he will be excommunicated from the Catholic Church as well. And if Kamala was truly sincere of what she thought about Biden she would have never accepted the VP, so they are both illegitimate leaders if they do end up being the face of the country.

Rijjio
Sun, 11/22/2020 - 1:30pm

Bridge, why did you allow Anonymous post and to post that statement ; your discussion details clearly state "Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes"? Please remove some of these posts! Thank you