A Detroit polling site. Photo by Montez Miller.
A Detroit polling site. Photo by Montez Miller.

Michigan’s election results are on track to be finalized despite a roller coaster week in Wayne County filled with Republican opposition.

DETROIT—The certification of Wayne County’s election results has gotten even messier. After a tumultuous meeting where the county first refused to certify election results and then ultimately did certify them, two board members now wish to retract that certification.

All of Wayne County’s nearly 880,000 ballots have been securely counted and certified despite Republican opposition from the Board of Canvassers, which claimed that clerical errors within Detroit’s results ought to prevent their votes from being certified. That opposition reignited Wednesday night. 

“Do they understand how they are making us look as a body?” Jonathan Kinloch, Democrat and vice-chair of the Board of Canvassers, told the Washington Post. “We have such an amazing and important role in the democratic process, and they’re turning it on its head.”

Kinloch said that as the certified results were submitted to the Secretary of State Thursday morning, rescinding their approval now would be impossible.

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“There has been no proof offered, no evidence of voter fraud uncovered by Republicans that has withstood the impartial eye of our judicial system,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans told the Metro Times. “The arguments brought by partisan Republicans are specious and have been rejected by level-minded judges in Wayne County and across the country. It is time to respect the rule of law.”

He called it a “slap in the face” to the democratic process.

So What’s Going On in Detroit?

Initially, when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met Tuesday, hours after their scheduled start time, the two Democrats and two Republicans failed to certify Detroit’s election results. Because the boards consist of an even number of members, if one party refuses to certify unanimously, the board deadlocks and certification fails. The Republican members of the board raised concerns about “out-of-balance” voting precincts in Detroit. 

A district can become unbalanced when, for instance, a ballot gets “spoiled” (invalidated) and a new ballot is issued, but the poll workers fail to note this properly. Small clerical errors like this create small discrepancies between the number of voters documented and the number of ballots documented. As Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told CNN, these kinds of clerical errors are the roots of most misinformed allegations of voter fraud. 

The largest case of an unbalanced district was in Livonia, where the numbers were offset by 27. But the board was willing to certify Livonia’s results. Just not Detroit’s. 

That, alongside the partisan attempts by Republicans to prevent vote certification in a last-ditch effort to prevent the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden in January, sparked a massive public backlash against the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. By the end of Tuesday night, facing both local and national scrutiny and receiving praise from President Donald Trump and scorn from Detroiters, the board ultimately unanimously certified the result. 

The agreement to certify was hinged on a request to the Secretary of State to conduct an audit of the unbalanced districts, which the board cited as a problem back in August, but had not been addressed to Republican members’ satisfaction in November.

But the story didn’t end there. 

READ MORE: The Three Ways Detroit’s Election Results Ensured Accuracy

Wednesday night, the two Republican members of the board asked to rescind their votes, essentially asking to undo the certification of the results. The board members claim they received threats from parties supporting both major candidates to try and influence their votes, but it was the agreement to audit the result not being binding that motivated their request to rescind their support. 

Kinloch said that the Republicans knew their audit request was not binding, and offered to draft a letter alongside the Republicans urging the Secretary of State to conduct the audit. 

Monica Palmer, the Republican chair of the committee, pushed back initially against allegations that she caved to intimidation in certifying the results. She acknowledged threats, but said they did not motivate her decision.

“There was not mob rule, but there was a lot of pressure to certify,” she said in a Wednesday statement regarding criticism of her actions in certifying the election. “I made the decision ultimately because Jonathan Kinloch gave me an opportunity of the promise that an audit that was supposedly going to occur.”

According to freelance journalist Kayla Ruble, Palmer attributed some of the threatening messages to supporters of both candidates, including “Antifa from Grosse Pointe.”

The distinction between Detroit voters and Livonia voters was central to public criticism of Palmer that she’s pushed back against as well. 

“It was heartbreaking, in part, because my intentions were to protect the Detroit vote,” Palmer said in a statement. “Not to be racist in any way; I was concerned about 70% of precincts not balancing in Wayne County.”

But Palmer’s concerns didn’t extend to the suburbs.

Detroit Can’t Be Certified, but Livonia Can

One area that caused criticism for  the Republican canvassers  was the racial motivation seemingly behind the decision to discount Detroit’s votes while not discounting those of Livonia, which had a similar rate of out-of-balance districts. The key difference between Detroit and Livionia, besides scale, is racial diversity. 

“Republican Board of Canvassers’ refusal to certify Wayne County election results is a racist attempt to disenfranchise Black voters in Detroit—Monica Palmer said it herself when she suggested they certify all results except for Detroit,” said the group Progress Michigan in a statement to The ‘Gander. “Livonia, which is primarily white, was mentioned by staff as having the second highest number of out of balance precincts, but Palmer said she would still certify their results. This is a racist, right-wing power grab fueled by partisan politics and Trump’s last-ditch efforts to ignore the will of the people.”

For Detroiters, that distinction between them and Livonia was disappointing, but not surprising. Detroit attorney Jamonte Cannon told The ‘Gander that race was central to the desire to certify one city and not the other. 

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“It’s no coincidence that some places with all these suspected ‘irregularities’ and ‘illegal votes’ are places where people are largely nonwhite and vote Democratic,” he said. “Seeing the swath of people who decided I and folks like me didn’t deserve to give power to anyone else but their beloved leader was saddening, but not infuriating, only because it was all too predictable.”

And that was a message given directly to the board. 

“You have extracted a Black city out of a county and said the only ones that are at fault is the city of Detroit, where 80% of the people who reside here are African Americans,” Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, told the two Republican board members. “Shame on you!”

Certifying and Decertifying an Election

By the end of the meeting Tuesday evening, the Republicans joined the Democrats in allowing the results to be certified and agreed to address their concerns by encouraging the Department of State to hold an audit of election results. It is unclear if there is even a mechanism by which that certification can be rescinded, as Republicans now request, especially in light of the fact that the idea that their votes were the result of coercion has been dismissed by Palmer.

“There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote. Their job is done and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify,” Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of State, told Michigan Advance.

These tense few days came after Trump lost a court battle hoping to prevent election certification in Detroit. Despite these hurdles, Michigan is on pace to fully certify election results in time to dispatch electors to the Electoral College. The Detroit Free Press reports that the campaign lawsuits have since attempted to pin their allegations of widespread voter fraud on the affidavits of the Wayne County canvassers, which make no such allegations.

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“It appears that the truth won in this scenario,” said Benson. “Basically, the evidence is clear there were no irregularities, there was no evidence of widespread fraud, and, in fact, they were simply minor clerical errors than we were discussing, actually less clerical errors than in past elections.”

Wayne County certifying the election is only one step on the road to casting Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. The next step, certification on the state level, might prove an opportunity for the grievances of the Wayne County board to be addressed in a more binding and official capacity. It might also be another partisan fight.