The Board of State Canvassers certified Michigan’s November general election results Monday.
The board, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, met Nov. 23 to make the vote count official after all 83 Michigan counties certified their election results, which include Joe Biden’s 2.8% statewide victory over President Donald Trump. The state certification of the more than 5.5 million ballots cast comes after Trump and his attorneys and supporters persistently called for delaying certification. Board of State Canvasser Norman Shinkle abstained from the vote. The other three board members all voted in favor of certifying.
Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican canvasser and an attorney for the House Republican Caucus, said the board doesn’t have many options outside of performing its duty to certify the election.
“This board must respect authority entrusted to it and follow the law as it is written. We must not attempt to exercise power we do not have,” Van Langevelde said. “We have a clear legal duty to certify the results of the election. We cannot and should not go beyond that.”
Christopher Thomas, a former Michigan Elections Director who came out of retirement to help oversee Detroit’s election process, took questions from the board and said the canvassers don’t have the authority to conduct or order investigations or audits of the count before certification.
Shinkle, a Republican canvasser, inquired whether the board could adjourn without taking a vote.
“I believe Wayne County’s certification needs to be looked at. I believe there were serious problems with it,” Shinkle said.
Thomas said the board may adjourn and wait for corrections to returns, but members must have a reason to do so, and with all Michigan counties having certified their results, he argued there would be no legal basis for declining to immediately certify.
“You can’t vote ‘no’. There is no ‘no’ in these circumstances… You’re the endgame of the statewide elections for 2020,” Thomas said.
Certifying the election is historically a routine sign-off by the board, but after members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers last week initially voted against certification, and then were contacted by the president after ultimately voting to certify their results, speculation arose over the possibility that the state board might decline certification.
Trump last week also hosted the state’s most influential GOP lawmakers, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, at the White House.
Chatfield and Shirkey both said Trump didn’t ask lawmakers to “break the law” or “interfere” with the election.
Laura Cox, the Michigan Republican Party Chair, asked the board to delay certifying the votes.
“There are too many questions, too many numeric anomalies. We need to remove the distrust and sense of procedural disenfranchisement,” Cox said.
Trump and members of the Republican National Committee have filed several lawsuits asking the courts to intervene in Michigan’s election by stopping the certification of results until an audit has been conducted. Michigan law doesn’t allow audits to be performed until election results are certified.
Charles Spies, who represents Senate candidate John James, said the meeting should be adjourned until Wayne County’s results are audited.
“Our position isn’t that this election shouldn’t be certified, but the Board of State Canvassers should only do that when it is confident that the results it is certifying are correct,” Spies said.
Van Langevelde, who was an assistant prosecutor for Branch County, said he’s spent a lot of time reviewing the state’s elections and it doesn’t give the board authority to conduct an audit.
“I think the law is on my side here, we have no authority to request an audit or delay or block the certification,” Van Langevelde said.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said an audit will be conducted after certification of results to explore problems with unbalanced precinct records that appeared in Wayne County and elsewhere in the state, indicating some errors by poll workers, but not in numbers that would impact the outcome of the election. A jammed tabulator or a person signing in to vote and leaving before casting their ballot can result in imbalance.
“We have seen positive indications of Detroit’s accuracy and accountability,” Thomas said. “Detroit’s voters were given the opportunity to vote safely and I’m pleased with what’s occurred.“
City of Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey said using electronic poll books and having election workers process ballots in shifts resulted in fewer mistakes. The city managed to reduce its percentage of imbalanced precincts compared to the August primary, 75%, to 70% in the November general election. Winfrey responded to Shinkle’s inquiry about why there weren’t more Republicans working in Detroit, stating people may have waited too long to apply and go through training.
“We do all of this so we can eliminate as much human error as possible, but as humans, we all make mistakes,” Winfrey said.
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