Election officials in Michigan’s largest county abruptly reversed course on Tuesday night and certified the presidential election results, with Republican members of the board backtracking after initially blocking the decision.
The two Republicans on the four-member Wayne County board of canvassers — charged with validating the vote count — initially opposed certification and raised questions about mismatches between the totals submitted by local precincts and the final canvass. Less than two hours later, the Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues to unanimously certify the tally from the county, which includes Detroit, and called for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to audit the mismatched precincts.
The board’s reversal quickly undercut celebrations among Trump allies who called the board’s initial 2-2 deadlock against certifying the results the beginning of a potential chain reaction that could flip the state into the president’s column — even though Joe Biden leads by more than 145,000 votes.
The board’s certification vote occurred just moments after Trump himself celebrated the initial vote with a tweet that praised the Republican canvassers’ “courage” for halting the certification.
“Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!” Trump tweeted, erroneously saying the whole state had not certified results. Trump continued to celebrate, even after the board had voted to certify.
Other Republicans had embraced the board’s initial ruling, as well, with state GOP officials saying they were “proud” of the delay in certification and Trump’s campaign describing it as an opportunity to overturn the state’s election results.
Democrats had lashed out at the two Republican canvassers, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, for what they described as a purely political decision to delay Wayne County’s certification. Top Democrats in Michigan noted that the decision would have had the effect of upending the votes in Michigan’s largest African-American communities, and others said it was simply a partisan effort to shore up the Trump campaign’s false claims of widespread fraud.
“In refusing to approve the results of the election in Wayne County, the two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers have placed partisan politics above their legal duty to certify the election results,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.
Even before the board made its about-face, Michigan election authorities downplayed the significance of the deadlock, noting that the matter would simply move to the state canvassing board.
Benson, the secretary of state, added that similar circumstances had arisen in previous elections, with disputed canvassing results sent to the state level for recanvassing.
“It is common for some precincts in Michigan and across the country to be out of balance by a small number of votes, especially when turnout is high,” Benson, a Democrat, said in a statement.
She stressed that the county board’s decision “is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted.”
Yet Trump allies had characterized the county-level dispute as a significant victory for the president’s effort to throw out results in states poised to send Biden to the White House, and they said the development could trigger a spate of draconian, highly unlikely maneuvers to put the state’s 16 electoral votes in Trump’s column.
For example, Trump campaign counsel Jenna Ellis said that if the vote wasn’t certified at the state-level later this month, Republican state lawmakers would instead select which slate of electors — Trump’s or Biden’s — would cast Michigan’s votes for president.
But this far-fetched scenario, which Trump allies have floated for weeks, ran into roadblocks just hours earlier.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, rejected the premise outright earlier in the day on Tuesday. He told Bridge Michigan “that’s not going to happen” when asked about the possibility of the legislature selecting electors.
“We are going to follow the law and follow the process,” he said. “I do believe there’s reason to go slow and deliberate as we evaluate the allegations that have been raised.”
The state board of canvassers is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon.
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