LANSING, Mich. (CN) — The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted Monday to certify the state’s election results, pouring cold water on President Donald Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The 3-0 certification vote came at the end of a marathon hearing and formally hands Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to Biden.
Republican board member Aaron Van Langevelde voted for certification but fellow Republican Norman Shinkle abstained, pointing to irregularities in Wayne County, where Detroit is located.
It was unclear throughout the closely watched meeting how the two board members would vote. Shinkle was highly critical of the process during the hearing, but after hours of testimony from county clerks and citizens Van Langevelde’s yes vote was enough to certify, with Democrats Jeanette Bradshaw and Julie Matuzak also approving the results.
“The state law is clear that we do not have that authority and other entities do,” Van Langevelde said as he voted to certify, referring to an audit of election results. “I encourage those state officials to act and do what they can.”
Jonathan Brater, the state director of elections, opened the meeting with his recommendation that the results be certified. He commended county clerks for performing a “labor of love” as they adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic and withstood scorn from abusive citizens.
Brater admitted there were errors in the process in Detroit but said it was a better election process than the primary in August.
“Overall, we had an extremely well run and secure election,” he said through a mask.
He went on to assure the public that just because there were irregularities caused by human error, it did not mean votes were not properly counted.
When Matuzak attempted to hold a vote on the motion to certify, she was stopped by Van Langevelde who implored the members to “listen to the people” before they moved forward.
Former state elections director Christopher Thomas was first to speak in the public comments portion of the meeting and spoke glowingly of what he saw in Detroit as they processed results in the middle of the pandemic.
“Detroit had a tsunami of mail-in ballots. Detroit voters took advantage of opportunity,” he said.
Shinkle, shifting in his seat repeatedly and wearing a mask with the American flag emblazoned on it that rarely covered his face and rested around his neck, disputed that characterization.
“For anyone to say that this election in November went smoothly, I guess we can refer to August, which was a total mess. You might see some improvement but smoothly is not accurate at all,” he said.
Shinkle asked if there was any legal way to delay the certification.
“If you have the complete returns, what else do you need? You are mandated to certify when you have the results,” Thomas replied. “You don’t have the authority for an audit.”
Van Langevelde signaled early in the meeting that he was leaning towards voting for certification and told Thomas as much when they spoke about the scope of election laws.
“You would agree with me that this board has a legal duty, correct?” he asked.
Daniel Baxter, Detroit’s former director of elections who was hired as a consultant to oversee the city’s absentee ballot count, used his time to praise the election workers who diligently trained and risked their own health and safety when challengers without masks got too close.
“No matter what happened at the TCF Center, nothing deterred our workers,” he said, referring to Detroit’s central counting facility.
Shinkle accused Baxter of passing over Republican applicants who wanted to work the election and quizzed him about the hiring process, but Baxter said they had a tough time recruiting them and several applied after the deadline for training.
Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox made an appearance and said the process was “stacked” against Republicans, begging the board to not certify.
“I’m asking you to delay certification,” she began. “There are too many questions that need to be answered regarding this election.”
Cox alleged the TCF Center was unwelcoming to Republicans and several poll watchers were bullied by workers.
Republican lawmakers from Michigan traveled to Washington last Friday for a controversial meeting with President Trump about the election results, but stressed afterward they would allow the normal certification process to continue without interfering.
The meeting was dismissed as “nonsense” by Biden.
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, one of the Republicans who met with Trump, said he supported an audit of Wayne County results to get to the bottom of the allegations.
"We've been doing our own reviews of these reports of fraud, and the reports of irregularities and I think these need to be looked into," he told Fox News.
Last week, Trump’s reelection campaign voluntarily dismissed its federal lawsuit seeking to block certification of the Michigan election results based on the inaccurate claim that officials in Detroit refused to certify the results.
The Wayne County Board of Canvassers was initially deadlocked with a 2-2 vote last Tuesday when Republicans Monica Palmer and William Hartmann balked at approving the results and claimed they did not add up correctly, especially in Detroit, but acquiesced when outrage grew from fellow canvassers as well as other observers.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, wrote an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press on Monday that said Michigan citizens can trust the process.
“Michigan’s election was carried out by more than 1,600 public servant clerks and tens of thousands of volunteer election workers. They can and have attested to the fact that our election was conducted fairly, securely and transparently, and that the results are indeed an accurate reflection of the will of the voters,” she wrote. “The will of the people in Michigan is clear and unequivocal.”
Also on Monday, the Michigan Supreme Court denied an appeal by two voters from Wayne County who wanted to stop the certification process for an audit of the results.
Cheryl A. Costantino and Edward P. McCall Jr. both Republican poll watchers, sued Detroit and Wayne County officials over what they called a lack of transparency in the election process. Among other claims, they alleged poll workers were instructed by election officials to not verify signatures on absentee ballots and process them regardless of their validity.
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian K. Zahra, joined by Justice Stephen J. Markman, wrote a concurrence Monday disagreeing with the lawsuit’s premise and saying an audit should happen after results are certified.
“Indeed, the plain language of [state law] does not require an audit to precede the certification of election results. To the contrary, certified results would seem to be a prerequisite for such an audit,” he wrote.
In a dissent, Justice David F. Viviano said more information was needed about the audit.
“Consequently, it is imperative to determine the nature and scope of the audit provided for in Article 2, § 4, so we can determine when the audit occurs and whether it will affect the election outcome,” he wrote.
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