Michigan’s largest county certifies election results after GOP earlier blocked certification

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his campaign event at The Villages Polo Club on October 23, 2020 in The Villages, Florida. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks about his plans for combatting the coronavirus pandemic at The Queen theater on October 23, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Getty Photos)

(CNN) — A bipartisan panel in Michigan’s largest county unanimously certified its presidential results on Tuesday night, a stunning reversal hours after Republicans had temporarily blocked certification based on dubious claims of voting irregularities in Detroit.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially deadlocked 2-2 on whether to certify the results, with two Democrats voting to certify and two Republicans voting against it, citing concerns of examples where Detroit precincts found discrepancies during their post-election review process. That vote was immediately condemned by Democratic officials and nonpartisan experts, who said the election in Detroit had been conducted cleanly.

President-elect Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 148,000 votes, a victory made possible by a strong showing in Wayne County, where he netted more than 322,000 votes over President Donald Trump.

The initial vote against certification drew the attention of the President, who posted a series of tweets praising the GOP members of the canvassing board for “having courage.” He also spread false claims about massive voter fraud and said officials in the state should “flip Michigan back to TRUMP.”

Trump has mounted a long-shot attempt to overturn the election results through lawsuits and the Electoral College. Republican lawmakers in Michigan have repeatedly said they’ll respect the statewide popular vote.

When announcing their decision to certify the results, the board also called on Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to do a comprehensive audit on the precincts in Detroit that had found discrepancies during their post-election review. In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Cuomo Prime Time,” Benson said she would conduct that audit, and she praised the decision by the county board to reverse itself and certify the results.

“It appears that the truth won in this scenario,” she said. “Basically, the evidence was clear: There were no irregularities, there was no evidence of widespread fraud and in fact there were simply minor clerical errors. … I think they did the right thing, they performed their duty and they certified the election for the voters in Wayne County.”

Abrupt reversal

Even after the initial party-line deadlock, experts were skeptical that the results from Wayne County would ultimately be excluded from the statewide count. That would have put Biden’s Michigan victory in jeopardy — but CNN has projected that he will win 306 electoral votes, which means he’d still become the next president even in the unlikely scenario that he doesn’t get Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.

During the meeting of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, Vice Chair Jonathan Kinloch called the earlier deadlock “reckless and irresponsible.” Kinloch is one of the two Democrats on the panel.

“This board, over the years, has taken pride in not allowing politics to show itself in the actions of what we do,” Kinloch said. “There is no reason under the sun for us to not certify this election. I believe politics made its presence here today, and I think forever that this board will have to live with the fact that we have allowed external, non-relevant issues to impact this decision today, hoping to change and bring about an outcome that will not happen.”

The Republican chair of the board, Monica Palmer, explained why she had earlier voted against certification.

“Based on what I saw and went through in poll books in this canvas, I believe that we do not have complete and accurate information in those poll books,” Palmer said.

At one point, Palmer suggested that the board certify the rest of the county’s results, aside from Detroit, which was not pursued by the board.

“I would be open to a motion to certify communities other than the city of Detroit” Palmer said, referring to other parts of Wayne County.

In a written statement after the initial deadlock, Benson said it was “common” for some precincts to have minor discrepancies with their poll books. But she also said, “Importantly, this is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted.”

Election experts and Michigan insiders reacted with shock to the original vote.

“The people have spoken: Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 140,000 votes,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Today’s action is a blatant attempt to undermine the will of the voters. The process, however, will move forward. Under Michigan law, the Board of State of Canvassers will now finish the job and I have every expectation they will certify the results when the job is done.”

Nancy Kaffer, a columnist at the Detroit Free Press, tweeted, “This is unprecedented in my 20 years covering government here.” Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report tweeted, “There has been zero evidence of fraud here or elsewhere” and said Republican efforts to block certification “does real and lasting damage to our institutions.”

The GOP-led Michigan Senate voted in September in support of resolution confirming that the state’s electors should be faithful to voting for the presidential candidate as certified by Michigan’s election officials, Amber McCann, deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, confirmed to CNN.

Court overturns ruling on where Trump observer stood in Philadelphia counting

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 5-2 that a Trump campaign ballot processing observer in Philadelphia had no right to stand any particular distance away from election workers, and it’s up to counties to decide where poll watchers can stand.

It’s a significant loss for President Donald Trump’s campaign at a moment in which the legal strategy to block President-elect Joe Biden’s win and undermine the election results is crumbling and entering its final throes.

The state high court’s ruling overturns an earlier decision that the Trump campaign had called a major win, even while it affected no actual votes in Pennsylvania. But that small win has propelled the Trump campaign in recent days to argue that vote counts across the state have been unfair and prompted them to push suspicions of fraud.

The campaign’s latest loss in court comes amid a break in a hearing where Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is arguing to a federal judge there could have been widespread fraud in absentee voting in the Keystone State.

That hearing, with arguments that began this afternoon in Williamsport, is on a break because an audio phone line that allowed public access to the hearing went down.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court spelled out how the Trump campaign’s observer, Jeremy Mercer, was able to do everything he was allowed under the law when he was observing the absentee ballot processing in Philadelphia. This factual record undercuts core claims the Trump campaign is still trying to make in court.

Mercer had complained he couldn’t see signature declarations or other markings on envelopes, but the court said he would have only needed that information if his “primary motivation” was to challenge individual ballots — which he, as an observer, was not allowed to do under the state law.

“Specifically, Attorney Mercer witnessed Board employees inspecting the back of ballot envelopes containing the voter’s declaration, before sending them on for processing; witnessed ballots being removed from their secrecy envelopes, and naked ballots which had been delivered to the Board without a secrecy envelope being segregated from ballots which arrived within such envelopes; saw that the ballot processing methods utilized by the Board were not destroying the ballot envelopes containing the voter’s declaration; and perceived that the ballot secrecy envelopes were being preserved during their processing,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.

“As found by the trial court, Attorney Mercer was able to appropriately observe that the Board’s employees were performing their duties under the Election Code.”

All seven justices disagreed with the Trump campaign’s suspicions of fraud and legal arguments aiming throw out potentially thousands of votes after the fact.

The chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Republican Thomas Saylor, wrote that the Trump campaign’s apparent aim to throw out votes would be disenfranchisement.

Saylor wrote in his dissent that he “fail[ed] to see that there is a real issue here.”

He pointed out that issues over how an election is administered could largely be addressed by courts before the election, and even by trial courts early during ballot counting — not well after, as the Trump campaign has tried to do.

“There have been, and will always be, some localized irregularities,” Saylor wrote of elections. “This is why courts are open throughout the election cycle, as here, to remedy these just as quickly as possible. It is also one of the reasons why we have a Commonwealth Court, with expertise in election matters, and organized to act expeditiously via single-judge consideration. … Short of demonstrated fraud, the notion that presumptively valid ballots cast by the Pennsylvania electorate would be disregarded based on isolated procedural irregularities that have been redressed — thus disenfranchising potentially thousands of voters — is misguided.”

Saylor and another justice, Sallie Updike Mundy, split with the rest of the court because they believed the case was now moot since ballot processing in Philadelphia is nearly complete, according to Saylor’s dissent.

Michigan lawsuit

Trump’s most sweeping election case in Michigan has had its own set of hiccups in recent days. The federal judge on Tuesday morning pointed out that the Trump campaign’s lawyers hadn’t taken steps to move their case along quickly. Judge Janet Neff wrote in a court order that the Trump campaign didn’t serve the lawsuit to the defendants, Michigan’s Secretary of State and Wayne County election officials, nor had it asked for the court to consider its case an emergency.

The Trump campaign lawyers had outlined they would need intervention to stop the election results in Michigan in the next few weeks because of an initial Electoral College deadline to finalize popular vote results on December 8.

“Despite setting forth these looming deadlines and despite having characterized their pleading as one requiring ’emergency’ relief, Plaintiffs have, to date, neither Plaintiffs have, to date, neither served their Complaint on Defendants nor filed any motions for immediate injunctive relief,” Neff wrote.

If the lawsuit is to continue at all, the Trump campaign has to serve the suit to the Michigan officials by 5 p.m. Tuesday, she added.

This story has been updated with details from Tuesday’s hearing.


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