UPDATE, Nov. 19: Republican canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann submitted written affidavits expressing their desire to rescind their “yes” votes late in the day on Nov. 18. The affidavits come after President Trump reportedly reached out to both canvassers. Experts say that the affidavits will have “zero” effect on the election certification process.
UPDATE, 9:25 p.m.: On Tuesday night the Wayne County Board of Canvassers voted unanimously to certify the county’s election results, reversing their initial 2-2 split. The reversal came after more than three hours of commentary from callers, many of them Wayne County voters. With their certification, the Board also unanimously called on Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to perform an audit on all out-of-balance precincts.
The certified results will now be sent on to the Board of State Canvassers, which will meet Nov. 23 to certify results before Michigan’s electoral votes can be cast on Dec. 14. A meeting scheduled for Nov. 18 was canceled when all counties certified their election results.
In a press release, the Michigan Democratic Party celebrated the decision and praised the role of citizens who had called in to the county canvass’s meeting. Many blasted the two Republican Board members for an initial decision that they said disenfranchised voters and targeted Black voters in Detroit. “For several hours tonight we heard from Michigan residents outraged by the initial decision of the two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers to not certify the vote. Their words were full of passion, filled with anger and outrage for the blatant racism that was on display,” MDP wrote. “Their impassioned pleas, along with the leadership of Wayne County Board of Canvassers Vice Chair Jonathan Kinloch, led to a reversal of the board’s initial decision.”
Kinloch said he was pleased with the decision and that it would address lingering concerns, presumably referring to unbalanced precincts in Detroit and other areas of Wayne County.
In a 2-2 decision split along party lines, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers failed to certify election results for the county (which includes Detroit) Tuesday. Republican board members Monica Palmer and William Hartmann voted against certification, and Democratic members Allen Wilson and Jonathan Kinloch voted in favor.
Palmer and Hartmann raised concerns about unbalanced poll books, a justification Kinloch condemned as “partisan” — Tuesday’s deadlock is a rare result amid a national spotlight on absentee ballot counting in Detroit and Republican efforts to undermine the integrity of the count in Democratic cities with large Black populations.
“Today’s action is a blatant attempt to undermine the will of the voters,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Tuesday evening. “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.”
The county canvass, which must be completed before the state canvass, is a state-mandated “double-check” of voting records, usually a routine post-election step in the verification process. The failure to certify means that Wayne County’s results will now be passed on to the state board for certification, another step mandated under election law. The failure to certify doesn’t mean that the results of the election are incorrect and isn’t indicative of voter fraud.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Laura Cox said she was “proud” that “enough evidence of irregularities and potential voter fraud was uncovered resulting in the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refusing to certify their election results.”
Palmer and Hartmann noted that about 70% of the city’s absent voter counting boards were out of balance for the Nov. 3 election, meaning the number of absentee ballots counted did not match the number of absentee ballots recorded in poll books. Detroit had the highest number of out-of-balance absent voter counting boards in the county, followed by Livonia.
The Democratic members of the board repeatedly emphasized that unbalanced precincts and poll books are not uncommon, and an unbalanced precinct does not mean that the count is inaccurate.
In August’s primary election (which the board certified unanimously), 72% of Detroit’s precincts were out of balance. Palmer expressed concern that only minor improvements had been made since the primary, particularly in Detroit, where the state provided additional resources to ensure a smoother election. She said that she was open to certifying the rest of Wayne County, but not Detroit.
Hartmann added, “I want it to go to the state so the state can do a deeper evaluation for an additional 10 days.”
“What you’re saying has no relevance to the ministerial role of the board,” Kinloch told them. “This is not a reason not to certify. I smell politics at the core of this action.”
The results will now be passed on to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers for certification. The state board, which certifies results from all 83 Michigan counties, scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, Nov. 18 to give updates on the county canvass. It has 10 days to certify Wayne County’s results. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement on Tuesday that the state board of canvassers has enlisted the Bureau of Elections’s help canvassing the vote in similar situations in the past. Statewide results must be certified before the electoral college meets on Dec. 14.
The state board is also made up of two Democrats and two Republicans — should they fail to certify results, the Michigan Supreme Court can order them to certify or certify results itself.
“No election is perfect,” Wilson said Tuesday. “I want to emphasize that it’s not perfect and it’s not going to be perfect… But in the meanwhile, is this enough to not certify the Wayne County election?… At the end of the day, how do you not certify an election that certifies the will of the people of Wayne County?”
“It’s not fraud,” said Kinloch of poll book irregularities. “It is absolutely human error.”
Benson said that “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. Importantly, this is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted.”
During the public comment section of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting, a city of Detroit employee called the decision a “slap in the face” to their hard work.
Several lawsuits alleging voter fraud in Wayne County have been dismissed by judges for insufficient evidence, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has described lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign as “baseless and frivolous.”
Kinloch told the Detroit News last week that claims of poll challenger discrimination or ballot irregularities would fall “out of the purview of the board’s ability to review or even consider,” and noted that the board is “ministerial” in duty and meant to certify whatever it is presented.
All precincts that were out of balance would be ineligible for recount if one were ordered, which is unlikely. Kinloch criticized the “archaic” law that disqualifies unbalanced precincts from being recounted. All members of the board echoed this sentiment.