In wild meeting, Wayne Co. board certifies Biden as winner after GOP members initially blocked it

By: and - November 17, 2020 10:07 pm

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the Flint drive-in rally with former President Barack Obama, Oct. 31, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Updated, 10:15 p.m. 11/17/20

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers on Tuesday evening certified the Nov. 3 presidential election results, but also directed the Secretary of State’s office to do a comprehensive audit of precincts that had minor discrepancies in vote totals. 

The hasty vote came after the body in the state’s largest county first deadlocked along partisan lines, 2-2 — which unleashed a firestorm of criticism from Michigan and national officials.

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, won Michigan over GOP President Donald Trump by about 150,000 votes, according to unofficial returns. Under Michigan’s winner-take-all system, Biden is to be awarded all 16 electoral votes.

Biden secured about 68% of the votes cast for president in Wayne County and Trump received about 31% of votes in the county. 

William Hartmann Facebook post, Nov. 7, 2020

The board is composed of two Democrats and two Republicans. William Hartmann and Monica Palmer are the Republican members; Jonathan Kinloch and Allen Wilson are the Democratic members. 

In a Nov. 7 Facebook post, Hartmann wrote, “I’m reading the news on how great things are now that Biden and [Kamala] Harris are in as declared by the MSM [mainstream media]. What will happen if it doesn’t happen once the official results are tallied? I wouldn’t sell the farm yet.”

With 43 jurisdictions, Wayne is the state’s most populous county and includes Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, which also is 80% Black and heavily Democratic. 

After the initial vote not to certify results, Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox, a close ally of Trump, claimed victory. 

“I am proud that, due to efforts of the @migop and the RNC [Republican National Committee] under the leadership of @GOPChairwoman Ronna McDaniel, enough evidence of irregularities and potential voter fraud was uncovered resulting in the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refusing to certify their election results,” Cox tweeted.

Trump also tweeted, “Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!”*

But Ned Staebler, a Democratic Party activist who worked as an observer during the voting counting process at the TCF Center in Detroit, said during the meeting that the Republican members of the board looked past alleged irregularities in Livonia, supermajority white city, yet alleged Detroit irregularities, a supermajority Black city. He described the action of Hartmann and Palmer, the GOP members, as racist and stated that history would not be on their side. 

“The stain of racism that you, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, have covered yourself in will follow you throughout history. Your grandchildren are going to think of you like Bull Connor or George Wallace,” Staebler said, referring to the 1960s Southern segregationists. “Monica Palmer and William Hartmann will forever be known in southeastern Michigan as two racists who did something so unprecedented that disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Black voters in the city of Detroit because they were ordered to.” 

A host of officials, including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, slammed the board’s first vote.

Pro-Trump protesters at Detroit’s TCF Center | Ken Coleman photo

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, noted that if the Wayne County panel didn’t certify the election, the matter would go before the Board of State Canvassers, which also is split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans. 

“Michigan’s Bureau of Elections stands ready to fulfill its duty to complete the canvas for Wayne County, address any clerical errors and improve the quality of the canvass overall,” Benson said. “Importantly, this is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or tabulated.”

As it turns out, that won’t be necessary, since the board later voted Tuesday night to certify results.

The Board of State Canvassers is slated to meet Wednesday afternoon and will get an update on the Nov. 3 election. Members have until Nov. 23 to certify Michigan’s statewide election results. As the Advance previously reported, the courts could step in if that panel did not certify presidential results — something that has never happened in history.

The Wayne County panel’s dramatic meeting renewed some interest on social media in the scenario that the GOP-controlled Legislature could appoint its own slate of electors for Trump, something that the Michigan Advance first reported on back in October. Michigan’s full-time Legislature is in session until the end of the year. 

A joint House and Senate committee has subpoenaed the state Board of Elections over unproven allegations of election irregularities. House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has said he doesn’t believe it will result in election results being overturned.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) made comments to media Tuesday that the Legislature will not appoint its own electors. Some legal experts have pointed to Michigan law barring such action.

“Folks would have to essentially decide that the rule of law no longer applies in Michigan. We would effectively be talking the equivalent of a state-level coup, because powers that are vested in other officials would be illegally assumed by legislators acting,” attorney Steven Liedel told the Advance in October.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.