“This board faces a stark choice,” the letter reads, citing claims of “numerical anomalies” and “procedural irregularities” that they say would leave “the distrust and sense of procedural disenfranchisement felt by many Michigan voters to fester for years” if ignored by the board.
The letter has increased worries among state Democratic leaders that Republicans may block certification Monday. They have begun drafting legal documents and detailed contingency plans in the event the board fails to certify. Among the options being considered is for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to replace the GOP members using her executive authority, or to ask a judge to compel the board to certify the results, said a current and former Democratic official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on this matter.
“There is absolutely no legal basis for the Republican canvassers to abandon their responsibility to certify the general election result — that was a fair, free and secure election — as required by statute,” Christine Greig, Michigan’s House Democratic leader, said in a statement Friday. She said the delays in declaring the results official — particularly those related to vote counting in Detroit — are rooted in racism and could be a “stunt” to influence selection of the state’s presidential electors.
McDaniel and Cox’s demand for scrutiny is entirely focused on the election results in Wayne County, Michigan’s largest and most Democratic county, which includes Detroit.
Detroit election officials and Democratic lawyers dispute the accounts of widespread irregularities.
Wayne County officials have noted discrepancies in the vote count in a number of precincts. But they said the size of the errors was small — a difference of one or two votes per precinct, affecting a total of about 450 votes. Biden leads the state by about 150,000 votes.
In a tweet Friday, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state suggested an audit such as the one requested by McDaniel and Cox would not be allowed under state law, which does not allow for the necessary records to be released until after the state certifies the results.
“Not sure who needs to hear this, but under state law (MCL 168.31a) audits can only be conducted after the State Canvassers certify the election,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wrote. “This is [because] election officials do not have legal access to the documents needed to complete audits until the certification.”
Still, the demand by the two GOP leaders increases the pressure on the two Republican members of the four-member Board of Canvassers, whose actions Monday could slow down the process of finalizing election results in the battleground state and empower others to echo President Trump’s unfounded allegation that he was robbed of victory because of widespread fraud.
In an interview Thursday, Norman Shinkle, one of the Republicans on the state canvassing board, said that although he expected Biden to win the election, he may suggest a delay to allow for an audit of the state’s ballots.
Republican members of the state legislature, including state Sen. Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, declared Friday after a White House meeting that they had learned nothing to warrant reversing the outcome in their state.
On Saturday morning, Detroit News reporter Melissa Nann Burke wrote on Twitter that she had seen four of the Republicans — state Sens. Shirkey, Dan Lauwers, Aric Nesbitt and Tom Barrett — leaving Trump’s downtown Washington hotel. Burke also posted a photo, which she said was provided by another individual, showing Chatfield having drinks in the hotel’s lobby.
The lawmakers used their own personal funds for the gathering, said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Chatfield.
The Trump hotel — a popular Republican hangout — is expensive, even during the pandemic: On Saturday, the hotel’s website said the lowest available rate for that night was $476.
“Senator Shirkey supports a deliberate process free from intimidation and threats,” Amber McCann, Shirkey’s spokeswoman, said in a statement Saturday. “The Board of State Canvassers should feel comfortable taking the full time allowed by law if they feel it’s necessary to perform their duties, or certify on Monday if they’re satisfied it’s appropriate to do so.”
The GOP leaders said they “echo” the concerns voiced by failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James this week, citing a letter filed Friday by his campaign that made claims of irregularities in Wayne County’s elections. Cox and McDaniel called the accusations made by the James campaign “deeply concerning.”
“In light of the already unprecedented nature of this election — conducted largely by mail in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” they wrote, “it would be a grievous dereliction of this Board’s duty to the people of Michigan not to ensure that the irregularities identified by the James Campaign are thoroughly investigated by a full audit before certifying Wayne County’s results.”
Attempting to offer reassurance that this was not an attempt to indefinitely block the state’s process of selecting electors for Biden, they wrote that “neither that adjournment nor the audit of Wayne County’s results would impermissibly delay certification of the election results beyond the statutory deadline of December 7, 2020.”
Last week, Benson reminded Michigan that her office had already intended to conduct an audit of the election and has been preparing to do so for the past two years, noting that this would be a typical post-election procedure and was not being done in response to disproved or unfounded claims of election fraud.
“Throughout my tenure as Michigan Secretary of State, and indeed long before, I have spoken repeatedly on the importance of post-election audits to ensure Michiganders can trust the outcome of our elections as an accurate reflection of the will of the people,” she said in the statement. “Notably, audits are neither designed to address nor performed in response to false or mythical allegations of ‘irregularities’ that have no basis in fact.”
According to Michigan election law, the secretary of state “authorize the release of all ballots, ballot boxes, voting machines, and equipment after 30 days following certification of an election by the board of state canvassers” in the event that a recount petition has been filed or a court has issued an order “restraining interference” with these materials.