Two Republican members of the Wayne County, Michigan, elections board are attempting to rescind their votes certifying the county’s ballots for the presidential election, a move which could flip the state from President-elect Joe Biden to Donald Trump.
Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, the two Republican members of the board, had originally blocked certification of votes earlier this week. The move was decried by election observers as an attempt to undo the democratic will of voters in the county, which could potentially aid President Donald Trump’s dubious and unsubstantiated challenges of fraud in the swing state.
Wayne County, which includes the city of Detroit, is largely Democratic and voted primarily for Biden.
“Our democracy is built on respecting the will of the people when they express it at the ballot box,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The attempt to block the certifying vote was also criticized by some lawmakers as racist, as Wayne County’s population is 78 percent Black. By refusing to certify the vote, Palmer and Hartmann were threatening to essentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Black voters in the city and county overall.
“A majority Black city’s votes don’t count. Is this what they are saying?” Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wrote in a tweet in response to the Republican board members’ initial attempts to block certification of the vote. Tlaib’s congressional district encompasses parts of the city of Detroit.
Biden won the state of Michigan by more than 157,000 votes. However, if Wayne County’s results remained uncertified, Michigan would flip to Trump, delivering the incumbent a victory by a margin of about 175,000 votes, as well as the state’s 16 Electoral College votes.
On Tuesday, the two Republicans claimed that discrepancies in poll books in the city warranted delaying certification of the county’s votes. But those same concerns did not prevent the same board from certifying the result in 2016, when Trump won the state against Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton. It’s also not uncommon for poll books to have a slight mismatch between the number of votes counted and the number of voters who signed in at the polls, especially in elections with a huge turnout.
After facing a deluge of criticism both locally and nationally, the Republican board members struck a compromise with their two Democratic counterparts on the board and voted to certify the election, in exchange for requesting through a resolution that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson conduct an audit of the county’s votes.
But Palmer, in an affidavit she signed on Wednesday evening, alleged that she and Hartmann were pressured into agreeing to certify the vote. Palmer also claimed that Democrats were reneging on enforcing the audit from Secretary Benson.
“I rescind my prior vote to certify Wayne County elections. I fully believe the Wayne County vote should not be certified,” Palmer said in her affidavit. Hartmann also signed another affidavit with similar wording. Neither of the affidavits have the power to reverse the votes.
However, Palmer’s and Hartmann’s claims of being tricked into certifying the results in Wayne County do not hold up to scrutiny. For starters, the resolution to ask Benson for an audit that was agreed upon by the board was non-binding, which Palmer and Hartmann would have known at the time. Additionally, the two sought to rescind their votes without a formal request to Benson for an audit from the board.
Jonathan Kinloch, a Democratic member on the election board, said to The Washington Post that it’s too late for Palmer and Hartmann to rescind their votes. He also warned that the move risked undermining the legitimacy of the board.
“Do they understand how they are making us look as a body? We have such an amazing and important role in the democratic process, and they’re turning it on its head,” Kinloch said.