Three out the four board members — including one Republican — voted for certification, capping a dramatic political dispute that had roiled the state.
The Michigan canvassing board had never before refused to certify a statewide vote, but pressure on the once-obscure panel had built over the past week.
And both the president and top GOP officials sought to discredit the vote process in Michigan’s Wayne County, home of Detroit, making sweeping and unsubstantiated claims about widespread fraud and citing errors in the vote tallies. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and state GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox called for a “full audit and investigation” before the vote was certified.
The YouTube webcast of Michigan’s canvassing board meeting drew more than 30,000 people — a remarkable viewership for the small panel. The quiet scene they tuned into offered a striking contrast to the day’s high stakes: four board members sitting at tables draped in black cloth inside an antiseptic meeting room.
As the meeting progressed, members of the public offered a running commentary online, from “Certify!” to “Stop the steal!”
Meanwhile, in Lansing, a small group of Trump supporters huddled around a decorated Christmas tree outside the state capitol, waving American flags and shouting over a megaphone with calls for four more years of a Trump administration.
In the end, one of the Republican board members, Aaron Van Langevelde, joined the two Democratic board members in voting to certify the vote.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this board’s role and the power that we have and the authority that we have,” Van Langevelde said during the meeting.
“The law regarding certification gives us a clear duty,” he added later. “There’s nothing in the law that gives me the authority to request an audit as part of the certification process.”
“Our duty is very simple, and it is a duty,” he said.
The lone holdout was GOP board member Norman Shinkle, who told The Washington Post in an interview last week that he was leaning toward seeking a delay. Shinkle cited a debunked conspiracy theory aired by Trump that voting machines made by a company called Dominion deleted thousands of Trump votes.
On Monday, Shinkle called Michigan’s elections “a national embarrassment.”
“There is no excuse for the confusion and uncertainty that seems to follow every election in our state,” he said, before abstaining when the vote was called.
Immediately afterward, Michigan’s GOP House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a statement that the board “fulfilled its legal duties today in certifying the results, and now our democratic process can move forward. This is America at work.”
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had been preparing for potential legal action if the board delayed certifying the election, according to people familiar with her plans.
In a statement after the board meeting, Whitmer commended the three board members “who voted to follow the law and certify the 2020 election results today.”
“The people of Michigan have spoken,” she said. “President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan.”
Mark Brewer, a Democratic elections lawyer in the state, said that Trump could still seek a recount, but called such a move “a futility.”
But the Trump campaign maintained that it would keep fighting.
“Certification by state officials is simply a procedural step,” senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis said in a statement. “We are going to continue combatting election fraud around the country as we fight to count all the legal votes. Americans must be assured that the final results are fair and legitimate.”
Monday’s vote served as one of Trump’s final stands in a faltering attempt to stall Biden’s official victory.
The president has faced a slew of legal defeats around the country, most recently on Saturday in Pennsylvania, when a federal judge rejected the Trump campaign’s efforts to stop the certification of the election in that state, a ruling the campaign has appealed. Trump also requested another recount in Georgia, which certified Biden’s win last week, a process that officials said Monday is expected to conclude next week.
During Monday’s meeting, a procession of current and former election officials pleaded with the board via Zoom to move the process forward.
Jonathan Brater, director of Michigan’s Bureau of Elections, pushed back against GOP claims of voting irregularities in the state, saying the bureau had not identified any problems other than “occasional human errors.”
Chris Thomas, who served as Michigan’s elections director from 1981 to 2017, told the board that it did not have the authority to conduct an audit before certifying the vote.
“You are mandated to certify when you have the complete results,” Thomas said.
He urged the board to contemplate its role in this year’s fraught election season.
“You are the pinnacle of Michigan democracy. You are the end game,” Thomas said, adding: “Your civility, which is so needed today, shows our citizens that a system they may take for granted, works.”
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum told the board that not certifying the results would signal that “democracy is dying in Michigan.”
Voters also chimed in, saying they were dismayed by the prospect of the election results being held up. “It almost seems like officials are trying to tear up my ballot in front of me,” said Wendy Gronbeck, one voter who testified.
Laura Cox, director of the Republican Party of Michigan, countered that the board had to delay certification.
“There are too many questions that need to be answered, too many numerical anomalies,” she said, adding: “This election had issues.”
GOP officials have pointed to the number of “unbalanced” precincts, where there were small discrepancies between the number of ballots cast and the number of voters logged by election workers in the poll books.
Out-of-balance precincts can occur for several reasons. A machine may fail to scan the name of a voter on an absentee ballot envelope. A voter can make a mistake on a ballot and request a new one, or sign into the poll book but leave before casting a ballot.
This fall, 179 Detroit precincts, or 28 percent of the total, had discrepancies of at least one ballot, accounting for at least 433 votes, according to state and county data.
Four years ago, when Trump won the state by a narrow margin, the number of out-of-balance precincts was larger: 392 Detroit precincts, or 59 percent of the total, had discrepancies of at least one ballot, accounting for at least 916 votes, the data show.
At the time, neither Trump nor the Republican Party questioned the validity of the election results — or demanded an audit to verify the vote tally.
In her testimony Monday, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said her department make extensive efforts to reduce errors, including hiring more workers to staff the ballot count in shifts in an attempt to limit the potential for exhaustion-fueled mistakes.
“We do all this so that we can eliminate as much human error as possible, but as humans we all make mistakes,” she said.
State officials wrote in a memo Friday that the city’s error rate had improved, a point Brater reiterated to the canvassing board Monday.
Last week, Trump called a Republican member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who subsequently sought to withdraw her vote to certify results in Detroit.
“We will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election,” Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) said in a joint statement issued late Friday.
Hamburger reported from Detroit and Ruble reported from Lansing, Mich. Keith Newell, Aaron Schaffer and Maya Smith contributed to this report.