Trump campaign withdraws lawsuit as Republicans on Wayne County Board of Canvassers try to rescind votes

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 11:23am

.

Gabby Ceritano/Daily

After Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers voted against certifying election results Tuesday then reversed course after public pressure and accusations of racism, both GOP canvassers signed affidavits late Wednesday to rescind their votes. Shortly afterward, the Trump campaign released a statement withdrawing its Michigan lawsuit over the election results.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Elections told the Detroit Free Press that board members are not legally able to rescind their votes, putting into question the validity of the affidavits signed by Republican canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann.

Both Palmer and Hartmann sparked widespread criticism when they initially voted against certifying the election results. Their “no” votes in conjunction with the two “yes” votes from the Democrat canvassers resulted in a deadlock. Public commenters at the meeting called the move racist and berated the two for trying to disenfranchise Detroiters. Palmer and Hartmann then changed their votes to “yes” on Tuesday evening. 

In the affidavits signed late Wednesday, both Palmer and Hartmann said they felt pressured to vote “yes” under false pretenses. The Republican canvassers claimed they were promised an independent audit of Wayne County precincts, but they no longer believe the state will carry out the audit, hence why they have decided to rescind their votes.

Late in the evening, I was enticed to agree to certify based on the promise that a full and independent audit would take place, Hartmann said in his affidavit. I would not have agreed to the certification but for the promise of an audit.

In a statement Thursday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the state intends to continue with its planned “risk-limiting” audit of November’s general election. Benson emphasized that the move is not in response to the GOP’s allegations of voter fraud.

“Notably, audits are neither designed to address nor performed in response to false or mythical allegations of ‘irregularities’ that have no basis in fact,” Benson wrote. “Where evidence exists of actual fraud or wrongdoing, it should be submitted in writing to the Bureau of Elections, which refers all credible allegations to the Attorney General’s office for further investigation.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes criticized Palmer and Hartmann for changing their minds, calling their reversal a partisan calculation.“It is clear that Palmer and Hartmann are simply kowtowing to the GOP party leadership,” Barnes said. “There is no legal basis to their claims nor does there exist a path for them to ‘take back’ their vote.”

Palmer reportedly got a call from Trump after the certification vote. According to the Associated Press, Hartmann also spoke with Trump.

“He was checking to make sure I was safe after seeing/hearing about the threats and doxxing, Palmer wrote in a text message to the Free Press, referring to information about her being released on social media as clips from the meeting went viral.

The affidavits precede a recent Trump campaign statement that announced their withdrawal of the lawsuit against the state of Michigan.

“This morning we are withdrawing our lawsuit in Michigan as a direct result of achieving the relief we sought: to stop the election in Wayne County from being prematurely certified before residents can be assured that every legal vote has been counted and every illegal vote has not been counted,” Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement on behalf of the Trump campaign.

The Trump lawsuit withdrawn Thursday made unfounded claims of election fraud in Michigan and sought to halt the certification of the results. The case argued that GOP poll challengers were intimidated by a loud P.A. system and mean stares among other things, arguing the campaign was therefore not allowed meaningful access to review ballot processing.

The campaign’s motion of voluntary dismissal of the federal lawsuit falsely claimed that it had stopped the certification of votes in Wayne County, the state’s most populous county and a Democratic stronghold. It is unclear if the Republican canvassers can actually rescind their votes, and state officials have said the board’s Tuesday vote will stand.

Activists and community members called the effort to delay certification of the Detroit ballots racist, pointing out that the majority Black city was being unfairly targeted. The GOP members of the board had noted concerns about out-of-balance precincts — meaning places where there are differences between the number of people signed in to vote and the number of ballots counted — but they had certified the August primaries despite similar discrepancies.

Edward Golembiewski, Washtenaw County’s elections director, said “it is not unusual for some precincts to begin the canvass process out-of-balance, and not worrisome in and of itself.”

“Reconciling such precincts is one of the main duties of every county Board of Canvassers,” Golembiewski said. “I imagine nearly every county in the state (and certainly every county of significant size) begins their canvass with a number of precincts that must be brought into balance, especially during an election with record voter turnout.”

Washtenaw County certified its results earlier in the month to little fanfare. According to Golembiewski, during the canvass of the general election in Washtenaw County, there were 14 out-of-balance precincts at the beginning of the process. All were brought into balance by the end and the bipartisan Washtenaw County Board of Canvassers voted unanimously to certify the results.

“In my experience, most out-of-balance precincts are the result of simple and usually minor human errors made by poll workers when reconciling and completing poll book data entry at the end of a long and sometimes stressful day,” Golembiewski said. “The most common errors are mathematic discrepancies and variances are usually small, typically one or two ballots.”

Managing News Editor Leah Graham contributed reporting.

Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu


The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.