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Michigan, national GOP seek to delay certification of election results


Beth LeBlanc   | The Detroit News

The Michigan and national Republican parties have asked the Board of State Canvassers to delay certification of the state's election results in a bid to investigate "anomalies and irregularities" alleged to have occurred in Michigan's Nov. 3 election. 

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel on Saturday asked the state to conduct a "full, transparent audit" before certification, noting other states like Georgia "have taken discretionary steps" in determining their results.

The Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet Monday to consider certification, and experts say an audit cannot be performed under state law until after certification has taken place. 

The request from Cox and McDaniel came the morning after Michigan Republican lawmakers met with President Donald Trump at the White House for an hour. 

In a statement after the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield suggested the lawmakers used the Oval Office meeting to focus on COVID-19 relief and not the certification of Michigan's election results.

Chatfield and Shirkey also said in their statement that they have "not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan," which President-elect Joe Biden won by 154,000 votes.

But Trump responded on Twitter Saturday morning to the lawmakers' statement by reiterating his unproven claims that there was "massive voter fraud" in Michigan's election. 

Trump retweeted a post from Shirkey about the meeting, saying, "This is true, but much different than reported by the media. We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!" Trump wrote. 

Through a spokeswoman, Shirkey declined to comment on Trump's tweet Saturday.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James also requested Friday that the canvassers delay certification. James, a Farmington Hills businessman, trails U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, by more than 92,000 votes in unofficial results after the 83 counties turned in their certified results, a gain for Peters of 9,000 votes from the preliminary results.

"In light of the already unprecedented nature of this election — conducted largely by mail in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, 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," Cox and McDaniel wrote.

Two Republican congressman on Sunday slammed the request by McDaniel and Cox, with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph saying it was "a little out of bounds." 

"A 14-day delay doesn't help any," Upton told CNN, stressing there's no evidence of fraud or abuse in the election. "And frankly we have to get back to government."

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, viewed the request as an inappropriate effort to pressure the two GOP members of the Board of Canvassers to delay or vote against certification. He said the board is meant to be apolitical. 

"The fact that Ronna and Laura would inject raw politics into the process is disgusting," Mitchell said. "It's one more disturbing thing the party leadership is doing to appear they are supporting President Trump." 

Mitchell, who is retiring from Congress at the end of his term, and Upton have both called on Trump to concede. Mitchell said Trump's campaign has failed "miserably" to prove its allegations and stressed the canvassers have no mechanism to investigate the election results.

"It's over," Mitchell said. "They are playing a game. They are trying to transfer the burden of proof from the campaign claiming irregularities and fraud to Michigan, saying 'prove you ran a fair election.' That's not the way it works."

The Michigan Democratic Party on Sunday asked the board to "carry out your responsibility" and certify the Nov. 3 election results. More than 70% of Michigan's eligible voters cast a ballot in this year's election, a "cause for commendation and celebration," chairwoman Lavora Barnes said.

Allegations from Republican challengers have not been enough to gain traction in court and imbalances in Detroit precincts are not believed to have resulted from anything other than clerical error, Barnes said.  An audit after certification could help to study and learn from those "immaterial imperfections."

But should an audit be used to delay certification, the board would become "an ingrained venue for post-election skirmishes."

"The certification process must not be manipulated to serve as some sort of retroactive referendum on the expressed will of the voters," Barnes wrote. "That is simply not how democracy works." 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Friday an audit could not be completed prior to the certification of results because "election officials do not have legal access to the documents needed to complete audits until the certification."

Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Republican, echoed those concerns when testifying Thursday before a joint legislative committee. 

"If you did it before the canvass was complete, you're auditing unofficial results," Posthumus Lyons said. "Additionally if you audit before a recount has taken place, you're opening up very s

ecure containers, and things that are really important to protecting and preserving the security of the election before a potential recount takes place.

"The order in which this all occurs I think is important as well," she said.

Still, Cox and McDaniel argued it was possible to investigate some claims made in the affidavits and unbalanced poll books in Wayne County while still complying with the Dec. 8 deadline for certification. The states are required to certify by this "safe harbor" day or invite court or congressional intervention.

"To simply gloss over those irregularities now without a thorough audit would only foster feelings of distrust among Michigan’s electorate," Cox and McDaniel wrote.

Republican state canvasser Norm Shinkle told The Detroit News Friday he was considering moving for an audit and/or a delay of the final certification, but couldn't make a decision until presented by the Michigan Bureau of Elections report on the certifications from 83 counties.

Shinkle said he wasn't convinced the Wayne County Board of Canvassers had successfully certified the election after GOP canvassers there attempted to rescind their affirmative votes after the 14-day deadline. The canvassers were unsuccessful in their attempt, Wayne County's legal counsel said. 

"Now, I’m only one voice out of four," Shinkle said. "But if there’s evidence that we need more information, then we should ask for it.”

Shirkey supports "a deliberate process" without threats or intimidation, his spokeswoman Amber McCann said. 

"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," McCann said Saturday.

"In either case, it's inappropriate for anyone to exert pressure upon them."

Wayne County's canvassers were told Tuesday that approximately 70% of Detroit's absentee vote counting boards were out of balance without explanation, potentially disqualifying them from a recount. The total plummeted for the city's in-person precincts, where 22% were out of balance and unexplained.

Elections officials said the out-of-balance poll books were off by a few hundred votes in a county where about 878,000 people voted. Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is leading President Donald Trump 51%-48% or by 154,000 votes in the unofficial but certified county results, a gain for Biden of 8,000 votes over the preliminary lead of 146,000 votes.

Affidavits filed in suits seeking to stop the Wayne County canvass, which was certified last week, alleged barriers to poll challengers and irregularities in the way ballots were handled at the TCF Center in Detroit. Elections officials have rebutted the claims, and a Wayne County judge and state Court of Appeals panel have agreed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com