The Wayne County Board of Canvassers’ Vice Chair Jonathan Kinloch faces Chair Monica Palmer to tell her they’ve allowed politics to impact the board’s decision. (Screenshot of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting)

Make no mistake, the voices of more than four-dozen Detroiters and Wayne County residents came to the defense of 1.4 million voters Tuesday night.

And it worked.  

It was the impassioned criticism, often backed with evidence and knowledge of the law, of residents who pushed back against two Republicans who had refused to certify the Detroit and Wayne County elections. The pair make up half of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. It’s their job to be the next step in the process to validate the ballots cast in the November election. 


But in another volatile twist in this bitter election, the two Republican board members, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, refused to certify. Their refusal gave hope to the many who are holding on to the belief that widespread fraud happened in this election. That includes President Trump, who posted a series of tweets praising the GOP members of the canvassing board for “having courage.” 

Hartmann and Palmer based their initial no votes on what happened in Detroit, where the final tabulations showed 71 percent of the city’s absentee precincts didn’t balance. That means that the number of people who signed into poll books didn’t equal the number of ballots in voting machines. 

Often the numbers were off by less than four votes.There can be simple explanations for the out of balance numbers, such as voters getting tired of long lines and leaving, or paper jams that cause ballots to be read twice.

Michigan’s Bureau of Elections stands ready to fulfill its duty to complete the canvas for Wayne County, address any clerical errors and improve the quality of the canvass overall. Importantly, this is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or tabulated.

— Jocelyn Benson (@JocelynBenson) November 18, 2020

Unbalanced precincts are not unusual in elections or Detroit and don’t necessarily mean election fraud. In the August primary, 72 percent of precincts weren’t balanced and canvassers certified the election. 

But it was enough for the Republican pair to vote against certifying the 878,102 votes in all of Wayne County.  Palmer, chair of the board, stated she did not have “good faith”  that poll books were completed functionally and accurately.”

The rebuke was instant. Fellow Board of Canvassers member Jonathan Kinloch called the decision “reckless and irresponsible.”

“There is no reason under the sun for us to not certify this election,” said Kinloch. “I smell politics. I think forever this board will have to live with the fact that we have allowed external, non-relative issues to impact this decision today.”

It’s plain and simple, folks. The Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers put politics above their duty to our residents. Suggesting that all of Wayne County can be certified, EXCEPT for Detroit, is horrifying racist and a subversion of our democracy.

— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) November 17, 2020

The kind of deep emotional response #Detroiters are telling the 2 Republicans who refused to certify #Detroit elections . @BridgeDet313

— Louis Aguilar (@DetroitAguilar) November 18, 2020

In what seemed like a “Jane Crow” moment against a majority-Black city, Palmer stated she’d be “willing to certify communities other than the city of Detroit” even though Livonia, a majority-white city, had more discrepancies. The blowback on her comment was quick. Kinloch said the sentiment was a way of disenfranchising voters and “picking on people of color.”  Within an hour, Palmer’s comment trended on social media. 

Wayne County Republican Board of Canvassers member says she’s open to certifying the rest of the county but not Detroit. Express willingness to disenfranchise voters in Michigan’s largest city – one of the largest, majority black cities in the country.

— Sharon Dolente (@SharonDolente) November 17, 2020

After the vote, nearly two hours of public comments started. It began with two Wayne County staffers expressing dismay with Hartmann and Palmer.  One said their refusal to certify was  a “slap in the face” to the hours of hard work of county staff. Another pointed out the out of balance numbers added up to several hundred votes.  

“We’re talking about  human error,” the staffer said. 

Nearly 50 people, watching the meeting on Zoom, then waited for their chance to speak for two minutes. All of them decried the decision. 

More than two dozen poll workers pointed out many Republican poll challengers repeatedly tried to verbally and physically intimidate Detroit poll workers from processing absentee ballots at the TCF Center. Those intimidation tactics went on for hours and it began well before a crowd of conservatives tried to storm into the room to physically stop the process. 

Given that environment, human error of processing ballots was understandable, many contended. 

Suril Patel said he was a poll worker at TCF Center. Six Republican challengers often hovered over his table of six poll workers processing ballots, he said. “One poll worker was told, ‘Oh, I know you aborted your baby’ by a  Republican challenger. That is the level of abuse that they withstood for like 15 hours. And they took it like champions.” Patel said at the meeting.

The Rev. Wendy von Courter said she was a non-partisan poll watcher at various Detroit precincts on Election Day. Later, she spent hours at TCF Center. She even escorted Detroit poll workers safely to their car after conservatives began to protest outside the convention center.  

 “The voters did their job, the ballot counters, the observers did their job. I’m ashamed to witness you failing to do yours,” von Courter told the Board of Canvassers. “Watching racism like this is so painful. It’s soul sucking. My prayer is you reconsider your vote.  At this hot moment, you’ve chosen a hideous role in an immoral chapter.”

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, was equally forceful. 

“You are a disgrace! You may have stalled it but you have not stopped it,” he said. 

She said this WHILE ACKNOWLEDGING that Livonia (95% White) had more variance than Detroit (80% Black)

Monica Palmer and Bill Hartmann just disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Black voters because of their race

— Ned BLACK LIVES MATTER Staebler (@NedStaebler) November 17, 2020

Folks. I appreciate the love, but it wasn’t me that got the Wayne County Board of Canvassers to reverse their decision. It was US. And, mostly it was powerful people of color demanding their rights!

— Ned BLACK LIVES MATTER Staebler (@NedStaebler) November 18, 2020

It wasn’t just Detroiters who spoke out. The city clerks for Livonia and Canton both pointed out non-certification disrupted the elections county wide, along with discrediting the votes of more than 1 million in Wayne County. 

 “We are basically doing what no foreign county has ever been able to do, which is successfully undermine our election system. So, congratulations on that,” said Canton City Clerk Michael Siegrist.  “I’m very upset.  I don’t like that the national political rhetoric that is so toxic and destroying this country has made its way to this body.”

The line with the most snap may have come from Detroiter William Davis. “You all are Confederates, you all aren’t Republicans,” Davis said, who is on the board of the Detroit Police Commissioners. 

After nearly two hours of withering comments, the two Republicans reversed course. 

Under a revised motion, announced by Hartmann, canvassers voted unanimously to certify the Wayne County election results but demanded a “comprehensive audit” by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

But it’s not the end. Late Wednesday, Hartmann and Palmer once again changed their minds. The two signed affidavits claiming the pair regret their yes votes. “I fully believe the Wayne County vote should not be certified,” Palmer states in her affidavit. She cites that the state  comprehensive audit may not be binding as she originally believed.  Since the deadline to certify the election by county officials has passed, it’s unclear if the affidavits will have any impact. 

The Associated Press is reporting the affidavits came after Trump reached out personally to Palmer and Hartmann.

The next step in the process is for the state Board of Canvassers to certify on Nov. 23.  The state board is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats.

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