Michigan Republicans Are Quietly Replacing Officials Who Certify Vote Totals

Lansing, MI - June 17: Conservative radio host Randy Bishop, right, prays over signed affidavits at a Let Freedom Ring rally at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on Thursday, June 17, 2021. Rally atten... Lansing, MI - June 17: Conservative radio host Randy Bishop, right, prays over signed affidavits at a Let Freedom Ring rally at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on Thursday, June 17, 2021. Rally attendees delivered the affidavits to lawmakers requesting an audit of the presidential election results. (Photo by Sarah Rice for The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 21, 2021 12:04 p.m.

Like lots of other rank-and-file Republicans, Robert Boyd has his doubts about the integrity of the last election, particularly in his home state of Michigan — and particularly in Detroit’s TCF Center, where the city’s votes were counted last year despite a concerted effort from local Republicans to disrupt the counting process. 

“People saw ballots come in the back door, so, you know, there were cameras in there that people weren’t aware of, that were there,” Boyd told TPM over the phone Tuesday. “They had a bunch hiding under the table. It was not a very pleasant thing to see.” 

But there’s a big difference between Boyd and others who may share his view: The 73-year-old Rockwood, Michigan resident is the newest member of the four-person Wayne County Board of Canvassers, the body responsible for certifying vote totals for Detroit and the surrounding area. 

He’s one of several new members of such boards around the state, chosen by local Republican leaders, who are replacing incumbents who voted to certify the last election under immense, nationwide pressure from their party. The Detroit News first reported on the wave of replacements last week, including incumbents who wanted to be renominated but weren’t. 

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Unlike the canvasser he’s replacing, Boyd says he would not have certified the 2020 vote. Even now, after numerous local audits and a Republican-led state Senate investigation found no basis for Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election, he remains unconvinced. 

“That’s one side,” Boyd said of the investigation. “The other side, as I say, is thinking that there was some hanky panky going on.”

Looking at the situation from afar, he added, “there’s a good possibility that things were not up to where they should be — that things were not legal.” 

Boyd noted the numerous affidavits from concerned poll challengers that alleged wrongdoing. He said he figured the affiants had little reason to lie, though he acknowledged that he had only read a few of the documents. 

“That’s a real time-consuming thing there,” Boyd said. 

How’d We Get Here?

The appointments of Boyd and the other new county-level canvassers across Michigan follow months of turmoil and wild, false claims over the last election. As in other battlegrounds, Donald Trump and his army of lawyers and GOP officials spun up fraud claims and sought to prevent county and state officials from certifying Joe Biden’s 154,000 thousand-vote victory margin in the state.

Wayne County’s canvassing board was one of the largest stages for the show.

The two Republicans on the board, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, initially voted against certifying the county’s vote totals, creating a 2-2 split with the board’s Democrats. 

After some intense blowback — and claims from Palmer she’d received threats — the Republicans changed their votes. The GOP canvassers also said that the board’s Democratic vice chair assured them that the county’s results would be audited.

Trump, of course, was ever-present in the saga, lying about there having been more votes than people in Detroit, cheering on the initial refusal to certify in Wayne County, and, after the board voted to affirm Biden’s victory there, calling Palmer personally. 

After that call — which is under the Jan. 6 congressional committee’s microscope — Palmer and Hartmann signed legally ineffectual affidavits claiming they wanted to rescind their certification votes, though the state did not acknowledge those efforts. 

Then, Trump hosted Michigan’s two Republican legislative leaders at the White House, seeking unsuccessfully to have them defy the will of Michigan voters.

The state canvassing board sealed Biden’s win: One Republican member of the board of canvassers, Norman Shinkle, abstained from voting to certify the results. The other Republican, Aaron Van Langevelde, voted to certify Biden’s win. Van Langevelde was replaced by the state GOP this year.

‘You’re A Traitor’ 

Hartmann’s term on the county board did not end this year, but Palmer’s did. Ironically, she’s said she wasn’t renominated because she ultimately did certify the last election.

“I think this is clearly an attempt [to ensure] that I don’t remain on the board of canvassers because I did eventually certify the election,” she told the News recently.

Palmer told local talk show host Paul W. Smith last week that she was “highly surprised” not to have been renominated to the board. 

In the interview, flagged by the News’ Craig Mauger, she recalled a text she received from the chair of the Michigan’s 11th Congressional District Republican Committee — one of several people tasked with nominating board members — on the night she voted to certify the election. 

“You’re a traitor and I’ll make sure you never hold office within the GOP again,” the text read, according to Palmer.

“This is exactly what it looks like,” Palmer added. “There are people within the state party who are getting rid of any canvasser that isn’t toeing the line of, ‘we need to stop everything.’”

Smith asked if she thought Republican officials were seeking board members to contest future elections “if it doesn’t turn out our way,” referring to Republicans. 

 “I never thought I’d have to fight the Republicans to hold this seat, right?” Palmer said. “But to find out they’re doing this across the state — what other motive would there be?” 

Boyd, on the phone with TPM Thursday, declined to say whether he personally believed that Trump should have remained in the White House for a second term.

“As they say in the service, it’s above my paygrade,” Boyd said. “I can’t answer that kind of question. I like to withhold opinions on that kind of stuff, because it is so legally involved.” 

But there was one thing he was sure of, with midterm elections quickly approaching. 

“It’s going to be a tense situation.” 

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