Despite later reversing their decision, two Republican members of Michigan's Wayne County Board of Canvassers were told their woeful legacies had already been sealed after they attempted Tuesday to block the certification of the county's 2020 election results, including an effort during the process to carve out Detroit—which voted overwhelmingly for President-elect Joe Biden and other Democrats—from its wealthier suburbs.
While President Donald Trump initially praised the move by Monica Palmer, the Republican chair of the committee, and William Hartmann—the other Republican on the four-member panel—to halt the certification as a "beautiful thing" and declared "Flip Michigan back to TRUMP," the two later changed course after fierce public condemnation, including charges that their refusal was both racist in origin and an assault on the democratic will of the people.
As of this writing Wednesday morning, Trump has not acknowledged the reversal of the GOP members and ultimate certification of the Wayne County results.
"Our democracy is built on respecting the will of the people when they express it at the ballot box," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, following word that the GOP members had blocked the certification late Tuesday afternoon.
"President Trump and his allies' relentless and anti-democratic attempts to undermine the election combined with the Wayne County Board of Canvassers' failure to certify the vote," charged Clarke, "are part of an attempt to promote chaos, confusion, and discord."
As the Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday evening, "After initially voting against certifying the election results, [Palmer] said she would be open to certifying the election results for other jurisdictions but not Detroit." That move in particular was seen as an overt effort to disenfranchise a huge number of Black voters in the city.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who represents large portions of Wayne County in the U.S. House and won easily won reelection on Nov. 3, characterized what Hartmann and Palmer did as "disgusting," something no community deserves
"It's plain and simple, folks," Tlaib tweeted. "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."
The idea that local or state election boards could somehow override 2020 results has been a concern since before the Nov. 3 election, with experts warning that Trump's repeated efforts to undermine confidence in the results was part of a long-game ploy to create enough doubt in the minds of voters that GOP electors would have room to refuse certifications—a thesis spelled out in journalist Bart Gellman's piece in The Atlantic, published online in October, titled "How Trump Could Attempt a Coup."
What transpired in Michigan on Tuesday—though ultimately unsuccessful—is nearly exactly the kind of effort that Gellman and others had warned about.
Jonathan Kinloch, the Democratic vice chair of the board accused the two GOP members of putting partisan politics—including a fealty to Trump—before their legal obligation to certify the legitimate election results. "This is reckless and irresponsible action by this board," Kinloch said added. And Allen Wilson, the other Democrat on the board, echoed that sentiment and said: "I'm actually appalled to be sitting here today."
In the midst of Tuesday's battle over the certification in Wayne County, the progressive advocacy group MoveOn said the "refusal by GOP partisans to certify Detroit's votes is their latest attack on democracy. Fortunately, voters decide who wins. Candidates don't get to throw out votes they don't like and GOP members of County Boards of Canvassers definitely don't."
In its statement, MoveOn turned out to be correct. Not long after, while a virtual feed of the board's meeting was apparently offline, both Palmer and Hartmann ended their obstruction and both joined with the two Democratic members to approve the certification.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, according to the Free Press, celebrated the unanimous vote to certify the county's election results.
"Every court on the Detroit election results has ruled that Trump's claims of error were baseless," Duggan said. "Had the Board of Canvassers disenfranchised 1.4 million Wayne County voters over partisan politics, it would have been an historically shameful act. Glad to see common sense prevailed in the end."
But for many people like local resident Ned Staebler, a board member of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the GOP ultimately unsuccessful effort was unforgivable and will not be forgotten. During an online public comment period ahead of the final vote, Staebler excoriated the two in a video that has since gone viral. "The Trump stain, the stain of racism that you, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, have just covered yourself in is going to follow you throughout history," Staebler declared.
When the election was finally certified—which means that Michigan will remain safely and dominantly in President-elect Joe Biden's winning column—Trump offered no followup comment via Twitter or otherwise, leaving some to wonder whether he was aware that the effort he referred to as courageous and "beautiful" had been scuttled.
When Michigan state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-15), noticed Trump's silence and asked online: "Who wants to break the news to him?" Congresswoman Tlaib accepted the duty.
"I will," she said.