Michigan’s Election Board: What We Know

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Michigan’s Election Board: What We Know

The work of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers is not glamorous and rarely draws much attention. Its members handle matters like reviewing petition signatures and helping local clerks find voting machines.

But on Monday, the national spotlight will fall on one of the board’s normally mundane tasks: reviewing results from the presidential election that have been certified by Michigan’s 83 counties and giving a stamp of approval.

The winner is clear. Joseph R. Biden Jr. beat President Trump in the state by over 150,000 votes, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections. But Mr. Trump and his Republican allies are trying to upend that reality by urging the board to refuse to certify the election results. They have made baseless claims about discrepancies in the vote tallies, especially in Wayne County, which includes Detroit and is home to many Black voters, and have argued that an investigation should be carried out before the state’s 16 electoral votes are awarded to Mr. Biden.

Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, said on Sunday that state law dictated that no audit or investigation could be done until the election was certified, because state elections officials cannot legally gain access to poll books or ballot boxes before then.

The Board of State Canvassers, which will meet at 1 p.m. Eastern on Monday, includes two Republicans and two Democrats. While election law experts say the certification vote is a strictly ministerial duty that the board members are obligated to fulfill, political operatives in Michigan are preparing for a chain of events in which the two Republicans on the board follow the Trump campaign’s wishes.

A 2-to-2 deadlock, which would prolong Republicans’ unprecedented attempts to overturn this year’s presidential race, would most likely prompt Democrats to ask the state Court of Appeals to order the board to do its constitutional duty and certify the election results.

So who are the members of the canvassing board? Three of them have served on the panel for several election cycles; the fourth was appointed in 2018 by former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.

Jeannette Bradshaw, 44, the chairwoman of the board, is from Ortonville, about 40 miles north of downtown Detroit. She is an electrician by trade, but serves as the recording secretary and registrar for her International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local in Detroit.

Appointed to the board in 2013, Ms. Bradshaw said she was hoping for a smooth and efficient meeting on Monday despite the possibility that it could turn into the same type of live-streamed virtual brawl that occurred last week in Wayne County. There, two Republicans on Wayne’s canvassing board initially refused to certify the county’s results before backtracking after several hours of outraged comments from voters who said they were being disenfranchised.

“I’m trying to block out all the noise and focus on my job,” Ms. Bradshaw said. “That’s where I’m at.”

She said she would look at the report on the results by the state Bureau of Elections and make a decision based on its recommendation.

That report found that out of more than 250,000 votes cast in Detroit, there were problems with about 350 ballots. Mr. Biden won the city over Mr. Trump by 94 percent to 5 percent, and he carried Wayne County by 68 percent to 30 percent. The number of discrepancies, 72 percent of which could be easily explained, according to the state Bureau of Elections, was significantly lower than during the 2016 presidential election.

“I’m getting lots of emails, asking me to certify, not to certify,” Ms. Bradshaw said. “We get the report, and that’s what we go off of. I appreciate that people are participating.”

In the meantime, she added, “I’m going to turn off my phone and go outside and rake some leaves.”

Julie Matuzak, 66, of Clinton Township in Detroit’s northern suburbs, said she expected the board to certify the election results.

“I have confidence that we will do what we’re supposed to do,” said Ms. Matuzak, a retired political director for the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan who was appointed to the board in 2010. “We are the third step in a process that checks and crosschecks and balances the results. It’s all done in public. The statute says the board shall certify the election. If you follow the rules, you certify the election.”

Ms. Matuzak views her job as safeguarding elections. She recalled, with a touch of irony, how Mr. Trump sued in 2016 to stop a recount in Michigan requested by Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate.

“I would have loved to finish that recount because what it showed before it was stopped was there were very few problems,” Ms. Matuzak said. “My biggest fear now is that no matter what we do, there are going to be people out there who are never going to believe that it was a fair election.”

Norm Shinkle, 70, of Williamston, near Lansing, is an open supporter of Mr. Trump’s, volunteering for the campaign and even singing the national anthem at a rally for the president in Michigan last month.

A longtime politician in Michigan, he has served as a poll challenger in the past. His wife, Mary Shinkle, was a poll challenger this year at the TCF Center in Detroit, where absentee ballots were counted, and she filed an affidavit complaining about the tense environment there.

Mr. Shinkle, who was appointed to the board in 2008, said that he had some concerns about the vote tally in Wayne County, especially in Detroit, and that an investigation there would be acceptable. He, too, said he had been receiving hundreds of phone calls and emails from people pressuring him either to certify or not to certify the results. He said he had not heard from Mr. Trump or his campaign.

Mr. Shinkle said his time as a judge on the Michigan Tax Tribunal had taught him that you can’t make up your mind until you see both sides of a case. He said that was what he planned to do.

“I’m just focused on Monday and reviewing all the information for the meeting,” he said. “No one knows how the vote is going to go. But I just have to do the best that I can based on what’s ethical and legal.”

Aaron Van Langevelde, 30, of Charlotte in mid-Michigan, is the unknown quantity on the board. Appointed in 2018, he has declined interview requests from The New York Times and other news outlets.

He is a lawyer who works for the Republican caucus in the Michigan House of Representatives.

After the state’s primary elections in August, he said he was seriously worried about the number of precincts that had voting disparities in Detroit, despite the fact that the problems were relatively minor, and expressed reluctance to certify the results without a pledge that the secretary of state would take control over the city’s elections.

“I want to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to prevent the same thing from happening in November,” he said at the time. “That would be a disaster.”

The state was involved in helping the city prepare for the Nov. 3 general election, providing workers and training.

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