In an unprecedented move, the Detroit-based Wayne County Board of Canvassers deadlocked along partisan lines on a critical vote Tuesday and was unable to certify the county’s presidential results before the deadline.
The two Democrats on the panel voted to certify the results, while the two Republicans voted against it.
President-elect Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 148,000 votes, a win made possible by a strong showing in Wayne County. If those votes aren’t eventually certified, it could jeopardize Biden’s claim to Michigan’s electoral votes. President Trump has mounted a longshot attempt to overturn the election results through lawsuits and with the Electoral College, though GOP lawmakers in Michigan have said they’ll respect the statewide popular vote.
According to Michigan law, the Board of State Canvassers is now required to deal with the results from Wayne County within 10 days. The Board of State Canvassers similarly has two Democrats and two Republicans.
It is unclear what would happen if the state board reaches the same partisan deadlock. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, suggested in a statement Tuesday night that she could use her powers overseeing the statewide Bureau of Election to get the results from Wayne County certified.
“In similar circumstances in the past, state canvassers have appointed the Bureau of Elections to carry out the processes of canvassing the vote and voter totals,” Benson said. “The Bureau stands ready to fulfill this duty and we expect this will address clerical errors and improve the quality of the canvass overall.”
During the meeting of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, Vice Chair Jonathan Kinloch called the deadlock “reckless and irresponsible.” Kinloch is one of the two Democrats on the panel.
“This board, over the years, has taken pride in not allowing politics to show itself in the actions of what we do,” Kinloch said. “There is no reason under the sun for us to not certify this election. I believe politics made its presence here today, and I think forever that this board will have to live with the fact that we have allowed external, non-relevant issues to impact this decision today, hoping to change and bring about an outcome that will not happen.”
The Republican chair of the board, Monica Palmer, explained why she voted against certification.
“Based on what I saw and went through in poll books in this canvas, I believe that we do not have complete and accurate information in those poll books,” Palmer said.
In Benson’s statement, she said it was “common” for some precincts to have minor discrepancies with their poll books. But she also said, “importantly, this is not an indication that any votes were improperly cast or counted.”