After 2020 drama, experts call on state canvassers to do their job after Nov. 8 election

Election poll workers count vote by mail ballots from United States Postal Service boxes during Nevada's 2020 primary election on June 9, 2020.

By Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Michigan and longtime election experts hosted a press conference Wednesday as a reminder before the Nov. 8 election that certifying results doesn’t need to be complicated — despite what we’ve seen since the 2020 election. 

In Michigan, election results are certified by county boards and the State Board of Canvassers gives final approval.

“We’re sort of the last step in the process, and we sort of say if everything’s done well,” said Julie Matuzak, former Democratic member of the Board of State Canvassers. “And if the numbers add up, and the poll books add up and the votes add up, then we should certify. That’s how it worked until the last one. The last one was more difficult.”

The “last one” Matuzak is referring to is the 2020 presidential election, with drama dragging on long past the official results were tallied and President Joe Biden was declared the winner over former President Donald Trump. The results were challenged in every key state in the country, with lengthy hearings, audits, protests and eventually the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after Trump stoked fears of election fraud. 

Despite Biden winning 154,000 more votes in Michigan than Trump did, Trump’s claims of election fraud gained traction among Republicans and created months of chaos. 

The Board of State Canvassers did certify results after a long meeting in late November, but one GOP member, Norm Shinkle, abstained. Shinkle has resigned and is now running as a Republican for the 73rd House District against Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.).

Trump’s campaign directed 16 fake Electoral College delegates in Michigan to submit a false certificate at the state Capitol on Dec. 14, when the Electoral College met to certify the state’s election results for Biden. The false delegates were denied entrance to the Capitol building by security and their plan ultimately failed.  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Electoral College vote, Dec. 14, 2020 | Whitmer office photo

Looking ahead to how future elections, including the one on Nov. 8, will play out, former Republican state canvasser Jeff Timmer said his “crystal ball is dark and cloudy.”

“I think that we are in for … more of what we saw in 2020. I think what we saw in 2020 was a planned effort to throw a wrench into the certification outcome process,” Timmer said. “Especially when we look at the positions,  platforms and the declarations that many candidates here in Michigan and across the country have made.”

Timmer is now a consultant with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s campaign.

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo and Attorney General nominee Matt DePerno, the top Republicans on the ballot next month, have all questioned or denied the results of the 2020 election. 

“I think we have to take them at their word that they’re approaching this from a different philosophy, a different reality, with the intent of undermining the faith in the outcome. It’s toxic. It’s dangerous to the very foundations of democracy, and that’s not hyperbolic,” Timmer added.

Dixon faces Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; DePerno is running against Nessel and Karamo is up against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

Matuzak said if far-right election deniers weren’t organized for the 2020 election, they are now. 

“[Partisan groups] have specifically recruited people to be on the board of canvassers locally and they’re specifically training poll workers. It’s not the clerk training the poll workers, but it’s the local party organizations or sub-organizations within parties that are training poll workers,” she said before adding that she is concerned about how this will play out in the upcoming election.

Prior to 2020, Chris Thomas, a current fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Michigan Director of Elections, said partisanship would interfere with some parts of the election process, like challenging petition language or rejecting signatures. 

“But the only time where I ever felt chastened or uncomfortable was when … members of our own partisan tribes put pressure on us to do something that we knew wouldn’t ultimately fly,” Thomas said. 

Panelists called on the Board of State Canvassers to move away from partisanship and focus on the ministerial position of the board. 

“This is really an accounting procedure. Certifying an election is an accounting procedure. How many people signed or how many ballots were cast, It adds up or it doesn’t add up. That’s sort of the bottom line. And I hope that members of local boards of canvassers know that and honor that,” Matuzak said. 

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