Facing Calls of Racism, Wayne County Canvassers Reverse Course, Approve Ballots

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers certified the 2020 General Election results, thwarting President Trump’s efforts to undermine the vote.

After an initial vote that denied the approval of the 2020 election results in Michigan’s most populous county, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers changed course and ended its meeting last night by certifying the ballots.

The decision thwarted a Republican effort to disenfranchise votes cast in the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, hobbling President Donald Trump’s strategy to sow doubt over election results that saw his opponent, President-elect Joe Biden, as its victor.

RELATED: Read Stephen Henderson’s Essay, “Assault on Black Votes in Wayne County Reminiscent of Jim Crow”

At first, the board’s four members deadlocked on whether to certify the results, voting 2-2 along party lines. The move would have tossed the certification of Wayne County’s 878,000 ballots to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

“We have allowed external, non-relevant issues to impact this decision today,” said Wayne County Democratic Vice-Chair Jonathan Kinloch, who moved to approve the results during the board’s two votes. “And I hope that in the future, that some sense of decency and respect for the order of business of this board will return.”

While Democrats on the board saw the certification process as standard procedure, Republicans voted against the move. Chair Monica Palmer defended her decision citing the number of precincts throughout the county that were found to be “out-of-balance” with the vote totals.

“If you don’t have an accurate list of voters to start with, how do you know how many ballots are supposed to be tabulated?”

Similar issues surrounding voter discrepancy arose during the August primary and the Wayne County canvassers approved the vote then. In a statement, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says a slight vote imbalance is a common clerical issue when turnout is high.

“You have extracted a Black city out of a county and said the only ones that are at fault or at issue are the City of  Detroit where the 80% of the people who reside there are African-Americans. Shame on you. Shame on you.” — Reverend Wendell Anthony, head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP

After the first vote, Palmer suggested approving the election results without counting Detroit, the state’s largest city and the biggest majority-Black city in America. Members of the public who were allowed to speak decried the decision as racist.

“You have extracted a Black city out of a county and said the only ones that are at fault or at issue are the City of  Detroit where the 80% of the people who reside there are African-Americans,” said Reverend Wendell Anthony, who is the head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. “Shame on you. Shame on you.”  

While Detroit was singled out by Republican canvassers, election officials reported that similar discrepancy issues occurred in other cities like Livonia, Trenton and Northville, which have predominantly white populations.

“I am so furious right now that you are not calling this election,” said Livonia City Clerk Susan Nash. “The citizens of Wayne County deserve better than this.” 

Other members expressed outrage and frustration over the initial decision over the course of the hours-long meeting. 

“I was at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. I was 12 years old on that day,” said Edith Lee Payne, who served as a supervisor as votes were being tabulated at TCF Center in Detroit on Election Night. “What you’re doing to all of the people of Detroit, people of Wayne County and to me, I have to take it personally. I really have no words for it.”

Many Michigan Democrats decried the decision. Governor Gretchen Whitmer called it a “blatant attempt to undermine the will of the voters,” after Biden carried the state by more than 140,000 votes. Warren County Executive Warren Evans and Mayor Mike Duggan echoed similar sentiments.

“Members Monica Palmer and William Hartmann will live in infamy for their flagrant racism and disregard for democracy,” said Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib in a statement. “Their decision will delay the voices of Wayne County residents from being heard and cost Wayne County taxpayers more money, and will only fuel the baseless attempts to sow doubt about the results of the election. This is a shameful day for our county and state.”

After the public outcry, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers returned, voting to certify the election results nearly six hours after the meetings scheduled start time. Members called for Secretary Benson to audit the election before adjourning.

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.