With Michigan's upcoming deadline to confirm Monday's election results, attempts by President Donald Trump to overthrow the state's result have resulted in a suffrage suit – and could lead to a criminal investigation into officials there.
On Friday, a group of Detroit voters filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Trump campaign's legal action aimed at casting some votes in Wayne County, home of Detroit, was a mass disenfranchisement of black voters.
"Defendants repeat false allegations of electoral fraud, which have been thoroughly debunked, and pressure Michigan state and local officials not to count votes from Wayne County, Michigan," the lawsuit said. "The defendants' tactics echo the worst abuses in our nation's history, as black Americans were largely denied a vote in American democracy during the first two centuries of the republic.
The city of Detroit is almost 80 percent black and votes in national elections predominantly democratic. President-elect Joe Biden won Wayne County by around 332,000 votes and it was crucial to his victory by 150,000 votes in Michigan, a battlefield state that was key to Trump's 2016 victory.
In essence, Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a press conference Thursday, "If you take Wayne County off, it will change the outcome of the Michigan election."
To that end, Wayne County's election results were challenged later in the week by the Trump campaign and its loyalists.
On Tuesday, the two Republican recruiters on the Wayne County's four-member electoral board temporarily blocked confirmation of the vote totals. As Vox's Andrew Prokop has explained, the "stated reason" of these Republican officials was because there were discrepancies between the number of votes in the counties and the actual number of votes. This is known as an "out of balance" area. "
And certain counties in Wayne County were actually out of whack, but usually by no more than four votes – not enough to change the election result. Livonia, a mostly white town, was the most unbalanced area with a 27 vote discrepancy. Even so, GOP advertiser Monica Palmer argued that all results should be certified by Wayne County, except for those from Detroit, a situation that Giuliani said would completely change who won the state.
The fact that the votes were in a black-majority area wanted to kick out GOP recruiters was immediately deemed illegal and discriminatory – Detroit NAACP Chapter President Wendell Anthony described Palmer as "a shame" for her face after suggesting this with it. But it was only part of what sparked the lawsuit. The other part had to do with Trump himself.
Trump is personally spurring efforts to cast votes in Michigan
Trump praised the efforts of Palmer and William Hartmann, Wayne County's other Republican recruiter, on Twitter Tuesday night, despite GOP officials agreeing to certify the results. Palmer and Hartmann have since applied for the certification to be revoked;
Trump's campaign confirmed that reality Thursday when it voluntarily dropped a federal lawsuit aimed at halting the certification of Wayne County votes. It did so after three similar lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona were dismissed. The campaign has said the Michigan suit was dropped because of the actions of Wayne County officials.
The president's efforts to change the election result didn't end there, however: on Friday afternoon, Trump hosted a meeting at the White House with a delegation of four Republicans from Michigan. The meeting was seen as an attempt to pressure lawmakers to use legislative power to ignore the will of voters and send pro-Trump voters to the electoral college, giving Trump the 16 state electoral college votes.
Following that meeting, the state's Republican leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield issued a statement saying they would follow the "normal process" of certifying the state's voters .
"The candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan votes. These are simple truths that should instill confidence in our elections," they said.
That meeting – and the Wayne County certification incident – were both cited in the Detroit lawsuit brought by three Detroit voters and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, represented by attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
And the lawsuit is part of a growing wave of concern that the Trump campaign is aimed at delegitimizing black votes – not just in Detroit but in other largely black cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, the Washington Post reports .
"It's just as hideous now as it was during the rebuilding," Carol Anderson, professor of African American studies at Emory University, told the Post. "It's a very tight, slippery slope, from 'illegal votes' to 'illegal voters'. So this attack on black voters is real."
The Michigan official's interactions with Trump have also reportedly drawn the attention of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who may be launching investigations into whether officials' efforts to revoke their certification, and according to a separate report from the Washington Post the legislature's meeting with the president involved conspiracy, bribery or perjury that could violate state law.
Nessel's office made no comment on the story. If their office follows up, officials found to have acted improperly could face criminal charges and sentences, including jail time.
Michigan will soon certify its results
The content of Friday's meeting with Michigan Republicans at the White House remains opaque, and White House officials have not commented on what went on there.
Thereafter, Senate Majority Leader Shirkey and House Speaker Chatfield issued a statement saying they had applied for coronavirus assistance at the meeting and would "follow the law and normal process regarding it." Michigan's voters are obeying as we said during this election. ”
This seems to suggest that lawmakers have no intention of disrupting the Michigan certification process scheduled for Monday.
The Michigan Republican Party and Republican National Committee on Saturday moved to postpone the trial for two weeks to allow time for a review of Wayne County's votes. It is currently unlikely that this request will be granted. The Michigan Secretary of State had already recommended that the results be certified, and recruiters must legally discuss the certification on Monday.
As Vox's Andrew Prokop wrote, the state certification process requires approval by a four-person, non-partisan body similar to the one in Wayne County, which was initially bogged down.
Prokop notes that another state standstill would "challenge the question of whether Biden will get Michigan's 16 electoral votes," but even if the President got Michigan's electoral votes, the Trump camp would have to successfully overturn the results at least two more Swing states deprive Biden of his overall victory in the electoral college.
And while Trump has posed similar challenges in other states to do just that, certification battles would almost certainly go to court, writes Prokop. In Michigan, top officials are largely Democratic, including Secretary of State, Attorney General Nessel, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who are expected to oppose any last-minute efforts to change election results. And while the Republicans hold the state assembly, Shirkey and Chatfield don't seem inclined to help the president, at least for now.
However, given the separation of powers in the state and the lack of precedent for efforts like the president's, it remains unclear what exactly would happen if the state fails to certify on Monday.
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