Politics

Obscure Michigan board thrust into fracas over electoral results


But the case the canvassing board will take up Monday is very, very different. No big-box retailer seeking a lower property tax bill has ever been cast as threatening the fate of the republic. Many constitutional experts and ordinary voters see President Trump as imperiling democracy by refusing to accept his resounding defeat in Michigan and concede the election.

Shinkle’s willingness to consider widely discredited voting fraud claims — along with his wife’s role as a witness in one of Trump’s lawsuits — has drawn scrutiny to an obscure panel that typically rubber stamps election results. Though its members are partisans appointed by the governor, the board — composed of two Democrats and two Republicans — has always voted unanimously to certify statewide elections.

The possibility that it might not do so took on urgency in recent days after Republicans on the canvassing board for predominantly Democratic Wayne County briefly blocked certification there. The moment underscored how relatively unknown officials might seek to alter the outcome of an election that handed Democrat Joe Biden a clear victory.

“This time, we need a bunch of boring accountants with green eyeshades, but that’s not the way it works, so we’re stuck with this,” said Jeffrey Timmer, a former Republican member of the statewide board and an adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “It’s a goofy system designed for deadlock.”

On Saturday, citing what it said were “procedural and accounting irregularities,” the Republican National Committee and the state Republican Party asked the statewide board to adjourn for two weeks rather than certify the result, allowing time for an audit of Wayne County results. County officials have said the number of errors is small, affecting maybe 450 ballots. In Michigan, Biden’s margin of victory is more than 150,000 votes.

Shinkle, 70, the Republican chairman of his congressional district and a former state senator, said in an interview with The Washington Post Thursday that he was leaning toward requesting a delay in certifying the election to allow for an audit. One concern he cited is a debunked conspiracy theory circulated by Trump’s attorneys that Dominion Voting Systems machines deleted thousands of Trump votes.

“I take one step at a time, and if we can get more information, why not?” asked Shinkle, who said he did not know whether the allegations about Dominion were true.

Shinkle said he views his responsibility on the canvassing board as not merely certifying the election, but also getting to the bottom of any alleged improprieties. He said he hoped an audit would build confidence in the election, though he emphasized he might change his mind before Monday’s hearing.

Several experts on Michigan election law said the board’s role is generally regarded as far more limited. Chris Thomas, who served as Michigan’s elections director from 1981 to 2017, said he could recall no previous request for an audit and no vote against certifying election results.

“It’s not a heavy lift in the sense that they get certified results from the counties and the staff adds them up and puts them in a spread sheet,” Thomas said. “They are basically ministerial duties.”

“I’m sure they will certify — at some point,” he added. “I think they are well-intentioned people who are not going to play politics. Norm will get his say and ask the tough questions but on the whole, in my view, he’s always done what he’s been required to do by law.”

Shinkle did not return calls Friday or Saturday seeking additional comment.

The other Republican on the board, 40-year-old Aaron Van Langevelde, is a former county prosecutor who works as a policy adviser and deputy legal counsel to the Republican leadership of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Those leaders were invited by Trump to the White House on Friday. They said after the meeting that they had seen no evidence to warrant changing the outcome in their state.

“He’s a solid guy and a very good lawyer,” Colleen Pero, a Republican who preceded him on the board, said of Van Langevelde.

Van Langevelde, who has served on the board for two years, did not respond to requests for comment and has not spoken publicly about Monday’s vote.

Shinkle has drawn particular attention because his wife, Mary, was among the witnesses whose accounts were cited in a Trump campaign lawsuit challenging the election results.

In an affidavit, she alleged that while working as a poll challenger in Detroit she saw election workers scanning too many ballots at once and envelopes containing mail ballots left unattended in unsealed containers. She objected to being asked to step back from a table where election workers were duplicating damaged ballots, though she said she could still observe the process. She also said election workers were “rude and aggressive” when challenged about their decisions.

The lawsuit has since been dropped.

Shinkle has said that his wife saw “a lot of strange things going on” but that he had not seen evidence to back up Trump’s claim that he won Michigan.

Shinkle told The Post that people should not assume he is swayed by his wife’s role.

“That’s almost an accusation against marriage,” he said. “My wife can do whatever she wants to do.”

The two Democrats on the board, Jeannette Bradshaw and Julie Matuzak, praised their Republican colleagues.

“They’ve always been professional and I respect them,” said Bradshaw, who chairs the board.

Bradshaw is the recording secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58 and the former vice president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. She appeared in a digital ad that criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and moderated an online discussion for the Biden campaign on child care.

Matuzak was narrowly elected this year as a Macomb County commissioner.

“We on the canvassing board aren’t allowed to have opinions when it comes to certifying elections,” Matuzak said. “I have certified elections for people I didn’t like and petitions I thought were wrong but we do our jobs.”

A former political director for the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan, she has criticized the Trump campaign’s claims about voting fraud in the predominantly Black city of Detroit and surrounding Wayne County as “frankly, racist.”

“If you look at what happened at the Wayne County canvassing board and what happened in predominantly White communities, there were the same issues and same problems but no one was talking about auditing those results,” she said. “Every election has human error, small errors, affecting a few votes.”

Shinkle said he would consult with local officials about the vote in Detroit, including Thomas, the former elections director.

Thomas told The Post he had no doubt that the vote in Detroit was accurate, noting that Trump won even more votes in the city in 2020 than he did in 2016, “and nobody complained about it then.”

Since the election, Shinkle said his phone has been ringing constantly as fellow Republicans urge him not to certify the vote.

“Every time someone calls they tell me about a new problem,” he said. “Everybody is giving me their best argument — not that I am doing a poll,” he added.

On Friday, one leading conservative voice that may have his ear called the election “over.” Shinkle serves as an adviser to the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative advocacy group, which on Friday declared on its website, “The results are in, and here in Michigan, they’re not going to change.”

Timmer, who served on the canvassing board with Shinkle, said: “I’ve known him to be a good and loyal American first and a Republican second.”’

He recalled a contentious battle in 2012 over whether to put a referendum on the ballot repealing the powers of emergency managers to take over financially struggling cities and school districts. He and Shinkle voted against approving the referendum — opposed by GOP leaders — arguing that the type size was too small.

“Treason!” “Shame!” backers of the referendum shouted as the canvassing board deadlocked. The state Supreme Court ordered the matter be put to the voters. The board complied.

Shinkle, who seems intent on keeping the public guessing about his next move, recalled another lesson from his years on the state tax tribunal.

“Whatever brief you read first, you agree with,” he said. “Then the second brief comes in and you agree with that one. It doesn’t make sense to say you have made up your mind before the end of the hearing.”

Kayla Ruble contributed to this report.


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