LANSING — Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield on Sunday warned that contested election results could create a “constitutional crisis” that the state’s Republican-led Legislature may have to resolve, a prospect for which President Donald Trump is openly advocating.
Speaking to Fox News less than 48 hours after he and other Michigan Republicans met with the president in the White House, Chatfield said he will not “interfere” with a Board of Canvassers vote on Monday about whether to certify Michigan’s election results, which Trump has claimed without any proof were skewed by “massive fraud.”
The canvassing board, composed of two Democrats and two Republicans, is set to meet at 1 p.m. to consider unofficial results showing Democrat Joe Biden won the state by more than 154,000 votes. Experts say the canvassers have a legal duty to confirm results already certified by all 83 Michigan counties.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox on Saturday called for canvassers to delay certification for two weeks in order to audit results from Wayne County and Detroit, an unprecedented step that does not appear to even be legal under current state law.
If the board deadlocks 2-2 along partisan lines, experts say the Michigan Court of Appeals would likely order canvassers to certify the results. Chatfield, R-Levering, predicted the matter could end up before the Michigan Supreme Court.
And if Michigan justices do not order canvassers to certify, “now we have a constitutional crisis in the state of Michigan that’s never occurred before,” Chatfield told Fox News.
Democrats fear that could open the door to an Electoral College coup that would overturn election results, a scenario Trump explicitly called for in a series of Saturday evening tweets.
“Hopefully the courts and/or Legislatures will have the COURAGE to do what has to be done to maintain the integrity of our Elections, and the Unites States of America itself,” the president wrote on Twitter. “THE WORLD IS WATCHING!!!”
Chatfield noted that the U.S. Constitution says states shall decide Electoral College votes in a manner prescribed by their Legislatures. In Michigan, the Legislature decided long ago to award electors to the winner of the state’s popular vote, a process written into state law.
But there’s disagreement over what would happen if results are not certified by Dec. 8, a “safe harbor” date for the state to settle disputes to ensure representation at the Electoral College.
“As the federal constitution says, this is left up to the state Legislatures,” Chatfield said. “The state’s Legislature decided long ago to do it this way, so if this way doesn’t work, obviously now we have questions that have arisen in Michigan for the first time in the history of our state.”
Chatfield said deciding the election by picking electors is “a place I really don’t want to be in, to tell you the truth,” but he noted that the Legislature is conducting its own inquiry into purported irregularities that have so far been dismissed by Michigan courts as not credible.
Chatfield denied that Trump pressured Michigan Republicans to change the process.
“There was this outrage that the president was going to ask us to break the law and ask us to interfere, and that just simply didn’t happen,” Chatfield said. “I was happy to meet with the president, happy to talk with him and to kind of give him an update on what’s going on in the state of Michigan.”
Pressure on canvassers
All eyes will be on the Board of State Canvassers on Monday.
One Republican appointee, 8th Congressional District GOP Chair Norm Shinkle of Ingham County, has already said he may not certify results because he’d like to see an audit.
The second, Aaron Van Langevelde, an attorney who works for Chatifled in the Michigan House Republican caucus, has not made any public comment on Monday’s vote.
“I have not had a conversation with the board of state canvassers, and I do not intend on having a conversation with the board of state canvassers,” Chatfield said.
Former Govs. John Engler, Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder initially appointed all four members of the current board.
And those goverrors, two Republicans and one Democrat, have said the canvassers should “do their jobs” and certify results on Monday.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is among a handful of Republican lawmakers who are urging the president to concede and for the Board of State Canvassers to certify results.
“The voters have spoken here in Michigan,” Upton said Sunday morning on CNN, noting the “154,000-vote margin by President-elect Biden.”
“No one has come up with any evidence of fraud or abuse,” Upton added, disputing Trump claims rejected in several courts. “The longer this languishes, the time then escapes from us from actually seeing a peaceful transition to the next administration. We’re Americans. We need this process to work.”
Trump allies have focused their fraud claims on Detroit, where Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially refused to certify results because 71 percent of the city’s absentee ballot precincts were “out of balance,” meaning the number of ballots did not exactly match the number of voters tallied in poll books.
The Michigan Bureau of Election, in a report recommending certification, told state canvassers that 71.9 percent of Detroit’s precincts (458 of 637) were balanced in November, up from 53.6 percent in the August primary (539 of 1,006) and 41.8 percent in the 2016 election (270 of 662).
The report also noted that there are far fewer out-of-balance precincts in Detroit than in 2016, when Trump won the state and did not contest the results.
Trump attorneys have continued to perpetuate a conspiracy theory about Dominion Voting Systems equipment used in many Michigan counties.The claims were fueled by human error by Antrim County’s GOP clerk, who has admitted and apologized for a mistake the Bureau of Elections said “does not affect election results” and “has no impact on other counties or state.”
The 14-day audit requested by McDaniel and Cox would delay state certification until Dec. 7, just one day before Congress expects the state to finalize its Electoral College slate.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other election experts say Michigan law does not allow for audits until results are certified and any recounts are completed.
“That’s just a little bit out of bounds,” Upton said of the audit request by leaders in his own party. “For the process to work, you’ve got to have the official certification by the state Board of Canvassers.”
Chatfield and Michigan Senate Majority Leader MIke Shirkey of Clarklake faced intense scrutiny as they traveled to Washington on Friday for a White House meeting with Trump amid the president’s push to discredit election results in various battleground states he lost.
After the meeting, Chatfield and Shirkey issued a statement promising “we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election,” the statement continued.
Shirkey was photographed checking out of Trump’s Washington hotel on Saturday morning, and Chatfield was photographed with colleagues at the hotel bar with what appeared to be a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Asked about how the trip was funded, Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann said the Senate Majority Leader ““covered the cost of his trip, including accommodations. House Republicans who made the trip “paid their own expenses,” said Chatfield spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro.
State Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, criticized Chatfield for what he called “vague language” about the election and safeguarding results.
“The constitutional crisis has already begun sir,” Koleszar tweeted after Chatfield’s Fox News interview.
“It began the day you and other leaders refused to stand behind our clerks and election process.
“This is the crisis.”
NAACP complaint against Trump
Trump has allies have lost or dismissed all legal challenges in Michigan, and the president is now the subject of a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of Black voters in Detroit.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a complaint filed Friday in Washington., alleged the Trump campaign is “seeking to disenfranchise Black voters” in the African American majority city by “reaping false claims of voter fraud, which have been thoroughly debunked” and by “pressuring state and local officials not to count votes from Wayne County.”
Trump and his campaign’s “tactics repeat the worst abuses in our nation’s history, as Black Americans were denied a voice in American democracy for most of the first two centuries of the Republic,” NAACP attorneys wrote.
The Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative advocacy group that has ties to the DeVos family and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos, on Friday urged state officials to investigate any irregularities but said the election “is over.”
“The results are in, and here in Michigan, they’re not going to change,” Freedom Fund executive director Tony Daunt said in a statement.