Tom Hamburger, Kayla Ruble and Tim Elfrink,
The Washington Post
November 19, 2020 | 12:01 PM
DETROIT – President Donald Trump called a GOP canvassing board member in Wayne County who announced Wednesday that she wanted to rescind her decision to certify the results of the presidential election, the member said in a message to The Washington Post Thursday.
“I did receive a call from President Trump, late Tuesday evening, after the meeting,” Monica Palmer, one of two Republican members of the four-member Wayne County canvassing board, told The Post. “He was checking in to make sure I was safe after hearing the threats and doxing that had occurred.”
The call came after an hours-long meeting on Tuesday in which the four-member canvassing board voted to certify the results of the Nov. 3 election, a key step toward finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
In affidavits signed Wednesday evening, the two GOP members of the board say they were improperly pressured into certifying the election and accused Democrats of reneging on a promise to audit votes in Detroit.
In an interview, Palmer estimated that she talked with Trump for about two minutes Tuesday. She said she felt no pressure to change her vote. Palmer has said she received messages threatening her and her family during and after the tense Tuesday meeting.
“His concern was about my safety and that was really touching. He is a really busy guy, and to have his concern about my safety was appreciated,” she told The Post.
Asked whether they discussed the presidential vote count, she said, “It’s hard for me to describe. There was a lot of adrenaline and stress going on. There were general comments about different states, but we really didn’t discuss the details of the certification.”
Asked again about possible pressure from such a call, Palmer said, “It was not pressure. It was genuine concern for my safety.”
William Hartmann, the other Republican on the board, has signed a similar affidavit, according a person familiar with the document. Hartmann did not respond to a message from The Post.
Jonathan Kinloch, a Democrat and the board’s vice chairman, told The Post that it’s too late for the pair to reverse course, as the certified results have been sent to the secretary of state in accordance with state rules. He lashed out at the Republicans over their requests.
“Do they understand how they are making us look as a body?” he said. “We have such an amazing and important role in the democratic process, and they’re turning it on its head.”
At the heart of the dispute is a last-minute compromise between Kinloch and the Republicans to seek a comprehensive audit of results in the Detroit area, where the GOP members said the votes were out of balance – meaning that the poll book, the official list of who voted, didn’t match the number of ballots received.
Palmer and Hartmann said in their affidavits that they believed they had a firm commitment to an audit. But Palmer says in her affidavit that Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson later said she didn’t view their resolution asking for an audit as binding.
“I felt misled,” Palmer told The Post earlier on Wednesday, before signing the affidavit. “I stand firm in not certifying Wayne County without the audit.”
Kinloch, though, said that Palmer and Hartmann knew exactly what they were agreeing to, and that the board has yet to even formally ask Benson for the audit.
Palmer “knew it wasn’t binding,” Kinloch said. “We just voted yesterday.”
Kinloch said he and Palmer texted each other into the early hours of Wednesday, with the Democrat explaining that he had support across the board for the request. But he said Palmer was aware that he had not been able to directly reach the secretary of state’s office on Tuesday night.
He said the two also communicated about the need to prepare a joint letter to the secretary of state to ask for the audit.
Hours before signing the affidavit, Palmer told The Post that her experience on Tuesday night had left her shaken. After first voting against certifying the results, a parade of activists and elections workers spoke to the board, with many accusing Palmer and Hartmann of racism for calling into question the results from majority-Black Detroit precincts.
“Last night was heartbreaking,” Palmer told The Post. “I sat in that chair for two hours listening to people attack me” as a racist who was attempting to disenfranchise Detroit residents. She said her intentions were the opposite – but her efforts have been lost in a sea of invective that night that included death threats against her and her family.
Palmer said that she and Hartmann had been concerned since the primary vote last summer that a number of precincts were out of balance. She said she never believed that corrections, which were made in some precincts, would change the vote totals in the county or the state in a way that would upend the victory for Biden, who carried Michigan by nearly 150,000 votes.
“We were not delaying the inevitable,” said Palmer, referring to complaints that the GOP board members were stalling on behalf of President Trump. “We always knew that the margin of victory was such that it was not going to change the result.”
After she filed her affidavit asking to rescind her vote, Kinloch accused her and Hartmann of bowing to pressure from the Republican Party and the White House, which has waged a legal campaign seeking to overturn the results of the election.
Trump supporters have attacked the decision to certify the Wayne County vote all day on Wednesday, with Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, describing criticisms of Palmer and Hartmann as “mob rule.”
In her interview with The Post, Palmer put it differently. “There wasn’t mob rule,” she said. There was pressure to certify, but she said she didn’t succumb to it. She only went forward, she said because of the promise of an audit.
Kinloch lamented the late attempt by Republicans to change their vote.
“They’re playing with the vote and the will of the people,” Kinloch said.
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