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Michigan Faces Challenges Certifying Election Results

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, in a windowless conference room in Lansing, Mich., there was a state elections meeting that, in a normal year, would be a low-key formality. 2020, of course, is not a normal year. And that meeting became the latest front in President Trump's attempt to subvert the election in a state where President-elect Joe Biden won by more than 150,000 votes. And that attempt failed when the Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted to certify Michigan's election results. We're joined now by Abigail Censky, a reporter with member station WKAR in Lansing.

Abigail, describe to us what happened during this meeting.

ABIGAIL CENSKY, BYLINE: So after a 4 1/2 hour stretch of the meeting, our canvassers voted to certify the results of the November election here 3-0. One Republican joined two Democrats, and another Republican abstained. And like I said, that was after four hours of the meeting going on. At one point, our state's former director of elections, Chris Thomas, spoke and implored the board to certify.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS THOMAS: You're at the pinnacle of Michigan's democracy. You're the end game of the statewide elections for 2020.

CENSKY: Basically, a really mundane ministerial process, while still important, briefly became the center point of President Trump's attempt to undermine President-elect Biden's victory in the state.

CORNISH: But why? Why was this meeting so important?

CENSKY: Well, this is important because this was kind of the final step in our elections process before our 16 electors can be awarded to the winner of the popular vote, so this was the key thing that needed to happen. And now that process of letting candidates know they won and alerting our electors can start. And the clock can also start for candidates to request recounts, which officials have said won't overturn the results here.

CORNISH: Right, because Joe Biden won Michigan with a substantial margin. What was the argument from Republicans who tried to challenge the results?

CENSKY: Well, during the meeting, Republicans raised concerns with Dominion Voting Systems used in the state and how Republican poll challengers were treated and, you know, down to the - as things as big as if the results were accurate. The RNC statewide GOP and Senate candidate John James, who lost to Senator Gary Peters, were all requesting that audits be conducted before the results were certified. But legal experts were very clear that audits can't be conducted here before our results are certified.

CORNISH: With so much focus on this meeting, what did the officials or the volunteers - those who testified at this hearing have to say?

CENSKY: Well, aside from a few former Republican state lawmakers and an attorney for John James, the comment was overwhelmingly from clerks and voters who were encouraging the board to certify and saw this as a key part of trust in our democracy. People really came out to defend and celebrate this process that was an election that was carried out in a pandemic after our voting laws had changed here and occurred largely by mail. This is part of a public comment from a voter named Wendy Gronbeck. She's been voting for more than 50 years, and she said the board held people's trust in democracy in their hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WENDY GRONBECK: It sometimes feels like officials are attempting to tear up my ballot right in front of me by stalling and recounting.

CENSKY: And people were really clear that a vote not to certify would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters here.

CORNISH: Reporter Abigail Censky, from member station WKAR in Lansing, Mich., thank you for your reporting.

CENSKY: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.