Detroit voters sue President Trump over his attempt to block certification of election results

Lawsuit claims Trump, his campaign attempting to disenfranchise Black voters

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump listens during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Susan Walsh, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DETROIT – Three Detroit voters have joined a local organization in suing President Trump and his campaign over their effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, along with three Detroit residents, filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign Friday, arguing that the campaign is seeking to disenfranchise Black voters in their attempt to block the certification of Michigan votes -- especially those from Wayne County.

“Having lost the vote in Michigan and other states that are necessary for a majority of the electoral college, President Trump and the Donald J. Trump For President, Inc. Campaign are engaged in a campaign to overturn the results of the election by blocking certification of the results, on the (legally incorrect) theory that blocking certification would allow state legislatures to override the will of the voters and choose the Trump Campaign’s slate of electors,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit, filed on the plaintiffs’ behalf by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, claims that President Trump and his campaign are in violation of section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which states: “No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for voting or attempting to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote.”

The Detroiters argue that Trump and his team have been putting pressure on state and local officials to delay the certification of votes in Michigan. They claim that Trump’s campaign has been “intimidating or coercing state and local officials from aiding Plaintiffs and other residents of Detroit and Wayne County from having their votes ‘counted properly and included in the appropriate totals of votes cast’” -- which, if true, is in direct violation of the act.

Wayne County Board of Canvassers certifies results despite initial deadlock

The lawsuit comes days after two GOP members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially voted not to certify the votes, citing discrepancies in the county’s numbers. One of the members, Monica Palmer, reportedly said that she would be open to certifying Wayne County votes, but not the votes in Detroit -- which were notably cast by predominately Black voters who largely favored President-elect Joe Biden.

According to the lawsuit, “other areas of Wayne County had similar discrepancies and in at least one predominantly white city, Livonia, the discrepancies were more significant than those in Detroit.”

Palmer and other GOP board member William Hartmann changed course and ultimately voted to certify Wayne County votes that same day. The pair changed their minds again, however, after President Trump called them personally on Tuesday evening after the certification process. On Wednesday, Palmer and Hartmann filed affidavits with Trump’s team, saying they believed the county vote “should not be certified” in an attempt to rescind their decision.

Michigan officials say that there is no legal mechanism in place for the Wayne County GOP board members to rescind their vote after the certification process is complete.

“Central to (Trump’s) strategy is disenfranchising voters in predominately Black cities, including Detroit, by blocking certification of election results from those cities or counties where they are located,” the complaint alleges. “President Trump and his campaign have repeatedly—and falsely—raised the specter of widespread fraud in Detroit and other cities with large Black populations, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, in an effort to suggest votes from those cities should not be counted.”

Now the certification of Michigan votes rests in the hands of the state board of canvassers, and is scheduled to take place on Monday, Nov. 23. The Trump administration is trying to put pressure on the state’s board of canvassers -- comprised of two Democrats and two Republicans -- in an effort to keep them from certifying Biden’s win in the state.

Biden holds a lead of about 154,000 votes over Trump in Michigan.

RNC asks to delay Michigan certification of votes

As part of their effort to delay the certification process in Michigan, members of the Republican National Committee on Saturday sent a letter to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers requesting to delay the certification of Michigan votes by two weeks, in order to conduct an “audit” of the state’s votes. According to Michigan Secretary of State, however, the board is unable to audit the election prior to the certification of the votes because “election officials do not have legal access to the documents needed to complete audits until the certification.”

President Trump also invited two Republican Michigan lawmakers to meet with him at the White House on Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House speaker Lee Chatfield say the meeting was focused on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, not the election. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the representatives said they aren’t “aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan.”

“... as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election,” the pair wrote.

Still, some argue that their meeting with the president so close to the state’s certification meeting is concerning. The lawsuit filed against Trump Friday claims that “one of the president’s campaign lawyers overseeing the effort to overturn the election results” participated in the meeting with Shirkey and Chatfield.

The meeting also occurred after news broke of the GOP’s alleged plan to attempt to change electors in key states to individuals who favor Trump, in an effort to flip their states’ votes from Biden to Trump.

The scheme is rooted in the fact that the U.S. Constitution grants state legislatures the power to decide how electors are chosen. Each state already has passed laws that delegate this power to voters and appoint electors for whichever candidate wins the state on Election Day. The only opportunity for a state legislature to then get involved with electors is a provision in federal law allowing it if the actual election “fails.”

If the result of the election was unclear in mid-December, at the deadline for naming electors, Republican-controlled legislatures in those states could declare that Trump won and appoint electors supporting him. Or so the theory goes.

The problem, legal experts note, is that the result of the election is not in any way unclear. Biden won all the states at issue. It’s hard to argue the election “failed” when Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security reported it was not tampered with and was “the most secure in American history.” There has been no finding of widespread fraud or problems in the vote count, which shows Biden leading Trump by more than 5 million votes nationally.

GOP lawmakers in key “battleground” states like Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have said they will not participate in this “scheme” to flip their state’s electors to vote for President Trump.

The plaintiffs in Friday’s lawsuit are asking the U.S. District Court to declare that Trump and his campaign have violated the Voting Rights Act, and to stop them “from continuing to exert pressure on state or local officials in Michigan, or in any other state, to disenfranchise Plaintiffs or other Black voters by not certifying the results of the November 2020 election, or by appointing an unlawful slate of electors that disenfranchises Plaintiffs or other Black voters or from taking other action in violation of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act.”

Read: Trump targets Wayne County vote certification in late bid to block Biden

Read: Rudy Giuliani zeroes in on Wayne County election results, claims massive conspiracy

On Saturday, the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also announced that they have an attorney of their own in preparation for the state’s scheduled certification meeting on Monday.

“In lieu of the attempts to delay and even subvert the will of the people, it is important that we take every step necessary to protect the vote of the people. This necessity becomes even more apparent when key Republican legislators visit the White House, huddle with President Trump who seeks to overturn the election, and the Michigan Republican party along with the Republican National Committee attempt to delay the certification.” said Detroit attorney Melvin Butch Hollowell. “Each and every one of the quarter of a million votes cast in this election by Detroiters, and by all voters, is sacred. Those votes were duly and properly certified by the County Board of Canvassers, and any attempt to play games with the certification at the state level would be unconstitutional disenfranchisement, and a discriminatory violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. We expect the State Board of Canvassers to do its job and count the votes.”

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. on Monday.

Click here to read the entire lawsuit filed against Trump and his campaign by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Detroit residents, or read it in the document below.

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.