Election panel OKs halting recount if judge lets it end

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Democrat members of the Michigan Board of Canvassers Jeannette Bradshaw and Julie Matuzak (right) look less-than-enthused as Republican member Colleen Pero suggests a recess while waiting for a court in Detroit to rule on the recount in progress on Wednesday, Dec 7, 2016 at the Capitol in Lansing.

Lansing — Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday ordered elections officials to halt the presidential recount on Thursday morning if a federal judge allows the statewide recount to end.

The panel of two Republicans and two Democrats voted 3-1 on a motion that could pause the recount in the event Detroit U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith lifts his previous order that forced the recount to begin mid-day Monday.

The Board of State Canvassers has a 9:30 a.m. meeting Thursday and the order was designed to prevent election workers from starting to recount ballots Thursday morning in more than 30 counties if there’s a likelihood that the board will vote to end the recount altogether.

The Michigan Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered the Board of State Canvassers to reconsider and reject Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s recount petition on grounds that it was unlawful.

Republican canvasser Colleen Pero proposed the order stipulating a suspension of the recount, but it only would take effect if Goldsmith were to allow the recount to end.

“If, in fact, (the judge) issues an order this evening and says I’m dissolving the (temporary restraining order), then I think we should just call it off,” Pero said. “We’re already under a court order from the Court of Appeals directing us to deny the petition. If the petition is denied, the recount is moot.”

The board’s action came after the four members recessed twice and camped out at the state Capitol all day while waiting for Goldsmith to decide whether the recount must go on or not.

Democrat Julie Matuzak joined the two Republican members in approving the narrowly tailored directive.

“It was clear they were going to hold us hostage here until they got their way,” Matuzak said of the Republicans.

Goldsmith held a hearing at 10:30 a.m. over Attorney General General Bill Schuette’s request to lift his midnight Monday order that forced the recount to commence at noon that day in Oakland and Ingham counties.

The judge said he would issue a written opinion, possibly later Wednesday, after considering requests from the Michigan Republican Party and state officials that effectively would halt the recount in light of a state Court of Appeals ruling.

“I do think there’s a lot of moving pieces to this at different court levels,” said Julie Matuzak, a Democratic member of the Board of State Canvassers.

A three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled unanimously Tuesday that Stein’s petition was unlawful and instructed the Board of State Canvassers to reject the petition.

Matuzak said she would abide by the court’s ruling, which could be critical to breaking a deadlock tie on the four-member board.

The appellate judges said Stein could only be considered “aggrieved” under state election law if she lost an election she otherwise would have won were it not for errors in the certified vote count.

Stein finished a distant fourth place with less than 1.1 percent of the vote in an election President-elect Donald Trump narrowly won by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton, 47.5 percent to 47.3 percent.

Attorneys for Stein and the Michigan Republican Party addressed the board Wednesday morning before the meeting was stopped.

Stein attorney Mark Brewer said the recount has exposed flaws in the state’s election system and should continue.

“We’re seeing many precincts around the state deemed unrecountable because election workers failed to comply with longstanding Michigan ballot security measures,” Brewer said. “For the first time in a long time, the voters of this state are being allowed to see inside the election machinery.”

GOP attorney Eric Doster said the recount is not a serious exercise by the Stein campaign to ensure that every vote for her is being counted.

At the Ingham County recount at the county’s fairgrounds, Doster said Stein’s volunteers have yet to ask for updated ballot counts for their candidate.

“I’ve done that,” Doster said. “I guess you could make the argument that I’ve provided more assistance to Dr. Stein’s efforts representing the Trump campaign than Dr. Stein’s own observers.”

Doster added: “That’s the remarkable thing that we’ve taken from this recount. Not the significant vote changes or under votes or over votes or anything like that.”

Republican canvasser Colleen Pero moved to recess the meeting until 1 p.m., pending Goldsmith’s action. A second recess was called at 1:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Pero said she wanted to hold out for the judge’s ruling allowing the recount to end so the elections board could take procedural action.

Twenty-two of Michigan’s 83 counties were conducting recounts Wednesday. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said her county’s recount concluded at 12:34 p.m.

Pero said she wanted to recess the canvassers meeting so they could take action Wednesday night and avoid having 10 more counties start recounts early Thursday morning.

Schuette and attorneys for President-elect Donald Trump and the Michigan Republican Party have attacked Stein’s eligibility to force the recount, which state officials estimate will cost taxpayers $4 million if completed.

The Board of State Canvassers needs Goldsmith to lift his order for the panel to act on rejecting the petition, as directed by the state Court of Appeals. The elections panel also has a history of deadlocking on highly partisan issues, which it did last Friday over Trump’s objection to the recount.

Stein attorney Mark Brewer said Wednesday he has sought permission late Tuesday from the Michigan Supreme Court for consideration of an immediate appeal.

On Tuesday, Brewer filed a motion with the Michigan Supreme Court seeking to disqualify Chief Justice Robert Young and Justice Joan Larsen because Trump has them on his short list for a possible appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In just two days of counting, Brewer said the recount has exposed issues with ballots, polling precinct procedures and other problems in the state’s election system.

“I think this is very healthy and revealing and it would be terrible to put it to a stop,” said Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Staff Writers Robert Snell and Jonathan Oosting contributed.