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It's official: Michigan's presidential electors vote for Biden, Harris at Capitol

Lansing — Michigan's 16 presidential electors cast their ballots Monday for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden during a historic convening that encapsulated much of 2020 with social distancing, face masks and an effort to intervene in the results.

As the Democratic electors met inside the state Capitol and formalized Michigan's vote for Biden, about a dozen Republicans attempted to enter the building. They said they were GOP electors there to cast their ballots for president. Michigan State Police officers denied them entrance.

A Michigan State Police officer tells attorney Ian Northon, in tan coat, and Republican electors that they cannot enter the Michigan State Capitol.  At left in sunglasses is state Rep. Matt Maddock.

For weeks, supporters of President Donald Trump have attempted to discredit Biden's 154,000-vote victory in Michigan with unproven claims of election fraud. But their legal challenges have fallen flat, and the electors' vote for Biden further solidified his win 41 days after Election Day.

Ninety-six-year-old Michael Kerwin of Detroit made the formal nomination of Biden for the office of president on Monday. The electors began voting on their individual ballots around 2:45 p.m. and adjourned shortly before 3:30 p.m.

"The electors have unanimously cast 16 votes for Joseph R. Biden," Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes declared in the chamber after the individual votes were counted.

With Michigan's addition, the Electoral College formally chose Joe Biden on Monday as the nation’s next president, giving him a solid electoral majority of 306 votes and confirming his victory in last month’s election. Biden topped Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote nationwide.

Joining Michigan in backing Biden on Monday were Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the other key battleground states that Biden won and Trump contested.

"Once again in America, the rule of law, our Constitution, and the will of the people have prevailed. Our democracy — pushed, tested, threatened — proved to be resilient, true, and strong,” Biden said in a Monday evening speech in which he stressed the size of his win and the record 81 million people who voted for him.

After placing their votes for Biden, Michigan electors then moved on to cast their support for his running mate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Elector Conner Wood, chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, described the event as solemn, but with joyful relief. Elector Mark Miller, Kalamazoo Township clerk, called Monday "a great day for democracy."

"I am very pleased, very gratified to be able to carry out this duty and to uphold the form of democracy that we have in this country, which has been, sadly, under attack,” said Miller, standing outside the Senate chamber.

Elector Blake Mazurek, a history teacher from Grand Rapids, tweeted a photo of the ballot he cast for Harris, the first female and first African American vice president in history: "For my daughter — and EVERY woman throughout our land!"

"This was truly a historic election," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on the Senate floor before Monday's votes were cast. "During the worst public health crisis we’ve seen in our lifetime, Michiganders everywhere made a plan to ensure that their voices were heard in November.

"Michigan has chosen a clear winner for the Office of the President of the United States and for every elected office up and down the ballot. The people have spoken." 

One elector, Walter C. Herzig III, was absent as representative of the 9th District. The electors unanimously voted in a substitute, Sharon Baseman of Huntington Woods, to join the slate. Herzig later indicated he had resigned his position as an elector because he is "almost certainly" not permitted to serve in the position as a federal employee.

The Constitution prohibits people who hold an "office of trust of profit under the United States" from serving as electors. Herzig works for Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

The Senate chamber remained somber for much of Monday's event. Rounds of applause broke out when Biden and Harris were announced as the winners, but otherwise, the group of about 40 people on the Senate floor did its work quietly.

Those who attended the event had their temperatures taken and walked through an entrance to the Capitol that was protected by law enforcement. Some attendees were escorted by Michigan State Police troopers into the building. The Senate gallery was limited to five members of the news media. 

About a dozen protesters gathered earlier Monday in support of President Donald Trump outside the building, despite it being closed to the public. House and Senate officials also closed their offices in Lansing on Monday after citing "safety and security concerns" related to the vote. 

Bob Ray of South Lyon was one of the few protesters in front of the state Capitol Monday afternoon. He said he arrived to "try to protect your rights, future generations of America." He said he believed there was widespread fraud and only a "forensic audit" would give him confidence in the results.

As the Democratic electors cast their votes, a group of Republicans, including a handful of Trump electors, attempted to enter the building, including five sitting state representatives — Rep. Matt Maddock of Milford, Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City, Rep. John Reilly of Oakland Township, Rep. Beth Griffin of Mattawan and Rep. Julie Alexander of  Hanover. They claimed they planned to cast their electoral college votes.

Michigan State Police troopers denied the group entrance, citing orders to keep the building closed to the public. 

"Our Republican electors felt that they needed to be seated today, too, due to all the irregularities in the past election," Rendon said after they were turned away. 

"There are a lot of questions that haven't been answered, a lot of procedures that were not followed. And there was a lot of activity that appeared to be illegal. And as it stands, a lot of people felt we needed to send a second slate of electors until this election is actually decided."

Despite multiple legal challenges from Republican groups, courts have repeatedly found there not to be credible evidence of voter fraud in the November election. 

The Republican electors were joined by attorney Ian Northon, who was representing the Thomas More Society's Amistad Project, a conservative group that has been seeking to challenge election results through lawsuits so far without success. He asked the police to deliver a manila envelope carrying the GOP electors' votes to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. They declined. 

Northon said afterward that the electors were stopped from "fulfilling their constitutional duty."

Michigan's House Oversight Committee has been staging hearings on the election, including hosting Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, earlier this month. 

State Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, on Monday morning made cryptic comments about Republicans possibly trying a "Hail Mary" to intervene in the afternoon votes of the state's presidential electors and wouldn't promise a radio host that the day would be safe. Eisen later issued a statement clarifying his remarks, saying he actually "wanted to attend today’s event to help prevent violence, not promote it."

But Michigan Republican leaders reiterated Monday their pledge not to overturn the popular vote in Michigan and indicated they wouldn't interfere with the state's electors.

Shirkey in a statement said the slate of electors should be able to proceed with their duty "free from threats of violence and intimidation," and acknowledged that Biden and Harris won Michigan's election. 

"While there are some who still argue this should not take place, we must recognize that our feelings, our desires, and our disappointments are subordinate to the health of our democracy and the will of the majority," he said. 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield in his statement said he personally believes the Legislature could pass a resolution changing the manner in which the electors are appointed but not retroactively. 

Chatfield called the move "unprecedented for good reason," and said it won't happen, indicating there is not enough support in the House to cast a new slate of electors. 

Biden won Michigan 51%-48%, or by 154,000 votes. The Board of State Canvassers certified the results on Nov. 23. 

Trump has repeatedly made unproven claims that there was "massive" voter fraud in Michigan's election, but his efforts to overturn the result in the courts have failed. 

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away a lawsuit filed by Texas based on claims that had been rejected by lower courts in Michigan, by election experts and officials, and in testimony during state legislative hearings. 

Chatfield noted Monday the Legislature decades ago chose to award Michigan's electors to the winner of the popular vote, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that once created, the right to a popular vote for president becomes "fundamental, and the exercise of a fundamental right can’t be infringed retroactively for due process reasons."

"Maybe they were right. Maybe they were wrong. But that was the court’s decision. And it still stands today," said Chatfield, who campaigned for Trump. 

"I can't fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions to pass a resolution retroactively changing the electors for Trump, simply because some think there may have been enough widespread fraud to give him the win.

"I fear we'd lose our country forever. This truly would bring mutually assured destruction for every future election in regards to the Electoral College. And I can't stand for that. I won’t."

Kerwin, the 96-year-old elector who nominated Biden on the Senate floor, said he was glad that protesters didn't disrupt Monday's meeting.

Of Trump, he said, "But I am glad that man is gone, too, or he will be gone."

cmauger@detrotinews.com

Associated Press contributed.