For the next three weeks, the integrity of American democracy is in the hands of people like Norman D. Shinkle, a proud Michigander who, until recently, sat in relative obscurity on the state council that certifies the results. votes.
But now Mr. Shinkle faces a choice born out of the national electoral turmoil created by President Trump, his favorite candidate, for whom he sang the national anthem at a campaign rally in Lansing last month.
Mr. Shinkle’s duty, as one of two Republicans on the four-member board of directors, is to validate the will of Michigan voters and certify the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. before the vote of the electoral college on December 14. Still, Mr Shinkle is considering whether to block certification at a board meeting scheduled for Monday, due to small issues Mr Trump and his allies have baselessly presented as evidence of fraud. widespread canceling the elections.
He said he had received hundreds of phone calls, emails and text messages from people for or against certification. “You can’t make up your mind until you have all the facts,” he says.
The fact that Mr. Shinkle is equivocal about a once-routine step in the process – despite all 83 state counties having submitted certified results and Mr. Biden leading by 154,000 votes – shows the damage Mr. Trump inflicted on the process. American vote and the faith that people from both parties have historically shared the election result.
But it’s also a moment of truth for the Republican Party: The country is on a razor’s edge, with GOP officials from state capitals to Congress choosing between the will of the voters and the will of one man. By pushing his false claims to their limits, intimidating Republicans into acquiescence or silence, and pushing officials like Mr. Shinkle into nervous indecision, Mr. Trump has exposed the fragility of the electoral system – and the shook.
At this point, the president’s impact is not so much to annul the election – both sides agree he has no real chance of doing so – but to instill in the democratic process so much mistrust and confusion that it stops working as it should.
Under an endless barrage of fraud accusations, voters could start to question the legitimacy of the rival party’s elected officials as obvious. And the GOP risks being seen as an advocate of the right to vote and the undemocratic position that a high level of voting is somehow detrimental.
“What Trump is doing is creating a roadmap to destabilization and chaos in the years to come,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican who served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission in the 1990s. what he says, explicitly, is that if a party does not like the result of the elections, it has the right to change it by playing with the system. ”
Mr. Trump’s bet, never realistic at first, seems to become more and more futile by the day: Georgia on Friday became the first contested state to certify its vote for Mr. Biden, and the president continues to draw judgments losers from judges who bluntly noted their failure to present evidence of fraud or material irregularities. Some Republican colleagues have started to break with him, including Senator Mitt Romney, a critic of Trump, who said the president seeks to “overthrow the will of the people,” and Senator Marco Rubio, who admitted that Mr. Biden was the elected president. .
Michigan Republican lawmakers also made it clear on Friday, after meeting with Mr. Trump in the White House, that they would allow the normal certification process to proceed without interference, a potentially important signal ahead of the board’s certification decision. state elections. Monday.
But on Saturday, the Michigan state and national party presidents released a statement calling on the solicitation board to delay certification past its Monday deadline, to conduct an audit.
If Mr Shinkle and his Republican colleague in the state council, Aaron Van Langevelde, objected to the certification of the results, the council would be at an impasse.
Democrats and election lawyers say the courts would almost certainly force the board to complete the certification process, well in time for the constituency deadline next month. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could replace board members if they defy a court order. But they also agree that a deadlocked vote would give Mr. Trump yet another opportunity to question the legitimacy of the electoral system and Mr. Biden’s victory, while prolonging his own legally dubious attempt and, until present, failing to convince Republicans who control the Statehouse to send pro-Trump delegates to the Electoral College.
Mr Biden’s advisers say they are confident he will get all 16 votes from the Michigan Electoral College. But they recognize that the national spectacle of court battles and the resulting new fraud charges could prove “very damaging to the democratic process,” as Biden’s senior adviser Bob Bauer said on Friday.
Civil rights leaders are particularly alarmed by Mr. Trump’s efforts, given that most of them have falsely portrayed cities with large black populations, like Detroit and Philadelphia, as so corrupt their votes shouldn’t count. . The argument that Mr. Trump’s attempt is for the show and will not succeed has done little to allay their concern.
“How does it show when you systematically delegitimize black voters with your rhetoric,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP, which filed a lawsuit against Mr. Trump in Michigan on Friday. for trying to deprive black voters of their rights (he did so on behalf of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and three residents). “How can it be anything but incredibly dangerous,” she added.
Ms Ifill marveled at the position of the Republican Party, which was the country’s first true civil rights party from slavery until the late 1950s, but now, under the unchallenged leadership of Mr Trump, is taking actually stand against the vote as a whole. cities and states.
“Civil rights have not moved – a party has moved, and this movement has not been towards an embrace of democracy, it has been moved away from it,” she said.
If Mr. Trump hasn’t shown anything else, it’s because he endorsed the Republican Party – which initially sought to resist him. Although a handful of prominent Republicans have chided his refusal to cede power, many more, at all levels of government, have tacitly or explicitly adopted a new standard in the presidential elections: no winner can be declared until the Electoral College certification process is not completed. , regardless of the clarity of the results after polling day.
Texas Senator John Cornyn admitted he had “seen nothing that would change the outcome,” but told reporters Thursday that Mr. Biden “is not president-elect until the votes are certified.” Mr Cornyn congratulated Mr Trump as president-elect the day major news organizations projected him as the winner in 2016.
Former Senator Jeff Flake, a staunch opponent of Mr. Trump, urged Republicans to recognize Mr. Biden as president-elect. But he noted that Republicans fear alienating Mr. Trump when they need his help for Georgia’s next second round, which will decide on Senate control.
“If the Republicans give up on him, he can just give up on them,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s baseless argument that this is still an election up for grabs was rife in talks with Republicans across the country on Friday.
Ginger Howard, a woman on the Georgia Republican National Committee, said she still believes there are other leads for Mr. Trump, despite Mr. Biden’s state certification as a winner in that country.
“There are still remedies for sure, we have other options,” she said Friday without giving details.
Jason Thompson, who represents Georgia on the Republican National Committee, also echoed
Mr. Trump’s unfounded skepticism.
“It’s not like I’m saying he has no way of winning,” he said. “All I’m saying is, we’ll never know for sure.”
Some Republicans interviewed cited Mr. Trump’s court challenges as grounds to believe the race was not over – even though judges overwhelmingly rejected the president’s claims.
“There are voting issues in several states, and until these issues are fully resolved it would be premature for him to concede the election,” said Bruce Ash, a former Republican official in Arizona. Election officials across the country said there was no evidence of electoral fraud or other irregularities that influenced the outcome of the race.
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican, admitted in a statement to The Times that “I have not seen any evidence of widespread electoral fraud in Philadelphia or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.”
Yet he asserted Mr. Trump’s right to “bring legal action”, and would only go so far as to say that “all signs are” that Mr. Biden is “probably” the next president.
Rep. Seth Grove, Republican in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, declined on Friday to say Mr. Biden won the state. “The president is only exercising his legal rights,” he said. “At the end of the litigation, it will be Biden or Trump.”
In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump has fewer opportunities to try to block certification than in Michigan and Wisconsin, where he has called for recounts in two counties. After the state’s 67 counties certify their votes – the deadline is Monday – they go to Commonwealth Secretary Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, who has exclusive power to certify the state’s results.
In Michigan, the president’s opportunity is limited or non-existent. On Friday, the National Election Office presented its official report recommending that the prospecting committee assert Mr. Biden’s victory. The errors in some voting tables, which Mr. Trump picked up, were “due to human error” and “did not affect the vote totals,” the election office said.
That, said Christopher Thomas, an electoral adviser for the city of Detroit, means the canvassing board is obligated to confirm the vote. “The law doesn’t say you can decide or not – the law says if you get certified statements you go ahead and do what you’re supposed to do,” he said.
As Monday’s vote draws near, Mr. Shinkle, the Republican board member, finds himself in a tight spot. Unlike past cases, he said, “I have a lot more so-called conservatives who are saying bad things about me. He said he had unresolved concerns about the total votes in Detroit, where there were discrepancies with around 350 votes out of more than 250,000 votes.
His wife, Mary Shinkle, provided an affidavit for Mr. Trump’s federal lawsuit to stop the certification of results in Wayne County, which the campaign dropped on Thursday.
Mr Shinkle said he is his own lawyer and his main goal is to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about his decisions. “I cannot let any other person be involved in this decision,” he said. “I just have to do my best based on what’s ethical and legal.”
Trip Gabriel and Katie Glueck contributed reporting.