It's taken four months, but the most comprehensive election audit in battleground Michigan's history is over. The bottom line: The certified presidential results were almost precisely correct, so President Biden undoubtedly deserved the 16 electoral votes he got.
The announcement Tuesday was not only a coda on one of the most intense battles in former President Donald Trump's war on democracy. It also was the prelude to efforts by the state's politically divided power structure to boost faith in the system with improvements in time for 2022.
Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she would press the Republican-majority Legislature to require similarly extensive auditing of future statewide elections before the results are finalized. Last fall several lawsuits by Trump allies demanding such audits were rejected by courts.
Michigan was one of the focal points of Trump's efforts to reverse his defeat with lies designed to sow doubt about the result, especially the credibility of absentee vote totals, and his crusade gained alarming traction when GOP election officials balked at certifying the results in Detroit. The federal transition process was permitted to get started, with the formal recognition of Biden as the "apparent winner," only after the normally obscure Board of State Canvassers reversed course three weeks after Election Day and voted 3-0 to lock down the result.
Biden took the state by a clearcut 154,000 votes, a victory margin of 3 points. It was his most decisive victory in the five states that he took from Trump's 2016 win column. That result was affirmed by a statewide "risk-limiting audit" in which more than 18,000 randomly selected ballots from more than 1,300 jurisdictions were reviewed by local clerks.
The audits examined an equal number of ballots cast by mail and by machine, because the method for casting the 2.8 million votes statewide was almost exactly split. Among the findings was that the potential error in tabulating the absentee ballots Wayne County, which takes in Detroit, totaled 17 out of 174,000 submitted.
Polls nonetheless have shown that most Republicans in the state, and nationally, continue to profess distrust in the election results — and Trump continues to assert without any credible evidence that he was the rightful winner.
The audit result should eradicate "any rationale for continuing to question the integrity of the election and the validity of the outcome," Benson said. "Now it's up to every leader to acknowledge that truth."
While momentum is growing for newly restrictive voting rules in the GOP-run legislatures of several other hard-fought 2020 states — Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona most notably — Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, are hoping to forge narrow compromises to preserve some of the election easements created last year because of the pandemic.
One proposal would allow the processing of mailed ballot envelopes to begin well before Election Day so that tabulating could get started soon after the polls closed. The record surge of absentee votes, and the prohibition on opening the envelopes and verifying signatures before Nov. 2, led to delays in results that fueled much of the misinformation and distrust in the process.