Why the failed effort to disenfranchise Michigan voters matters

The fact that the disenfranchisement plan in Michigan fell apart doesn't make Team Trump's endorsement of the plan any less offensive.
Voters fill out their ballots at a school gymnasium on Election Day in Lansing, Mich.
Voters fill out their ballots at a school gymnasium on Election Day in Lansing, Mich.John Moore / Getty Images

As a rule, there's little interest in local vote-certification processes. However, in Michigan last night, there was quite a bit more drama than there should've been, which in turn generated all kinds of interest. The Associated Press reported:

In an abrupt about-face, Michigan's largest county on Tuesday night unanimously certified election results showing Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump, hours after Republicans first blocked formal approval of voters' intentions. The initial move was quickly condemned by Democrats, election experts and spectators at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers online meeting as a dangerous attempt to block the results of a free and fair election.

By any fair measure, the initial gambit from Republicans on Wayne County's elections board was indefensible: GOP members refused to certify local election results because they didn't like the outcome. As the New York Times noted, this was, "in essence, an effort to disenfranchise large numbers of Americans."

The plan was never going to work, and cooler heads ultimately prevailed. But it's worth taking a moment to shine a light on what we learned about those who cheered on the anti-democracy effort.

For example, Jenna Ellis, a member of Donald Trump's legal team, celebrated the initial move from the Wayne County board of canvassers, insisting it could lead Republican state legislators to choose pro-Trump electors for Michigan, in defiance of voters' will (Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 140,000 votes). The president himself tweeted soon after, "Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!"

This generated some laughter among those who mocked Team Trump for rejoicing far too quickly -- in effect, spiking the football long before reaching the end zone -- and looking foolish once Wayne County's elections board reversed course.

But it's just as important to acknowledge just how far the president and his allies are willing to go to attack our democracy. Robert Kelner, a leading Republican election lawyer, used words like "shameful," "dishonorable," and "lawless," before condemning the partisan antics as "antithetical to the founding values of the Republican Party and our Republic."

There may be a temptation among some to think this was a crisis averted: GOP officials tried to engage in a ridiculous abuse, faced swift pushback, and backed down. All's well that ends well.

The truth, however, is that Americans saw a would-be autocratic president and his lawyer celebrate the attempted abuse. The fact that the plan fell apart doesn't make Team Trump's endorsement of the plan any less offensive.