LANSING — At least two Michigan Republican Party officials are helping lobby the state’s GOP-led Legislature to order a full “forensic” audit of the 2020 state election won by Democratic President Joe Biden, according to emails obtained by Bridge Michigan.
Grassroots Vice Chair Marian Sheridan and Coalitions Vice Chair Tami Carlone, longtime supporters of former President Donald Trump, are urging Republican activists to fill out an affidavit demanding an audit and send it to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
In separate late-May emails sent to GOP activists, Sheridan and Carlone said the form affidavit she circulated was prepared by attorney Matt DePerno, who unsuccessfully sued to demand an audit in Antrim County despite a full hand recount that confirmed official results.
The goal, the GOP officials said, was to spur the kind of independent audit currently being conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona, where Trump’s false claims the election was “rigged” compelled the state Senate to order an audit that experts have likened to a partisan circus.
“I know this takes a bit of time and a bit of money – but this is what worked in AZ!” Carlone wrote in an email to Michigan Republican Party delegates, which she signed with her official state party title. “Letting Dems run our state and nation will cost us way more time and money!”
Sheridan, in a separate email, told activists they could sign the affidavit in front of a notary public at the Walled Lake “Trump office” of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, an activist group co-founded by Michigan GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock.
“We need to have them by June 8th to be delivered by us to Lansing,” Sheridan wrote atop an email forwarding detailed instructions. “Please help us in this effort to pressure Mike Shirkey and other key government officials to carry out a statewide forensic audit.”
Asked about the pressure campaign, Shirkey’s office noted the GOP-led Senate is already debating reforms “to restore confidence in our elections system.” Sen. Ed McBroom, a Vulcan Republican who has investigated claims as chair of the Oversight Committee, told Bridge he is aware that “people have been calling for (an audit) for months” but declined further comment.
The push highlights a divide among Michigan Republicans, some of whom continue to push Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. Pro-Trump activists have previously called on Michigan GOP Executive Director Jason Roe to resign because of comments he made last fall that Trump lost because he “blew it” and the election “wasn’t stolen.”
Roe told Bridge the state party is not directly involved in the audit push and is instead focused on defeating Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson next year.
“We have a big tent in the Republican Party with a lot of people with a lot of different views, and obviously there are people within the elected leadership of the party that want to make sure what happened in 2020 doesn’t happen again,” Roe said.
“If they want to go down that route, obviously they’re entitled to do that. Our focus is on 2022 and things that we can control, and we can control what the Republican Party does to win the next election. We can’t, unfortunately, control a campaign that was already lost.”
Legislature pursues reforms, not audits
Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes, according to official election results certified by a bipartisan board of state canvassers and Congress.
Republican officials and activists pushing for an audit argue the Michigan Constitution, as amended by voters in 2018, gives all electors — or voters — the right to have the results of a statewide election audited “in such a manner as prescribed by law.”
But Michigan lawmakers have already “prescribed” how audits occur in Michigan, and in doing so, they did not create a mechanism for an independent audit by a non-governmental entity.
Instead, a state law updated in late 2018 gives the Secretary of State exclusive authority to develop audit procedures, and empowers the state and local election clerks to conduct those reviews.
Officials already conducted 250 local audits across the state following the 2020 election, according to a recent report from Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater, who called the process the “most extensive in Michigan’s history.”
The Legislature could not order its own audit without changing state law, contended attorney Steve Liedel, a Democrat who served as chief legal counsel to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. That means they would need a signature from Whitmer who would be sure to veto any enabling legislation.
It’s also unlikely the Legislature could order the Michigan auditor general to review the election because the constitution limits the role of that office to financial and performance reviews, Liedel told Bridge.
“We have a lot of folks who like to cite the Constitution when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
“It’s all part of the ‘big lie’ that goes back to the bogus testimony from Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis of the Trump campaign that the Legislature allowed to occur,” Liedel added, referring to a December hearing about election fraud claims in Lansing.
In Arizona, the Republican-led state Senate hired a firm called Cyber Ninjas to conduct an independent audit. The company’s CEO had previously promoted unsubstantiated fraud claims, and the audit has been plagued by mismanagement.
While Carlone and Sheridan are pushing for a similar audit, the state party is focused on winning elections in 2022, Roe said. “To the degree we’re focused on 2020, it is fixing the law and the rules so that things that happened in 2020 don’t happen again.”
The Michigan GOP is involved in plans for a petition drive to try to tighten voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election, a rare but constitutional maneuver that would allow the Legislature to enact reforms without Whitmer’s signature.
The state party would not run the petition drive itself, but “I do know that there are plans for an entity to be stood up that we would support,” Roe told reporters.
The Michigan Senate is debating a 39-bill election reform package that, among other things, would tighten the state’s voter ID laws, limit absentee ballot drop box hours and prohibit election officials from providing free return postage.
Republicans say the bills are designed to enhance confidence in elections, but opponents have called them a form of “voter suppression” that would disproportionately impact minority voters more likely to vote Democratic.
The GOP would not launch a petition drive until Whimer vetoes the legislation, which could make it difficult to get the initiative before the Legislature this year in order for any new laws to take effect by the 2022 election.
“I think it’s a better argument for us that… she is ignoring the will of the people,” Roe said. “This will be a citizens initiative that reflects the overall majority of Michiganders’ designs on what they think we should be doing regarding election reform.”
Support for voter ID
Voter ID laws, which Republicans have long sought to tighten in Michigan, poll well with the general public, Roe noted.
According to a survey of 600 statewide voters conducted for the Detroit Regional Chamber, that was released Monday, around 80 percent of voters support mandatory voter ID for in-person voting, as proposed in a Republican bill that would remove an option that allows in-person voters without ID to cast ballot if they sign an affidavit attesting to their identity, under penalty of perjury.
But there is opposition to some of the other GOP election reform proposals, according to the May polling by Glengariff Group Inc.
Only 36 percent of voters support the bill to prohibit election officials from providing free return postage on absentee ballots, for instance, while 40 percent support a ban on unsolicited absentee ballot applications.
Overall, 65 percent of Michigan voters believe the state’s elections are already safe and secure, according to the poll. That’s true among Democratic and independent voters, but a narrow majority of Republican voters do not believe Michigan elections are safe and secure.
“I don’t think that’s a surprise given the conversation taking place” in Republican circles, said pollster Richard Czuba. “It’s the middle that besides issues in Michigan, and overwhelmingly independent voters believe our elections are safe and secure.”