Petition effort seeking 'forensic audit' of 2020 election launches in Lansing

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — More than a year after the 2020 election, a group is launching a petition effort that would demand a forensic audit of the presidential election and set up criteria that would trigger forensic audits in future elections. 

Audit Forward submitted its petition to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office Tuesday in order to start the technical process of approving the form of the petition before putting it in the field for signature collection. 

Republican lawmakers have been pressured for months to perform some sort of in-depth audit of the 2020 election based on unfounded claims of fraud enflamed by rhetoric of former President Donald Trump.

Tuesday's ballot initiative is a sign that voters are taking that audit process into their own hands, said John DeRocha, a House candidate and president of

"Nobody else wanted to do it," DeRocha said Tuesday. "We for 10 months sat there and beat our chests and said, 'We need a full forensic audit, we need a full forensic audit.' We emailed and called and did all these things we could with the Legislature but they weren't budging. But we have a provision in our Constitution that allows us to do this."

Supporters of a petition effort seeking a forensic audit of the 2020 election gather on the Capitol lawn Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, ahead of delivering their petition to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office for technical approvals.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson noted Tuesday that local clerks, Republican and Democratic, conducted more than 250 audits of the 2020 election in reviews that affirmed President Joe Biden's 154,000 vote victory over Trump in Michigan. 

Additionally, after the 2020 election, the GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee took more than 28 hours of committee testimony from about 90 people and reviewed thousands of subpoenaed documents only to conclude that the elections were conducted fairly. Countless court rulings upheld the Senate's finding. 

"These elites who lie about 2020 without a shred of evidence, who fail to speak the truth, are fueled by opportunism and cowardice," Benson said in a statement Tuesday. "Over a year into this grift their goal is now clear. They no longer want only to change the outcome of the 2020 election, but to also undermine citizens’ faith in our democracy and dissuade them from being engaged and informed voters in future elections."

Still, Benson said the Bureau of Elections will process the petition in a "nonpartisan and unbiased manner." The response to the effort to "undo our nation's democracy must come from the people," she said. 

The forensic audit outlined in the petition would require an independent auditor to conduct a whole range of tasks that will involve the cooperation of Michigan's more than 1,600 local clerks. It would be paid for through public or private funds, with no disclosure requirement related to  private donors.

Those tasks include a review of all ballots and vote tallies for all federal, state and local elections; an examination of communications among the secretary of state, contractors and local clerks; an investigation of state voter roll irregularities; a review of all state voter registrations; a review of all election-related affidavits filed after the 2020 general election; and a review of the 10,000 oldest voters under 90 who voted for the first time in the election being audited. The final report from auditors would be submitted to an appointed audit board and the state Legislature. 

Rep. Steve Carra, a Three Rivers Republican whose been a vocal proponent for a forensic audit of the election, attended Tuesday's petition launch and supported the effort.

"I think we need to verify the election results," said Carra, who was elected to the House in the November 2020 election. "There were all kinds of election irregularities. I saw it coming before the election happened ...The vast majority of Americans would want and have concerns about whether the elections are fair, honest, transparent and secure."

Rocha said the goal of the drive is not necessarily to overturn the 2020 election, but to determine whether there was wrongdoing, hold those individuals responsible and implement best practices for the future.

But voting rights groups on Tuesday slammed the audit petition effort as a way to "overturn Michigan's official certification and audit process."

"At a time when clerks and election officials are already overloaded, this initiative will add further burdens and strains on resources," the statement from All Voting is Local Michigan and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters said. "Not only should Michigan voters refuse to sign it, but our elected officials must publicly disavow it and strongly discourage any future anti-voter efforts.”

The petition also would require legislative leaders to select from precinct delegates a state election forensic audit board charged with selecting an independent firm to conduct the audit. Members of the audit board also would sit on a state grand jury to determine if entities are "stalling" or "impeding" the audit, to subpoena evidence and to "issue warrants of arrest for contempt of the grand jury."

The petition would establish thresholds that would trigger a forensic audit such as a break in the "chain of custody" of election-related material; when two or more poll books in a precinct are out of balance; signs of foreign, corporate or domestic interference in an election; improper voter roll maintenance; tampered ballot boxes or altered or destroyed election materials.

The petition language would shield people cooperating with the audit from criminal and civil liability but penalize uncooperative communities by withholding 10% of their state funding. 

People who interfere with or impede with the audit would be subject to a felony charge of up to one year or a fine of not more than $1,000.  

The petition joins an increasingly crowded initiative field, becoming one of seven petition initiatives seeking a place on the 2022 ballot or adoption by the Legislature. Other initiative petitions deal with prohibitions on public health orders, tightened voter ID rules, caps on short-term loan interest, tax-incentivized education scholarship programs, sentencing law changes, and increases to minimum wage.