Lansing – An Oakland County state senator and a Macomb County clerk are locked in an early battle for the 2018 Republican nomination for secretary of state.

Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot is set to formally kick off his campaign Tuesday at the Michigan Capitol. He filed paperwork in June, joining state Sen. Mike Kowall of White Lake as the first declared candidates vying to replace term-limited Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

Kowall has not had any kind of splashy public campaign launch, but “we’re running, there’s no doubt about that,” he said Monday.

Both Metro Detroit officials have been courting Republican delegates who will decide the nomination a year from now.

Grot is targeting conservatives with his six-part plan to “put an end to election incompetence and voter fraud,” which Johnson has repeatedly maintained is not a widespread issue in Michigan.

“Incompetencies” are probably a bigger problem, but voter fraud is “a possibility,” Grot said Monday in an interview with The Detroit News. “I’m not saying it’s there, but why not remove that doubt?”

Among other things, Grot’s plan calls for mandatory photo identification for voters, citizenship documentation for voter registration, more local audits and increased state oversight of Detroit’s public accuracy test.

Current Michigan law allows voters to sign an affidavit asserting their identity if they do not have photo identification on Election Day. Changes would require legislative action and gubernatorial approval.

Critics have accused GOP President Donald Trump of “perpetuating the myth of voter fraud” in what they fear could be an attempt to make voting more difficult. But Grot, a Trump supporter who chairs the 10th Congressional District Republican Party, said he’s focused on fairness.

“What I’m seeking when it comes to elections is to run a fair, honest and transparent election so there’s no doubt in the voter’s mind their vote is counted properly and there’s no abuse in the system,” he said.

Secretary of state is the third highest ranking post in Michigan government. Johnson, a Republican who has held the position since 2011, is the state’s top elections officer and oversees vehicle registration and driver licensing.

Kowall said he agrees with Johnson that voter fraud is not a widespread problem in Michigan, but he stressed the importance of well-trained election workers and identified election security as one of his top priorities.

“People are very, very apprehensive about making sure their constitutional rights are being protected and that their vote is secure,” he said Monday.

Kowall sponsored high-profile autonomous vehicle legislation that Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law last year, and he said the Secretary of State’s Office must stay on top of evolving election and vehicle technology.

“We have become the center of the universe for research and development (of driverless cars),” Kowall said. “Part of moving the Secretary of State’s Office into the future is working with these companies to make sure what they’re planning on doing is going to work with state government and that the Secretary of State’s Office evolves with the technology.”

Others may still enter the race, which party delegates will decide at a statewide convention in 2018. Johnson’s chief of staff Mike Senyko is also reportedly considering a run.

On the Democratic side, former Wayne State University Law School dean Jocelyn Benson told The News earlier this year she’s considering another run after winning the party nomination for in 2010. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Kowall has a good base of support in Oakland County, but Grot has more experience with the kind of convention fight that may be needed to win the nomination, said GOP consultant Stu Sandler.

“Stan’s a popular district chair, and Macomb County’s strength really increased in the 10th District with the Trump vote,” Sandler said. “Stan is a known quantity on the (convention floor). He’s well liked.”

Grot had raised $72,550 for his campaign through July 20, according to a required disclosure report. Most of that, $55,000, came from his own independent political action committee and a previous candidate committee.

Grot ran for the state House in 2014 but lost an expensive Republican primary fight to Rep. Pete Lucido, also of Shelby Township.

Kowall reported raising $600 for his secretary of state run through late July but had nearly $19,000 in a state Senate campaign he could eventually transfer.

“We’re raising money, and we’ll be extremely competitive,” Kowall said.

Read or Share this story: