Citing conspiracy theories, Michigan GOP electors ask court to name Trump winner

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A new lawsuit brought by a group of Michigan Republicans asks a federal judge to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's win in the state based on a bevy of conspiracy theories and claims contradicted by election experts.

Six Republicans — three who would be Electoral College electors for President Donald Trump and three local GOP officials — filed the suit in federal court Wednesday night, two days after the Board of State Canvassers certified Biden's 154,000-vote victory in Michigan.

Among their attorneys is Sidney Powell, who appeared at a press conference with Trump's legal representatives last week. Since then, however, the Trump campaign has said that Powell is working on her own.

Sidney Powell, right, speaks next to former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, as members of President Donald Trump's legal team, during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington.

Her new Michigan suit relies heavily on speculation and claims that a Wayne County judge previously labeled "not credible" in a separate legal action.

"Relief sought is the elimination of the mail ballots from counting in the 2020 election," the 75-page suit says. "Alternatively, the electors for the State of Michigan should be disqualified from counting toward the 2020 election.

"Alternatively, the electors of the State of Michigan should be directed to vote for President Donald Trump."

The suit seeks emergency relief including orders requiring Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to transmit certified election results that state "President Donald Trump is the winner of the election." It also seeks the impounding of all "voting machines and software in Michigan for expert inspection."

Three of the plaintiffs are listed as Timothy King, Marian Sheridan and John Haggard, who would have been presidential electors had Trump won the Michigan race.

The three others are listed as James Ritchard, chairman of the Oceana County Republican Party, James David Hooper, chairman of the Wayne County 11th District Republican Party, and Daren Rubingh, chairman of the Antrim County Republican Party. Rubingh's name is spelled incorrectly at one point in the court filing, which also mistakenly says the Board of State Canvassers certified Michigan's results on March 23, instead of Nov. 23.

On its first page, the filing also featured an incorrect spelling of the Eastern District, leaving out an "i" in district.

The defendants named in the suit are Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers.

All 83 counties in Michigan have already certified their election results. And on Monday, the Board of State Canvassers, which includes two Democrats and two Republicans, voted to 3-0 to validate the statewide results. One Republican member, Norm Shinkle, abstained.

The new lawsuit focuses heavily on murky claims about election tabulation software and analyses that attempt to call into question Michigan's results, which ended up being more favorable to Trump than pollsters expected.

"The fraud" in Michigan "begins with the election software and hardware from Dominion Voting Systems Corporation," which is used by some counties in the state, the suit says.

"Smartmatic and Dominion were founded by foreign oligarchs and dictators to ensure computerized ballot-stuffing and vote manipulation to whatever level was needed to make certain Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez never lost another election," the suit says.

However, even Republican election officials have rejected claims about problems with the software that processes votes in some Michigan counties. Last week, Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a former GOP state lawmaker, told the House and Senate oversight committees that Michigan's election processes are secure.

She noted that the state's decentralized system spread responsibilities among 1,600 jurisdictions as the "first firewall" against widespread fraud. The state also uses paper ballots that act as back up to the electronic system, signature checks to ensure an absentee voter's identity, a canvassing process that ensures each county's vote count and post election audits.

The new suit emphasizes an error in GOP-leaning Antrim County, where initial and unofficial results showed Biden ahead. The county eventually pulled its results from its website, realizing something had gone wrong and finding that Trump had actually won the county.

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy, a Republican, told Michigan lawmakers the issue stemmed from changes the county had to make to its ballot to accommodate two jurisdictions. When the software company, Election Source, sent her a flash drive to upload the changes, the updates were applied to just the two jurisdictions. But all of the county's Dominion Voting Systems tabulators should have received the updated software. 

The oversight resulted in a mix-up as data was transferred from the tabulators to the county's main voting software, giving Biden an unexpected lead shortly after 4 a.m. and pushing the county and Dominion Voting Systems into the national spotlight, Guy said. 

However, the new suit attempts to tie the administrative incident in Antrim County to Wayne County, Michigan's largest county and a Democratic stronghold.

"Wayne County used the same Dominion voting system tabulators as did Antrim County, and Wayne County tested only a single one of its vote tabulating machines before the election," the suit says.

The suit repeats claims that Republican poll watchers were stopped from monitoring the counting of absentee ballots in Detroit, the largest city in Wayne County, and that large numbers of absentee ballots showed up at the TCF Center, where Detroit absentee ballots were tallied, on Nov. 4, the day after the election.

"The most egregious example of election workers fraudulent and illegal behavior concerns two batches of new ballots brought to the TCF Center after the 8:00 PM Election Day deadline," the new suit says.

It mentions an affidavit from a GOP poll watcher  that says a set of new boxes of ballots "arrived at the TCF Center around" 9 p.m. on Nov. 4.

In a signed affidavit in a separate court case, Chris Thomas, Michigan's longtime former elections director who helped run the election in Detroit this fall, said there were Republican poll watchers inside the hall where ballots were counted throughout the process.

Likewise, just because a ballot arrived at TCF Center after polls closed at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 doesn't mean it wasn't valid. The ballots delivered to the TCF Center had been verified by the Detroit clerk’s staff prior to delivery in a process prescribed by Michigan law, Thomas said in a past affidavit.

Poll inspectors count and process absentee ballots at the TCF Center in Detroit Wednesday.

At about 9 p.m. Nov. 4, the Department of Elections delivered additional blank ballots that would be necessary to complete the duplication of military and overseas ballots, Thomas said in his affidavit.

"No new voted ballots were received," Thomas said. "The affidavits are likely referring to blank ballots that were being delivered in order to process AV (absentee voter) and military ballots in compliance with the law."

Many of the claims in new suit were in a past suit that sought to halt the certification of Wayne County's election results. On Nov. 13, Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny denied the request, noting that Detroit officials "offered a more accurate and persuasive explanation of activity" within the TCF Center. 

Kenny himself noted that some affidavits by poll challengers alleging unsecured ballots or too many ballots cast for Biden were "rife with speculation" and showed they knew little about the counting process.

The new suit also cites data analyses that question the counting of ballots in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Kent, Michigan's four largest counties. Kent has a Republican clerk, and Macomb voted for Trump.

According to an affidavit in the suit, Russell Ramsland, Jr., identified as part of the management team at Allied Security Operations Group, focused on spikes in votes tallied for Biden after 2 a.m. on the day after the election.

"Yet another statistical red flag in Michigan concerns the dramatic shift in votes between the two major party candidates as the tabulation of the turnout continued," Ramsland said in his affidavit.

However, this was expected by Michigan election experts for months before Nov. 3 because more Republicans tended to vote on Election Day and more Democrats tended to vote absentee. Absentee ballots generally took longer to process and often showed up in released counts after Election Day tallies.

Trump has repeatedly questioned mail-in voting, which likely caused more of his supporters to vote in person. In September, pollster Richard Czuba, founder of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group, predicted the tallies would swing as Election Night wore on.

"In this era when everyone is sowing division over the trustworthiness of ballots, I think it's important for Michigan voters to have a very clear sense ...," he said at the time. "Let's not rush to decisions on election night knowing that all of these votes have to get counted." 

In a past affidavit filed in a Georgia case, Ramsland appeared to make a mistake by confusing townships in Minnesota with townships in Michigan, according to national media reports.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.