Michigan sheriff's conspiracy-laden election lawsuit stalls on the runway

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

A Grand Rapids federal judge has quickly knocked down an election lawsuit from Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf that involved debunked conspiracy theories about Sharpie markers.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker issued a ruling Monday, a day after the lawsuit was filed, that effectively killed the suit. Jonker, an appointee of Republican former President George W. Bush, said it was unclear whether Leaf had even properly commenced his legal challenge under federal rules because of the way the suit was formatted and because it lacked specific reasons for the litigation.

Leaf's lawsuit asked the court to make "speculative leaps toward a hazy and nebulous inference that there has been numerous instances of election fraud and that defendants are destroying the evidence," Jonker said.

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf addresses the crowd during the "American Patriot Rally-Sheriff's Speak Out" event at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, May 18, 2020. Leaf said that he will not enforce the governor's stay-at-home order stating it's unconstitutional.

"There is simply nothing of record to infer as much, much less conclude that irreparable injury will occur before the defendants can be heard," the judge added.

In October, Leaf, a Republican, questioned whether men accused of plotting to storm the Michigan Capitol and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were "trying to arrest" her, suggesting that their plot may have been allowed under a citizen arrest statute.

Over the weekend, Leaf and seven other plaintiffs attempted to sue Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers. They alleged that there was "massive election fraud," but nothing in their lawsuit provided any evidence of it.

The plaintiffs unsuccessfully sought "immediate intervention" from the Western District of Michigan court to prevent election officials from deleting "election data, instruments, machines and materials."

The suit included two affidavits from voters in Michigan that didn't involve evidence of election fraud. One of the individuals, Jada Chadwick of Hastings, said she saw unofficial election results at one point on election night for Barry County that showed Natural Law Party presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente had received 8,883 votes, more than President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden with 41% of precincts reporting.

"This concerned me because I had used a Sharpe marker and I never used one before," Chadwick's affidavit said.

De La Fuente received 16 votes, or less than 0.1%, in Barry County's final results. Trump won the county with 23,471 votes, or 65%.

An affidavit filed in Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf's election lawsuit talks about Sharpie markers, referencing a debunked conspiracy theory.

Chadwick's focus on Sharpies appears to refer to a conspiracy theory that ballots marked with Sharpies were invalidated or miscounted in multiple states. Election officials from both sides of the aisle have rejected this assertion.

"The use of a Sharpie to mark a ballot will not invalidate or cancel a ballot or vote," a "fact check" from the Michigan Secretary of State's office says. "If the marker does bleed through to the other side, ballots are designed so that the bleed through does not touch or come near a voting area on the other side of the ballot. It will not alter or cancel any vote on the opposite side.

"The Sharpie is the recommended marking instrument by the tabulator manufacturer and is preferable to an ink pen because it dries quickly and will not leave residue on the ballot scanner."

An affidavit filed in a federal election lawsuit by Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf focuses on the use of markers.

The other affidavit included in Leaf's lawsuit also focused on markers. Susan Considine of Livonia said, "I do not know if my ballot was appropriately counted due to completing it with a marker."

Leaf's lawsuit marks another loss in the courts for supporters of Trump who have attempted to challenge the results of Michigan's election, which President-elect Biden won 51%-48% or by 154,000 votes. Trump's backers have made claims of election fraud without disclosing evidence to back up their assertions.

On Monday, Detroit U.S. District Judge Linda Parker rejected a wide-ranging lawsuit from six Michigan Republicans who wanted her to overturn Biden's victory. Parker said that suit aimed to "ignore the will of millions of voters."

The suit seemed "less about achieving the relief" the GOP plaintiffs sought and "more about the impact of their allegations on people’s faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government," Parker wrote.

cmauger@detroitnews.com