Michigan Republicans seek to replace GOP canvasser who certified election

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Republican Party wants to replace the GOP member of the Board of State Canvassers who cast the pivotal vote to certify election results in favor of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. 

With party activists calling for certification to be blocked on Nov. 23, Aaron Van Langevelde, a policy adviser and deputy legal counsel for state House Republicans, joined the two Democrats on the four-member board to sign off on the results.

His term ends on Jan. 31. Instead of renominating him for a four-year term, the Michigan Republican Party has proposed three well-known activists to take his spot, according to a letter obtained by The Detroit News. Among them is Linda Lee Tarver, who was involved in a lawsuit that sought to have the GOP-controlled Legislature intervene in the results showing Democratic President-elect Joe Biden won.

Aaron Van Langevelde, left, vice chair of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, speaks during a meeting of the board in Lansing, Monday, November 23, 2020.

Van Langevelde said he was never asked if he’d like another term on the board, unlike the first time he was nominated, when the party approached him about serving. He said the party’s decision came as no surprise, but he stood by his vote and said he was proud of the board’s decision.

“My conscience is clear, and I am confident that my decision is on the right side of the law and history,” Van Langevelde said in a Monday statement. “Time will tell that those who spread misinformation and tried to overturn the election were wrong, and they should be held responsible for the chaos and confusion they have caused.”

In addition to Tarver, a longtime former employee of the Michigan Department of State, the state Republican Party also nominated Tony Daunt, director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, and Tori Sachs, a political strategist and executive director of Michigan Rising Action.

"Should you require any additional information, please contact my office," Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox wrote in a letter to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Jan. 8.

Under state law, the Michigan Republican Party can nominate three individuals for a seat on the Board of State Canvassers. Whitmer has until Wednesday to pick one for the position.

Van Langevelde "did not request to be considered for reappointment to the state canvasing board," said Tony Zammit, a spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party.

Van Langevelde cast the deciding vote to certify Biden's 154,000-vote lead in Michigan. The other Republican member of the board, Norm Shinkle, abstained. What is usually a procedural process was fraught with controversy as supporters of GOP President Donald Trump pushed to delay certification and overturn the state's results based on unproven claims of fraud.

"We have a clear legal duty to certify the results of the election, as shown by the returns that were given to us," Van Langevelde said during the meeting. "We cannot and should not go beyond that. As John Adams once said, 'We are a government of laws, not men.'"

Canvasser outlines pressures

On Monday, Van Langevelde said political leaders pressured the Board of State Canvassers to delay certification, even knowing there was no legal avenue for them to do so, essentially asking the board to “take power we didn’t have.”

The cost of such pressure and continued unproven allegations of election fraud have resulted in “constitutional chaos” and a “loss of our honor and dignity.”

“It was clear in November that the political games needed to stop — it is even more clear now,” he said. “The United States Capitol has been sacked, and our state Capitol is under threat. The country is torn along partisan lines, and people have died because of it. It’s time for our leaders to tell the truth, even when it is politically inconvenient, and to put our country and the people over party politics.”

Van Langevelde said Monday he was 100% prepared and committed to his vote to certify the election, but said he was surprised by "how bad tensions had gotten after the election."

"I was prepared to do my job, but I wasn’t prepared to make arrangements to protect my family," Van Langevelde said, noting there came a point where law enforcement became involved. "That was something that was new to me.”

Among the three GOP nominees for Van Langevelde's seat, Tarver of Lansing has been the most aggressive in pushing claims about the Nov. 3 election. She appeared at a Dec. 1 Michigan Senate Oversight Committee hearing about the election.

Linda Lee Tarver tips her hat during the Women for Trump Style Show.

"No election after 2020 should be considered fair unless we get this right this year,” Tarver said during the hearing.

She was also a plaintiff in an unsuccessful suit against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers. The suit claimed there were "many issues of mistake, fraud and other malfeasance at the TCF Center," where absentee ballots were counted in Detroit.

The suit asked the courts to give the Republican-controlled "Michigan Legislature an opportunity to finish its constitutionally mandated work to pick Michigan’s electors."

GOP choices speak out

On Monday, Tarver said she had a great respect for "rule of law" and the Constitution. But she said if had been given a vote on the board Nov. 23, she would not have voted to certify the election.

"I would not certify what I could not verify," Tarver said, arguing that canvassers also had a duty to represent the interest of their parties. 

"Party direction should be given great weight as well," she said. 

Daunt, another Republican activist, leads a nonprofit organization that's spoken out against false claims about the election. On. Jan. 6, Daunt said the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was "an outgrowth of the rhetoric, lies and conspiracies spread by the president and other elected Republicans who’ve falsely and feverishly claimed November’s election was stolen."

In a Monday interview, Daunt said Van Langevelde handled his vote on Nov. 23 appropriately.

"What we lacked over those two months was leadership that was willing to stand up and tell people the truth about the results of the election," he said.

As for Sachs, she served six years in former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and managed Republican John James' unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2018. She also has been critical of false claims about the Nov. 3.

"People have arrived at the conclusions they arrived at because they've been told over and over in certain echo chambers that the election was stolen, that the votes were rigged, and that somehow Donald Trump was still going be president of the United States even though he lost the election — and those things are simply not true," Sachs said during a Jan. 10 appearance on WDIV's "Flashpoint."

Shinkle is not up for re-nomination until 2023, but is facing blow-back in some GOP circles for  abstaining from the vote instead of voting against certification. 

On Saturday, Republican 8th Congressional candidate Mike Detmer encouraged precinct delegates on social media to support former congressional candidate Kristina Lyke, who is running for the 8th Congressional District GOP chair against Shinkle. 

"If you recall, Norm is the one who allowed the fraudulent vote to be certified because he abstained instead of voting no!" Detmer wrote, encouraging people  to "clean house."

Shinkle on Monday defended his Nov. 23 abstention, noting "my abstention was like a no vote" for which he was "crucified" by Democratic activists.

"If I was running in a different party, it might have been an issue," Shinkle said of his vote. "I don’t think it’s a problem in the Republican Party."