Michigan GOP official: Party focused on next election, not audit

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state GOP will remain focused on the upcoming 2022 election instead of pushing for an audit of former President Donald Trump's loss last year, Michigan Republican Party Executive Director Jason Roe said Monday.

Some Republican activists are calling for what they describe as a "forensic audit" of the 2020 election and are gathering affidavits that make the request, which are expected to be delivered to officeholders later this month.

"Our focus is on 2022 and things that we can control," Roe told reporters Monday when asked about the idea of an audit. "We can control what the Republican Party does to win the next election. We can't unfortunately control a campaign that was already lost. So our focus will remain on 2022."

A booth at a rally in Antrim County on Saturday, June 5, 2021, collects affidavits advocating for an audit of Michigan's presidential election results.

In 2022, a Democratic ticket of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel will be up for reelection, and every seat in the state Legislature will be on the ballot.

Despite lingering claims of election fraud that remain unsubstantiated, President Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, over Trump in November. Bipartisan boards of canvassers, a series of court rulings and dozens of audits performed by election officials have reinforced the outcome.

Still, some Michigan Republicans want a review of the equipment and ballots used in the election, similar to what is happening in Arizona's Maricopa County. The idea was touted during a Saturday gathering of hundreds of Trump supporters in Antrim County.

State Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord, who attended the event, said he expects a proposal calling for an audit to be introduced in the state Legislature later this week. Borton said he thinks there's an appetite in Lansing for attempting to require an audit.

"I was told that something is coming," the legislator said.

Michigan Democrats and election officials are concerned that any such audit could compromise equipment and be used to further erode trust in the state's voting system.

Election officials already conducted a risk-limiting audit exercise, which re-examined more than 18,000 ballots and performed procedural audits in more than 200 randomly selected precincts across the state. The reviews included hand counts of all votes cast in the precincts in the U.S. Senate race.

Abby Walls, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, focused on the Senate GOP's 39-bill election law package when asked Monday about the possibility of an audit.

"The Senate Oversight Committee prosecuted a thorough review of the 2020 elections, giving rise to the 39 election improvement bills before the Senate Elections Committee," Walls said. "We will continue to take up those bills and make any necessary improvements to restore confidence in our elections system."

Roe, who has faced criticism from some Trump supporters for past statements on the former president, described the party as a "big tent" with "a lot of people with a lot of different views."

"Our focus is on 2022," he said of the state GOP. "To the degree we're focused on 2020, it is fixing the law and the rules so that things that happened in 2020 don't happen again."

Roe made the comments during a Monday press conference focused on the Michigan Republican Party's formal complaint filed with the Michigan Bureau of Elections Friday on the arrangement that funded Whitmer's trip to Florida to visit her father in March.

The trip was for the governor's personal benefit and campaign money shouldn't have been involved, Roe said.

The Whitmer for Governor candidate committee plans to pay for the $27,521 flight to and from Lansing and West Palm Beach March 12 and March 15. Whitmer intends to personally reimburse her campaign for the cost of a first-class ticket for herself and her two daughters, who accompanied her on the return flight.

Whitmer campaign attorney Christopher Trebilcock has maintained the governor's candidate committee is a valid source for the payments because state law allows such committees to pay for expenses "paid or incurred in carrying out the business of an elective office." Were it not for her elected office, Whitmer wouldn't have to incur extra costs to travel with a security detail, he said.