Michigan GOP activists bring push for election audit to lawmakers' offices

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The campaign for an audit of Michigan's 2020 presidential election rolled into the state Capitol Thursday as demonstrators delivered thousands of affidavits calling for another review of the vote to lawmakers' offices.

The event, which drew about 300 people, spotlighted the continued frustration some GOP activists feel about former President Donald Trump's loss to Democrat Joe Biden seven months ago and the direct pressure Republican legislators are facing from a segment of the party's base to do something about it.

Organizers lined up boxes of the affidavits along the sidewalk that leads from the House office building to the entrance that House members use to go into the Capitol for session. As lawmakers walked the path, some demonstrators shouted at them, urging them to support an audit.

"It would be nice if they actually listened to the public once in a while," said Rosanne Ponkowski, president of the Michigan Conservative Coalition.

Various conservative groups begin gathering several boxes containing notarized affidavits, seeking an audit of the 2020 election before they are delivered inside the state capitol, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Lansing.

Ponkowski's group led the effort to collect thousands of signed affidavits — the total was said to be around 4,000 to 7,000 — demanding "a complete audit of the statewide election results and all votes, machines and software." Arizona Senate Republicans launched a similar review of the 2020 vote in their state's largest county, Maricopa County.

So far, most GOP legislative leaders in Michigan have voiced little interest in pursuing an audit here. Trump lost Michigan by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points. Court rulings, dozens of past audits by election officials and bipartisan boards of canvassers have all reinforced the outcome despite continued unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud by the former president and his supporters.

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Michigan election officials have already conducted more than 250 audits of the November vote.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections and local election officials also examined absentee counting boards in four large municipalities, including Detroit, and conducted a risk-limiting audit exercise. In it, more than 18,000 ballots from across the state were randomly selected to be tallied. In the sample of ballots reviewed, Biden received 50% and Trump received 48%, nearly mirroring the official numbers that found Biden won 51%-48%.

"Enough is enough," Benson said of the GOP audit push. "Every elected official should be calling this out for what it is: an unscrupulous, un-American effort to perpetuate a lie — the Big Lie."

Participants in the so-called "Let Freedom Ring" prayer rally gathered Thursday on the Capitol lawn to listen to speakers before carrying documents requesting an audit into the building.

Several boxes with two in the foreground bound for Sen. Mike Shirkey's office contain notarized affidavits seeking an audit of the 2020 election on  Thursday, June 18, 2021.

Senate Republicans set up boxes labeled "document drop-off" in a meeting room across from Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's office. There, Anita Christopher of Grand Rapids and Lana Kristal of Bingham Farms left affidavits for Senate Oversight Chairman Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan. Kristal said she wasn't satisfied with the reviews of the 2020 election that have already taken place.

Kristal contended that a so-called "forensic audit" would look at voter files, machines and the chain of custody of ballots.

"The narrative that there has been an audit in the state of Michigan is a total false narrative," she contended.

"This is not about Donald Trump and Joe Biden," she added. "This is about the fact that we the people have the right to ask for a full forensic audit."

Thursday's rally featured speeches by former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Republican from Canton, and attorney Matthew DePerno, who has led the effort to challenge results in northern Michigan's Antrim County, where human errors led to incorrect unofficial results in initial tallies.

Dominion Voting Systems, the company whose election equipment was used in a majority of Michigan's counties, has accused Colbeck of waging a "disinformation campaign." And a judge denied DePerno's suit in Antrim County last month.

"This is going to send a message to every one of them," DePerno said of Thursday's event. "I'll tell you what else is going to send a message: the audit in Arizona."

It remains unclear how many Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature are interested in an audit. But state Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, and Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, briefly attended Thursday's event.

"This is a job for the Legislature. It's not the party's responsibility," Meshawn Maddock said when asked if she supports an audit in her role with the state party.

"Do I think we're going to have an audit? No, I don't think we are," she added at another point.

State Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township, who chairs the House Elections Committee, didn't directly answer questions about a potential audit as she walked past demonstrators into the Capitol.

Some demonstrators shouted at lawmakers, urging them to endorse an audit.

"Whose side are you all on?" one participant yelled at one point.

Michigan Rep. Gary Eisen gives a thumbs up after a demonstrator asked him to give a thumbs up if he wanted an audit of the 2020 election, Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Lansing.

On Wednesday, Shirkey said he's been "watching carefully" an effort to audit the election in Arizona's largest county but he didn't commit on whether he supports something similar in his state.

Shirkey said the push for an audit in Michigan is an "indication of the continued concern” about the integrity of the election. However, the Clarklake Republican added that he believes because of the work of the Senate Oversight Committee, "many of those concerns will be put to bed." The committee's chairman, McBroom, is expected to release a report on the election next week.

“People are passionate about it," Shirkey said of the audit idea. "And so we’ve got to let them have their opportunity to voice their concern."