Michigan county board to consider unproven theory of 'manipulated' election results

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

The board of commissioners in a Michigan county that former President Donald Trump easily won will consider Tuesday whether to formally request an audit of its election results, including whether an "unauthorized computer" manipulated the numbers.

The Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners is contemplating sending Jonathan Brater, the state elections director, a letter seeking a hand recount of its ballots in the 2020 presidential race, according to a meeting packet posted on the county's website.

The proposed letter says the audit should explore one of the ongoing and unproven conspiracy theories about the November vote: "whether there is any evidence that any unauthorized computer actually manipulated the actual presidential election vote tally within Cheboygan County."

Former President Donald Trump

"As commissioners, we have heard from many of our constituents expressing concerns/questions related to the November 3, 2020 election," says the proposed letter from John Wallace, chairman of the county board. "We believe we have a responsibility to address these concerns/questions."

The Republican-controlled board plans to consider whether to send the letter during a meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

It's unclear how the Michigan Bureau of Elections, which falls under the leadership of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, would handle a potential audit request from Cheboygan County, a 25,000-person county at the top of the Lower Peninsula. A spokeswoman for Benson declined to comment Monday.

The local board's consideration of the request is another sign of the heavy push Trump's supporters in Michigan are currently making to reexamine the election in the battleground state. The Republican incumbent lost Michigan to Democrat Joe Biden by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points. Bipartisan boards of canvassers, a series of court rulings and dozens of audits performed by election officials have reinforced the outcome.

President Joe Biden walks to board Marine One on the Ellipse near the White House grounds, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Washington.

Officials have already conducted more than 250 audits of the November vote in Michigan, according to the secretary of state's office.

Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the potential request for an audit in Cheboygan County was a "complete waste of time and energy."

"This is simply a distraction meant to keep the 'big lie' alive and any county that opts to partake in these audits are complicit in contributing to that 'big lie,'" Barnes said.

On Thursday, Republican activists presented thousands of signed affidavits to state officeholders 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, leaders in the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature have voiced little interest in forcing another audit of Michigan's results. Local officials appear to be more interested in Cheboygan County, which Trump won with 64% of the vote and has become a strange playing field in the campaign to review the 2020 election.

During an April meeting of the county board's elections subcommittee, Stefanie Lambert Junttila, an attorney who's been involved with unsuccessful suits to overturn the election, offered to send a team to Cheboygan County to do a so-called "forensic analysis."

Since then, the county commissioners have been openly considering whether to pursue an audit.

In May, Brater, the state's elections director, sent a letter to the county, saying the board can't require local election officials to provide access to their voting equipment for an audit.

"The Michigan election law entrusts clerks with choosing and maintaining their voting systems and does not provide any authority for county commissions to take control of this equipment," Brater wrote.

The new proposed letter from Wallace seeks the elections director's approval of an audit of the Cheboygan County results. The county would engage "an accredited election auditor," the proposed letter says.

Under the proposal, the county wants a hand recount of its presidential election results, an examination of whether the correct results were reported to the state and information on whether the county's tabulator and software were "in communication with any unauthorized computer."

Unsubstantiated theories about the computer manipulation of election results have gained traction in Michigan after problems with the tallies in Antrim County, which also uses Dominion Voting Systems equipment and is located in northern Michigan.

However, it was a series of human errors that led to initial results incorrectly showing Biden had won the Republican-heavy county. Antrim County officials didn't update all of the equipment after adding contests to the ballot design, leading to jumbled unofficial results. The reasons for the problems and the incorrect unofficial results were quickly noticed and eventually fixed, according to internal records obtained by The Detroit News earlier this year.

A review of the ballots in Antrim County confirmed the official results reported to the state.