Michigan lawmaker introducing bill to require election audit

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The push for a new audit of Michigan's 2020 election received a boost Tuesday from a Republican representative who introduced a bill to require a review of the vote, the first such proposal to be filed this year in the battleground state's Legislature.

The bill by Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, would create a bipartisan board to hire an outside group to conduct the audit, examining 10% of the precincts in each of Michigan's 83 counties and 20% of the precincts in Detroit, the state's largest city and a Democratic stronghold.

Carra's bill doesn't specifically mention Detroit but says the outside group "must randomly select at least 20% of the election precincts in each city with a population of more than 500,000." The only city that meets that criteria in Michigan is Detroit.

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

The first-term lawmaker's mere introduction of the legislation is a victory for GOP activists who have been campaigning for another review of the state's 2020 presidential election. Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, over Republican Donald Trump.

"I think we should verify the election results," said Carra, who has launched a campaign for the U.S. House in 2022. "It's the No. 1 issue I'm hearing about from people in the community.

"People are framing it as if we're trying to overturn the election or undo the election. It's about verifying the election results. Whoever got the most votes should be recognized for getting the most votes."

Bipartisan boards of canvassers, a series of court rulings and dozens of audits performed by election officials have already reinforced Biden's victory in Michigan. In an interview with WDIV-TV on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said there is no question in his mind that the Democrat had won the state.

It's unlikely that Carra's bill will become law. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would have to sign it, and some GOP officials have said they want to move on to the next election instead of focusing on the last one.

House Republican leadership referred the bill Tuesday not to the House Elections Committee, but to the Government Operations Committee, which is where bills are often sent to die.

Michigan's top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, has said efforts aimed at another audit are attempts to perpetuate the "big lie" that Trump actually won the presidential race.

"Those sincerely wanting credible audits of our elections should be reminded that Michigan election officials — including 1,300 Republican, Democrat and non-partisan local clerks — have conducted more than 250 actual, by the book, transparent audits of the November 2020 election," Benson said last week. "And each confirmed that it was safe and secure, and the results are an accurate reflection of the will of the people."

Still, some of Trump's supporters in Michigan are campaigning for another audit, like what's occurring in Arizona. There, that state's Senate Republicans launched an audit of the vote in the largest county, Maricopa County.

On Thursday, hundreds of people participated in a rally in Lansing and delivered thousands of signed affidavits to officeholders, demanding "a complete audit of the statewide election results and all votes, machines and software."

"If we send it out of the House and Senate and the governor vetoes it, that's on her by that point. Either she's the one who vetoes it or we get an audit of the election, which is what we want," Carra said in an interview. "For us to sit on our hands and not do our part, I think, (we) would be doing a disservice to the people of our community."

A gentleman carries boxes of notarized affidavits seeking an audit of the 2020 election to the office of Speaker of the House Rep. Jason Wentworth, Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Lansing, Mich.

Under his proposal, there would be a seven-member "state election audit board," featuring one appointee each from the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. In addition to those four individuals, the state auditor general would have a representative on the board along with "randomly selected" poll challengers appointed by the Democratic and Republican parties. Each party would have one poll challenger on the board.

The board would have to hire an "impartial, nonpartisan and bonded third-party corporation" to conduct the audit, according to the bill. Within 45 days of the proposal's effective date, the organization would have to begin its audit. The organization would review the state's qualified voter file and examine poll books, ballots and tallies in selected precincts.

The proposal also touches on unproven theories that have persisted in Michigan since the Nov. 3 election. The bill seeks to determine if any voting system was connected to "any network," requires auditors to examine whether ballot markings were made by individuals or machines, and mandates a study of how groups of the youngest and oldest voters participated in the election.

The legislation appropriates $2.5 million for the audit but also allows private funds to support the effort.

Carra said it's "tough to say" whether a majority of the House Republican caucus supports the audit push. He disputed the idea the audits that have already been done are sufficient.

"It's like asking the wolf to count the sheep," he said of letting clerks review their own results.

He chose to propose a review of 20% of the precincts in Detroit because there was "a lot of controversy" in the city's election, he said. In November, the two Republicans on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially refused to the certify the results in the county, which includes Detroit, before changing course and approving the tallies.

Earlier this year, Carra announced plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, in southwest Michigan in 2022. It's unclear whether Upton will seek reelection. Upton voted to impeach Trump in January.

Earlier this month, Chris Thomas, Michigan's former elections director, said policymakers need to think hard about what precedent would be set if they pursue another audit of the 2020 results.

"Sore losers exist after many elections, and some are never convinced that they lost," Thomas said. "When one argument is found deficient, another one pops up. Elections require finality.

"All of the opportunities were available to Donald Trump; some he tried unsuccessfully through the judicial process, while others, such as recounts, he did not bother with."

County clerks already performed procedural audits in randomly selected precincts across the state. The reviews included hand counts of all votes cast in the precincts in the U.S. Senate race. The Michigan Bureau of Elections and local election officials also examined absentee counting boards in four large municipalities, including Detroit and Grand Rapids, and conducted a risk-limiting audit exercise.

cmauger@detroitnews.com