Michigan Senate finds no voter fraud. But here's what it did find

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A long-awaited report on the 2020 election from a GOP-controlled Michigan Senate committee recommended that Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel consider investigating individuals who pushed false claims "to raise money or publicity for their own ends."

The suggestion was among the most striking details of the Senate Oversight Committee's recap of a months-long examination of the presidential election. The report was released Wednesday with its main author, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, saying he found "no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud," contradicting months of assertions from some members of his own party, including former President Donald Trump.

"The committee finds those promoting Antrim County as the prime evidence of a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election place all other statements and actions they make in a position of zero credibility," the report said.

Donald Trump supporter Odessa Schmidt, 40, of Novi joins a rally at TCF Center in Detroit contesting the counting of absentee ballots.

The northern Michigan Republican stronghold of Antrim County initially reported that Democrat Joe Biden won the county, but canvassing led to the correction of the results and showed Trump overwhelmingly won there.

The report also delved into controversial claims made after the election, including that hundreds of dead people voted and almost 290,000 illegal votes were cast by absentee ballot.  

While the investigation found that there are "glaring issues that must be addressed" in state election law, it added there is "no evidence presented at this time" to prove "significant acts of fraud" occurred to subvert the will of voters. The committee recommended giving county clerks the ability to remove deceased voters from the Qualified Voter File, opposed the mass mailing of absentee voter applications and urged the Michigan Bureau of Elections to investigate possible partisan poll worker recruitment in Detroit and Wayne County.

The findings from the committee came as Republican lawmakers continue to push bills to expand voter identification requirements and block the mailing of unsolicited absentee ballot applications. However, the report's conclusionsdirectly conflict with the statements of some GOP activists and Trump himself, who have levied unsubstantiated claims of widespread wrongdoing in Michigan and sought to overturn the battleground state's election results based on those assertions.

The Oversight Committee voted 3-1 Wednesday morning to adopt McBroom's report, which was described as an "initial" examination. Only Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, the lone Democrat on the panel, opposed the report. Irwin said the document landed on "some good conclusions" but contended Michigan already has laws in place to protect against irregularities.

In an interview after the meeting, McBroom said the committee has found what appears to be "potentially fraudulent activity" among some individuals who have been making false claims about the election.

"If you are profiting by making false claims, that's pretty much the definition of fraud," McBroom said.

The Republican committee chairman declined to identify which individuals he was specifically referring to. Nessel spokeswoman Lynsey Mukomel said the office will review the Senate report in its entirety to determine if a criminal investigation is appropriate.

Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points. A series of court decisions, bipartisan boards of state canvassers and reviews by election officials have reinforced the outcome.

"Our clear finding is that citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan," the Senate committee's report concluded. "The committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.

"We also conclude citizens should demand reasonable updates and reforms to close real vulnerabilities and unlawful activities that caused much of the doubt and questionability to flourish and could, if unchecked, be responsible for serious and disastrous fraud or confusion in the future."

What report found

The report was developed through 28 hours of committee testimony from about 90 people, a review of thousands of subpoenaed documents and hundreds of hours of Senate staff investigation, according to the document.

It called on Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, to stop sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications, which the committee describes as an act that allows for "vulnerabilities." It also said Benson should begin the process of establishing "actual rules for examining and validating signatures" for absentee voting.

The recommendations came after an exploration into several allegations of voter fraud in 2020, virtually all of which the Republican-led committee dismissed as insignificant.

The committee found "no proof" of an allegation by the Voter Integrity Project that “289,866 illegal votes” had been cast based on a supposed polling of a sample list of 1,500 voters.

The committee contacted 40 people on the list of 1,500 and found two individuals who claimed they received an absentee ballot without making a request. One is listed on state rolls as a "permanent" absentee voter and the other had voted absentee in the August primary. “Throughout discussions ... it became clear that many equated receiving an absentee ballot application with receiving an absentee ballot," according to the report. 

Despite finding no fraud, the committee recommended against widespread mass mailing of absentee ballot applications. It was especially concerned that applications sent to the former addresses of those who moved out of state and those mailed to former Michigan residents who could be registered elsewhere posed "a real and virtually undetectable potential for fraudulent activity."

The committee also concluded most claims of dead people voting were false, but they did find that a clerical error and a timing issue resulted in "deceased individuals casting votes."

One instance involved a 118-year-old man in Wayne County whose son has the same name and lives at the same residence, resulting in a clerical error, the committee found.

The Republican senators recommended giving county clerks the power to help remove dead voters from the Qualified Voter File.

Although it found no wrongdoing, the Oversight Committee also urged clarifying the state law on poll workers and poll challengers after claims of interference by both Democrats and Republicans. 

"There is significant evidence that the recruitment of Republican poll workers for Wayne County encountered significant obstacles," according to the report. "Many witnesses testified to volunteering but not hearing back from the county or being told there were already enough workers. Others testified to a particular moment at the TCF Center when workers were surveyed for party affiliation and only a few there raised their hands as Republicans."

The committee recommended the Wayne County Republican Party work with county and city clerks to arrive at the correct number of poll challengers for each election. It also asked the Michigan Bureau of Elections to evaluate partisan poll worker recruitment in Wayne County and the city of Detroit. 

Election officials there previously denied GOP poll challengers were mistreated.

Antrim County findings

But some of the report's most aggressive comments are aimed at individuals who've made faulty claims about the election in 23,000-person Antrim County,where human errors by election officials, including the failure to update equipment after changing the ballot design, led to incorrect initial results.

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy oversaw the canvassing that led to corrections in the county's presidential votes. A Senate report issued Wednesday said unsubstantiated election claims "are unjustified and unfair to the people of Antrim County and the state of Michigan."

The initial election results reported to the public for the conservative county had Biden winning there by 3,260 votes with 62% of the overall total. Problems were quickly identified but inspired national conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, the voting equipment used in Antrim County and the majority of Michigan's 83 counties.

"Events in Antrim County sparked a significant amount of concern about the technology used to count ballots," the Senate committee report said. "This concern led to much speculation, assumptions, misinformation and, in some cases, outright lies meant to create doubt and confusion.

"The many hours of testimony before the committee showed these claims are unjustified and unfair to the people of Antrim County and the state of Michigan."

After realizing there were problems with the numbers, Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy's office canvassed the election results and later reported the official tallies: Trump had won the county by 3,788 votes, 61%-37%, a 7,048-vote swing from the unofficial results.

The new Senate committee report emphasized that the official results and the outcome of a hand recount closely mirrored the tallies from the tapes of tabulators immediately after Election Day.

Michigan Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said the committee found what appears to be "potentially fraudulent activity" among some individuals who have been making false claims about the Michigan election.

The numbers show "ideas and speculation that the Antrim election workers or outside entities manipulated the vote by hand or electronically are indefensible," the Senate report said.

"Further, the committee is appalled at what can only be deduced as a willful ignorance or avoidance of this proof perpetuated by some leading such speculation," the report added.

The document came the same day a group of clerks held an event in Antrim County to support Guy, the Republican clerk who has drawn the national spotlight since Election Day. Guy had been verbally assaulted because of lies about the election, said John Gleason, a Democrat and the clerk in Genesee County.

"We’ve got to get our country together. We have to reunite," Gleason said. "In my opinion, this can either get hell of a lot worse or a hell of a lot better."

Critics respond

The Senate report criticized Allied Security Operations Group, the Texas-based firm that released a report in December on Antrim County's election, and lawyer Matthew DePerno, who has led an unsuccessful legal challenge against the county. The Senate committee labeled DePerno's claims "demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions."

DePerno and others have insisted Dominion machines in Antrim could have been "hacked" because they had modems or wireless chips installed, the report said. However, that claim is "indisputably false," the Senate committee found.

"Antrim County did not utilize modems or any internet or wireless network to transmit voting results ever," the document added. "This incredibly conclusive fact, along with the hand recount of the ballots, serve as the irrefutable bulwarks against all allegations."

The Senate committee said it was "extremely disappointed" with the errors in Antrim County but commended the efforts of Guy's staff and volunteers who corrected the errors.

"The committee recommends the Attorney General consider investigating those who have been utilizing misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own ends," the report said.

DePerno's website links to an "Election Fraud Defense Fund," which says it has raised about $321,000. In April, lawyers working on behalf of Dominion Voting Systems said former Michigan Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Canton Township Republican and another vocal critic of the 2020 election, had raised money from audiences while "knowingly sowing discord in our democracy."

Colbeck has denied the claim. According to Colbeck, he had raised $30,195 through memberships and donations from his website.In a statement Wednesday, he said he "netted" less than 50% of the $30,195 figure.

"For me, it is about the pursuit of truth, not financial gain," he added. 

The former senator also blasted current lawmakers for not doing more to probe the 2020 election.

"Arizona legislators are pursuing an audit. Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin legislators are poised to pursue audits as well," Colbeck said. "Michigan? Going on summer break and calling for an investigation of anyone seeking to investigate election fraud."

DePerno didn't immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The new Senate report comes amid a push by some Trump supporters to require an audit of Michigan's 2020 election. Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, introduced a bill on the subject Tuesday, pushing a review as an attempt to verify the results.

In a letter that accompanied the new report, McBroom said he is keeping a "close eye" on the audit of results in Arizona's Maricopa County.

"If genuine issues are shown in Arizona’s audit or from continued investigation here, I will not hesitate to ask the committee to consider recommending an audit or amending this report," McBroom wrote.

Michigan Senate Republicans have proposed a 39-bill package to overhaul the state's election laws. While McBroom said he has confidence in the state's results, he said the Legislature "has a duty to make statutory improvements to our elections system."

But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told the media Wednesday that the Senate report seemed to indicate there was no need for changes to election law.

“The fact that anyone could author this report and still move forward with changes that aren’t substantiated or aren’t necessary is kind of mind-boggling to tell you the truth," Whitmer said.

The governor said there's "not a scintilla of evidence that there was a fraud issue or other issue with the election of 2020."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.