Michigan election critic floats run for state attorney general

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Matthew DePerno, a lawyer who has been among the most vocal Michiganians pushing unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election, says he's considering running for attorney general next year.

DePerno discussed his potential campaign for the state's top law enforcement position during a Friday appearance on the podcast of Steve Bannon, the former political strategist for ex-President Donald Trump. The interview came a day after Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel's office said it would investigate individuals who spread false information about the election for their own financial gain.

DePerno of Kalamazoo, who has raised money to support legal efforts involving the election and has been criticized by the GOP-controlled Senate Oversight Committee, is speculated to be among Nessel's possible targets.

Lawyer Matthew DePerno, right, poses for a photograph in front of the Michigan Capitol during a rally calling for an audit of the 2020 election on June 17, 2021.

"The real reason Dana Nessel is doing this is she's heard that I'm talking to other people about running for attorney general," DePerno told Bannon. "This is a political hit."

Later in the podcast, DePerno said, "We’ve got to get her out of office, and that’s why I’m looking at running for attorney general here in Michigan."

If DePerno runs, he is expected to campaign as a Republican. However, he has clashed with some GOP lawmakers. State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, last week called on him to be disbarred.

Nessel is up for reelection in November 2022. She was first elected in 2018, defeating then-state House Speaker Tom Leonard, a Republican from DeWitt by 3 percentage points. Leonard and Matthew Schneider, former U.S. attorney for Michigan's Eastern District, are among the potential GOP candidates for attorney general next year.

DePerno's possible candidacy would be welcomed by the wing of the Michigan Republican Party that remains focused on the integrity of the 2020 election, which Trump lost by 154,000 votes in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.

But other Republicans would see his entry into the race as a problem, forcing the party to relitigate unproven and divisive claims about voter fraud.

DePerno has gained notoriety for his involvement in a court case that challenged the election results in northern Michigan's Antrim County, a GOP stronghold, where initial results showed Biden winning the day after the election. The incorrect initial tallies were because of human errors that were quickly identified — the failure to properly update election equipment after the ballot designs were changed.

After the county clerk's office re-examined and retallied the numbers, officials found that Trump had won the county by 3,788 votes, 61%-37%, a 7,048-vote swing from the unofficial results. The changing numbers led to a wave of conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, the technology used to tabulate votes in the 23,000-person county.

DePerno has repeatedly claimed there was fraud in the election, becoming a frequent guest on conservative news channels. In a filing earlier this year, DePerno wrote there is a "strong presumption of ballot stuffing." That claim, like others in the case, has not been proven. A hand count of the presidential race for every single ballot in Antrim County showed Trump gaining 12 votes, a 0.07% shift from the certified results.

In May, 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, a former Republican state lawmaker, denied DePerno's push to require an "independent and nonpartisan forensic audit" take place to examine the vote in the county.

DePerno told Bannon Friday that he's about to file more lawsuits in Michigan.

The Michigan lawyer has repeatedly claimed the equipment used to count votes in Antrim County had been compromised. The Republican-controlled Senate Oversight Committee rejected his assertions in its report on the election last month.

"The committee closely followed Mr. DePerno’s efforts and can confidently conclude they are demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions," the panel's report said.

The committee recommended that Nessel investigate individuals who pushed false claims "to raise money or publicity for their own ends."