Republican James Craig signals support for 2020 election audit

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Michigan GOP gubernatorial hopeful James Craig wrote Tuesday he backs a "thorough audit" of election results, becoming the most high-profile Republican in the battleground state to signal support for another review of the 2020 vote.

The former Detroit police chief's comments came in a commentary in The Detroit News the same day hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump gathered outside the state Capitol to call for an audit. They also announced plans for a petition campaign to require a review of the election, a move that could keep the topic in the statewide spotlight for months to come.

Democrat Joe Biden last year defeated Trump, a Republican, by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points in Michigan. But Trump, whom Craig was scheduled to meet with in recent weeks, has pushed for an audit of the outcome and made unproven claims that there was widespread fraud.

"Open, free and fair elections are an essential part of democracy, and it is important for people to have faith in our election system to protect democracy as we know it," Craig said in the commentary. "That’s why I support an extensive audit of the election results to restore faith and identify weak points in our election systems."

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig answers questions from the media after his meeting with top members of his Law Enforcement Action Team (LEAT) on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. On Tuesday, Craig signaled support for an audit of Michigan's November 2020 election.

OPINION: James Craig says, 'audit 2020 election results to restore faith in democracy'

The former chief didn't specifically state that he supports a new audit of the 2020 election, but his carefully worded column came the same day that a rally took place on the Michigan Capitol lawn calling for one. Trump has made another review of the election a priority in Michigan and criticized state GOP lawmakers who've, so far, declined to pursue the idea.

Asked if Craig wants an audit of last year's election to happen, the candidate's spokesman Ted Goodman said Craig's writing speaks for itself.

The Republican-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee already spent months probing the election and released a report in June, saying it found "no evidence" to prove "significant acts of fraud" occurred to subvert the will of Michigan voters. More than 250 audits have already taken place in Michigan to examine the results of the 2020 election, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office has noted.

In his arguments for an audit, Craig cited election fraud charges against Southfield City Clerk Sherikia Hawkins in 2019 and new criminal claims against a woman who allegedly submitted 26 absentee ballot applications to nine different clerks for legally incapacitated persons under her care. On Monday, Benson said the new charges against Nancy Juanita Williams, 55, showed "in the rare circumstances when fraud occurs we catch it and hold the perpetrators accountable."

Rodericka Applewhaite, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party, blasted Craig's column on Tuesday.

"Without a whiff of a plan in regards to infrastructure, the economy, public health or any other issue impacting the lives of Michigan families, James Craig has decided to debut the re-litigation of 2020 as his top policy priority," Applewhaite said. "This op-ed marks the most detail he’s given on any issue as he continues to keep Michiganders in the dark on where he stands while  feverishly catering to the demands of unhinged conspiracy theorists."

Craig confirmed on Sept. 26 that he was planning to meet with Trump in the following days, The News previously reported.

"I think I've been public that certainly, I welcome support from President Trump," Craig said.

He is one of 11 Republican candidates who have formed campaign committees to run against Whitmer in 2022. He is seen by many as the early front runner for the GOP nomination because of his tenure as Detroit police chief and the support from key Republicans he's already gathered.

Many of Craig's top opponents have previously spoken in support of an audit, including conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores and chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan. Soldano held a rally in September that focused "on the necessity of election integrity and conducting a forensic audit of the 2020 election."

On Tuesday, Trump supporters revealed they're organizing a petition campaign with the goal of requiring a new audit of the 2020 election in Michigan.

They discussed their plans during a rally outside the state Capitol. The gathering drew hundreds of people and featured speeches from critics of how last year's presidential election was administered, including Trump-backed candidates for secretary of state and attorney general, Kristina Karamo and Matthew DePerno.

Jon Rocha, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House from Portage, said he's been working with state Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, on the petition language to require an audit. Rocha plans to submit the language to the Michigan Department of State in the coming days, the initial step in the process of attempting to initiate a change in law.

"This isn't about overturning an election," Rocha said. "This is about making sure that we're secure."

The potential initiative campaign could force GOP lawmakers to again consider the possibility, which has already created divisions within their party. Supporters of the campaign said their plans are to get the measure before the Legislature and for the Senate and the House to approve it. If they gathered 340,047 valid signatures and lawmakers voted for the policy, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would not be able to use her power to block an audit.

Benson, Michigan's top election official, criticized the rally focused on calling for an audit.

"It’s disgraceful to see the former president and his enablers in the Michigan legislature continue to undermine faith in what was a successful, secure election, executed exceptionally well by over 1,500 clerks & affirmed by 250+ audits conducted by professional election officials," Benson tweeted.

Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, spoke in support of an audit during Tuesday's rally outside the Michigan Capitol.

Asked if she believes there are enough votes in the Legislature to require an audit of the November 2020 election, Rendon said she's not sure that there are today.

"But they're changing," Rendon added.