'Show up armed' to protect election observers, Michigan candidate suggests

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican Mike Detmer, a candidate for the Michigan state Senate, told a crowd Saturday that people should "show up armed" to protect Republican election observers' access to monitor the counting of ballots.

In response Monday evening, Michigan's top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said she had referred Detmer's comments and additional remarks from Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley to Attorney General Dana Nessel. In a statement, Benson said voter intimidation by brandishing a firearm at a polling place is illegal.

Detmer made the comment at an event in Livingston County, according to a video posted by Kelley's gubernatorial campaign. A person in the crowd had asked the two candidates what can be done to "protect people" to prevent what happened at the TCF Center, where Detroit's absentee ballots were counted after the November 2020 presidential election.

The unidentified individual suggested Republican observers had been "pushed" out of the room and police "manhandled" people. Election officials have said they allowed the maximum number of poll watchers, only restricting access to any additional observers because of COVID-19 concerns.

Republican Mike Detmer

"Are you armed?" Detmer of Howell replied to the question on Saturday, according to the video.

The Second Amendment isn't there for hunting rights or self defense, he continued. It's there to protect all of the other constitutional rights, he said.

"The right to bear arms tells the government the citizenry is armed," Detmer said.

"The ideal thing is to do this peacefully," he said at another point. "That's ideal. But the American people, at some point in time, if we can't change the tide, which I believe we can, we need to be prepared to lock and load."

He later said, "You asked what can we do. Show up armed."

The statement drew vocal opposition from Democrats. Nessel, the state's top law enforcement official, said the use of firearms to intimidate voters is illegal.

"Engaging in such conduct will result in arrest & prosecution," Nessel tweeted.

In a text message exchange Monday morning, Detmer emphasized that he said ideally, things should be solved peacefully. Asked what he meant when he said "lock and load," Detmer said ultimately, people have the responsibility to stop tyranny.

"That's what the 2nd Amendment is for," Detmer wrote in a text message. "Worst case ... lock and load."

On whether he's concerned about armed conflict at election venues, Detmer said he isn't.

The former TCF Center, where absentee ballots were counted in Michigan's largest city, a Democratic stronghold, became a focus of former President Donald Trump's criticisms of the 2020 election. Trump lost Michigan by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points but has continued to make unproven claims that the election was stolen.

Trump supporters have asserted that GOP poll watchers were treated unfairly at TCF Center, the convention center now called Huntington Place, by election officials who limited their ability to monitor the counting process. Election officials have denied the accusations.

Demonstrators rushed to TCF in the days after the election, and a report from the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate Oversight Committee described what happened there as a "descent into disorder." However, the Senate committee "found no evidence fraudulent activities were undertaken or that such actions led to irreparable harm to ballots or vote counting," according to its report.

During the Saturday event with Detmer, Kelley told attendees to unplug voting machines from the wall if "you see something you don't like happening with the machine." Tampering with ballot machines is illegal, Benson said in a Monday statement.

Benson said the 2020 election was the most secure in the state's history. She vowed to "continue fighting to ensure all future elections are safe and secure for all voters."

Detmer is challenging one of the Republican members of the Senate Oversight Committee in the August primary: Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton. Detmer ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, finishing in second place in a four-person Republican primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly.

For the Senate, he's been endorsed by Trump.


Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.