Republican Ryan Kelley files for governor, calls for dumping state's voting machines

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Activist and real estate broker Ryan Kelley of Allendale became the fifth Michigan Republican to file petition signatures to run for governor Wednesday, saying "election integrity" is the top issue across the state.

Kelley, 40, a first-time candidate, gained attention in 2020 as an organizer and speaker at protests against COVID-19 restrictions and against the results of the presidential election.

Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, lost Michigan by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points to Democrat Joe Biden, but Trump and his supporters, including Kelley, have maintained unproven claims that fraud influenced the race.

Republican Ryan Kelley, right, opens the door to the Michigan Department of State office for his supporters as he prepares to submit his petition signatures to run for governor on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

"So many people around the state from all areas of the state are not happy with how the 2020 election turned out," Kelley said Wednesday. "It's more than just the declared winner. It's the process we all went through."

Kelley has vowed on his first day in office to cancel contracts with the three companies that provide equipment, including tabulators, for Michigan's elections. It's a promise that experts say he won't be able to fulfill and would lead to inaccuracies in the counting of votes.

However, Kelley argued Wednesday there are questions about the machines and emphasized that Democrats have also previously criticized them.

"There are so many questions here that we need to get rid of these machines," Kelley added. "We need to forge a new way. Maybe, there are electronics involved. But there needs to be a process in place for auditing them."

Michigan voters use paper ballots, so if the machines have a problem, it could be proven by examining the paper records. More than 200 audits, a series of court rulings and an investigation by the Republican-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee have upheld Michigan's 2020 election result.

Kelley said he believes hand counting Michigan's votes is a "great option" for future elections.

There were 5.5 million votes cast in Michigan's 2020 presidential race, and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said it could take months to tally all of the state's votes by hand in all of the races.

"We already see people questioning the results of the election when those unofficial results come hours after the polls close," said Byrum, a Democrat.

The voting machines also produce more accurate results than a hand count would, said Byrum and Chris Thomas, Michigan's longtime former elections director.

Machines have been involved in Michigan's elections, to varying degrees, for more than 70 years. Societal changes that have taken place over that time would make it much more difficult to find the number of people necessary to hand count all of the state's ballots, Thomas said.

"Before one leaps into that system, there would be a number of logistical issues that would have to be resolved," Thomas said. "The first would be finances. Because you are going to need a huge number of people, many, many more people than you have right now."

Thomas's experience includes 36 years as Michigan's elections director.

Kelley maintained Wednesday that votes were once counted by hand in Michigan at the precinct level and could be tallied there again.

"The proof is in the history that it can be done," Kelley said.

Kelley and a group of his supporters met outside the Michigan Department of State office in downtown Lansing before submitting their petition signatures on Wednesday afternoon. Kelley said he filed more than 20,000 signatures.

Five Republicans have now submitted signatures to try to make the August primary ballot in the governor's race: Kelley, Michigan State Police Captain Michael Brown of Stevensville, chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan, financial adviser Michael Markey of Grand Haven and Pastor Ralph Rebandt of Farmington Hills.

The filing deadline is Tuesday. The petitions are examined by state employees and, likely, other campaigns.

The winner of the August primary will challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November as she seeks a second term.

Kelley said his campaign is about limiting government "to the authority that it is constitutionally bound by."

"It's about bringing back the freedom and prosperity that our country was founded on and making sure that Michigan re-aligns with the values that make us all prosperous and a free state and a free nation," Kelley said.

Kelley said he views Whitmer as vulnerable. But, he added, Republicans need more than an "anybody but Whitmer" message to be successful.

"We need to have new solutions," he said. "We need to have a vision for the future that is much different."

Ryan Kelley of the American Patriot Council fires up the crowd as President Donald Trump supporters gather at the state Capitol Building in Lansing for a "Stop the Steal" rally disputing the presidential voting on Oct. 14, 2020.

Kelley has faced criticism from Democrats since launching his campaign in February 2021. He was present in Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 6, 2021 protests that preceded an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In January, he told a crowd in Livingston County to unplug voting machines from the wall if "you see something you don't like happening with the machine." In response, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said tampering with ballot machines is illegal.

But Jo DeMarco of Ada, who is helping with Kelley's campaign, said Kelley has her support because he has provided credible and specific answers to questions about key issues, such as what to do about election integrity.

"Shouldn't they have that in a candidate?" DeMarco said of voters.

While many campaigns have relied on paid signature gatherers, Kelley collected his more than 20,000 petition signatures through only volunteers, according to his campaign. He labeled the accomplishment "incredible."