Michigan Court of Appeals rejects Matt DePerno's Antrim County lawsuit

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Thursday a lawsuit led by Republican attorney general hopeful Matt DePerno that attempted to challenge the 2020 election results in Antrim County.

In a 3-0 ruling, the court's panel of judges said the suit made no allegations to support the idea that "purported irregularities in Antrim County 'might have affected the outcome' of the presidential election." Likewise, the panel denied the argument that Antrim County resident William Bailey, DePerno's client, was entitled to an audit of the election there.

 "The statutory language does not allow private citizens to conduct independent audits, and we are not permitted to read words into the plain language of a statute," the Court of Appeals panel wrote in its unanimous decision.

Matt DePerno

But DePerno vowed Thursday to take the matter to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The ruling came two days before the Michigan Republican Party's Saturday convention in Grand Rapids. There, GOP delegates will endorse a candidate for attorney general, and DePerno is running against former state House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt and state Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township.

DePerno has made his litigation involving Antrim County a focus of his campaign. He's been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.

During a telephone town hall to support DePerno on Wednesday night, Trump called DePerno's Antrim County litigation "explosive." However, other Republicans, including the county's Republican clerk, Sheryl Guy, don't agree with that description.

DePerno rose to new prominence challenging the results after the November 2020 presidential election in northern Michigan's Antrim County, where human errors led to incorrect initial tallies that showed Biden had won the conservative area. The incorrect numbers were corrected before certification, and Trump overwhelmingly won the county.

Election officials had failed to update all of the equipment in the county after the ballots' designs were changed. That led to problems with the election software because it was expecting to receive data in corresponding rows that had been altered.

DePerno and Bailey took the matter to court. They have claimed, without evidence, the problems were because of the technology itself. They've suggested fraud and hacking. They've raised concerns about Dominion Voting Systems, whose equipment was used in Antrim County.

In one court filing, DePerno wrote there was a "strong presumption of ballot stuffing." And he's claimed that what happened in Antrim County was a sign of larger problems across the nation.

The lengthy legal fight has focused on whether language in the Michigan Constitution that says residents have the "right to have the results of statewide elections audited" means Bailey himself should be granted a court-ordered "independent and nonpartisan forensic audit" of the election in Antrim County.

In May 2021, 13th Circuit Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, a former Republican state lawmaker, declared Bailey's claims moot and said he "does not get to choose his own audit criteria."

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the "moot" finding but affirmed the ruling, saying the lawsuit "fails as a matter of law."

The Michigan Legislature required the Secretary of State's office to prescribe the procedures for election audits and required the Secretary of State and county clerks to conduct the election audits, the Court of Appeals panel said.

In a statement Thursday, DePerno said he appreciated the appeals court's agreeing the lower court had erred and looked forward to taking the fight to the Michigan Supreme Court.

"I will continue to fight for election integrity at the highest levels and that includes as attorney general of Michigan," DePerno said.

While theories about the election in Antrim County have gained attention in pro-Trump media circles, experts have rejected them. A 2021 investigation by the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate Oversight Committee also threw water on the theories.

"All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further," the report said.

The winner of the GOP attorney general nomination will face Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in November. `    

cmauger@detroitnews.com