Michigan Election Deniers: GOP Plan to Steal 2024 Is in Full Swing - Rolling Stone
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Republicans Are Trying to Seize Veto Power Over the 2024 Election

In Michigan, MAGA election truthers are trying to install their people at key election positions on all levels, looking to “to set things up to succeed where they failed in 2020”

WASHINGTON, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02:  Kristina Karamo, who is running for the Michigan Republican party's nomination for secretary of state, speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump on April 02, 2022 near Washington, Michigan. Trump is in Michigan to promote his America First agenda and is expected to voice his support of Karamo and Matthew DePerno, who is running for the Michigan Republican party's nomination for state attorney general. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02:  Kristina Karamo, who is running for the Michigan Republican party's nomination for secretary of state, speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump on April 02, 2022 near Washington, Michigan. Trump is in Michigan to promote his America First agenda and is expected to voice his support of Karamo and Matthew DePerno, who is running for the Michigan Republican party's nomination for state attorney general. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kristina Karamo, who is the Republican Party's nominee for secretary of state in Michigan, speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump on April 2, 2022, near Washington, Michigan.

Scott Olsen/Getty Images

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — It was around 5:35 p.m. on Saturday when the leaders of the Michigan Republican Party, whose members had spent the day sermonizing about election integrity, realized their nominating convention might be lacking that virtue. This issue revealed itself at an ironic juncture: A runoff to determine who would be the party’s nominee for attorney general, the office that would be called upon to protect fair and free elections — or, perhaps, undermine them.

The heart of the confusion was simple: The order of the would-be nominees on the ballot given to delegates was different from what appeared on the projectors at the front of the convention hall. A crisis for democracy this was not — it was an inconvenience at best and quickly remedied. But after years of railing against rigged elections, delegates privately admitted this wasn’t a great look.

Roughly 2,000 Michigan Republicans had convened to choose their nominees for key statewide offices. A pair of Donald Trump acolytes were seeking the nominations for attorney general and secretary of state against less extreme alternatives. Attorney General candidate Matt DePerno is an attorney who gained acclaim for pursuing litigation against election results in counties throughout Michigan. Secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo is a community-college professor who rose to prominence claiming she witnessed election fraud in Detroit during the 2020 election. Their fealty to election conspiracies had earned them early endorsements from the former president, who — never one to let the inconvenience of election results stand in his way — congratulated the pair on their “incredible victory” three hours before the final results were tallied.

In the end, Michigan Republicans did choose Karamo and DePerno, who bested more moderate candidates many in the party’s establishment had hoped would prevail, as their nominees. The result validated not only Trump’s presumption but also his reason for backing them: their elevation of false claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 election. The outcome was a major victory for the faction of pro-Trump Republicans who deny the 2020 election — and who’re eager to seize the right to veto results they don’t like in 2024.

The nominees for the state’s top law-enforcement official and chief election officer represent the highest-profile efforts to date, but neither office has the authority to actually deny an election outcome, says Mark Brewer, an election-law expert and former Michigan Democratic Party chair. But election deniers are working at multiple levels of government to have their people in place. Last fall, the state party began quietly replacing Republicans who served on county canvassing boards with newcomers, many of whom had sought to undermine the 2020 election results.

Installing “big lie” sympathizers on the boards responsible for certifying results positions the MAGA wing to reject future election outcomes — and to have their people at the ready on Election Day, 2024. “They’re clearly trying to set things up to succeed where they failed in 2020,” Brewer says.

Michigan has been a hot spot for election conspiracies since before 2020’s ballots were fully counted. As Detroit tallied its roughly 150,000 absentee ballots at the city’s TCF Center in November 2020, pro-Trump demonstrators flooded the convention space to “stop the count.” At the front of the mob was an influential pro-Trump activist who’d become a power player in the state’s conservative scene, even if she was a thorn in the side of the mainstream establishment: Meshawn Maddock.

Michigan certified its election results in late November, but election-denying efforts continued. Dozens of protesters congregated at the secretary of state’s house in December to demand their claims of widespread voter fraud be taken seriously. Roughly 300 Trump supporters held their own local “Stop the Steal” rally outside the Michigan statehouse in Lansing on January 6 (though it remained peaceful, unlike its counterpart at the U.S. Capitol).

Michigan GOP state senators gave up the fight last June with a report that claimed no election fraud had transpired. Trump, though, has not — nor have the state’s MAGA devotees, such as Mark Forton, the recently ousted chair of the Macomb County GOP who has admonished state Republicans for not adequately supporting Trump’s baseless claims. Forton told me the former president called him last September to complain that Republicans in other states had done a better job fighting the election results. “What can you do, Mark, to get this going in Michigan?” Trump asked him.

It very much seemed to be “going” from the look of things in Grand Rapids, redolent with tributes to the 2020 election conspiracies Trump and his allies continue to push. The party conducted a “hand-count audit” of the convention’s nominating votes, a nod to the never-ending demand that the 2020 presidential results get the same treatment. Maddock, once the outsider looking in, sat on the convention center’s stage as the party’s co-chair — sounding gleeful, one delegate observed, when she announced the machine counts for the first round of voting matched the audit. Amid the sea of red baseball caps, I noticed many of the Trump die-hards had traded “Make America Great Again” for “Trump Was Right” in the same signature serif. (I, meanwhile, surveyed the scene wearing a press credential issued by the party that read “Whitmer Protection Program,” a Trumpian suggestion that most reporters in the media are working on behalf of the incumbent Democratic governor.)

Trump himself was holding a rally 300 miles south, in central Ohio, remembering to praise U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance in between tirades on the evils of low water pressure. In his stead, Grand Rapids got lesser stars in the Trump firmament. Rudy Giuliani showed up to lead a singalong of “God Bless America,” while “My Pillow Guy”–turned–”big lie” benefactor Mike Lindell took photographs with delegates as he worked the room for DePerno. “He’s been attacking these election crimes, the greatest crime in history,” Lindell told me in praise of Trump’s endorsee.

And then, of course, there were the victorious candidates themselves. DePerno, the nominee for attorney general, had been a tax attorney until he took a shine to election law in the aftermath of the 2020 election. He sued Antrim County after the election, arguing that Dominion Voting Systems had rigged the election against Trump. County officials discovered discrepancies due to human error and quickly resolved the matter, but DePerno nevertheless nurtured the argument into a full-blown conspiracy. Secretary of State nominee Karamo, meanwhile, has claimed the incumbent, Democrat Jocelyn Benson, is “obsessed with corrupting our election process.” Karamo appeared at a QAnon conference event last August and doubled down on unsubstantiated claims of widespread voting fraud in Michigan. At a rally with the former president earlier this month, she promised Trump supporters that, if elected, “your vote isn’t nullified by illegal ballots.”

Trump’s claims are false, but the power of the respective would-be offices to comply with his wishes is real, Brewer, the Democrat and election-law expert, explains. As the state’s chief election officer, Karamo could deny Michigan voters resources necessary to conduct fair elections, limiting the distribution of absentee ballots and funding for township and county clerks, for example. Karamo could also appoint an election conspiracist to the traditionally nonpartisan job of state election director. As attorney general, DePerno could bypass the state’s election administrators to order whatever audit of results he desires. While Dana Nessel, Michigan’s current Democratic attorney general, has defended the state against frivolous election-fraud lawsuits, DePerno could bring those frivolous lawsuits himself — in other words, pursue legal action similar to what he pushed in Antrim County, but with all of the state’s authority and resources.

At the county board level, the Detroit News reported last October that Republicans had nominated new canvassers in eight of Michigan’s 11 largest counties, and the incumbent GOP canvasser was not nominated in at least four instances. The new GOP nominees for those posts included a Macomb County woman who tweeted that Trump should hold military tribunals to investigate claims of election fraud. Brewer also noted that township and county clerks, positions that have election supervisory roles, could also be prime slots for election deniers, though those positions aren’t up for reelection until 2024.

It fits a pattern playing out in other states where Trump lost and lobbed false accusations of foul play. Twenty-one GOP candidates for secretary of state have challenged the 2020 election result. A number of them, like Karamo, are members of a right-wing coalition of candidates seeking to take control of elections in key states, formally working with a group of conspiracy theorists and a QAnon influencer to do so. Trump has thrown his weight behind other secretary of state nominees in key swing states, including Georgia and Arizona.

The Michigan GOP chose to gather at DeVos Place, the colossal convention center in downtown Grand Rapids named for the DeVos family, the conservative billionaire benefactors who founded Amway. One of the clan’s esteemed members, Betsy, resigned her post as Trump’s secretary of education after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that was spurred on by election conspiracies. “We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments,” she wrote in a letter to Trump. “Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business.”

Now, standing among the “Trump Was Right” masses, I wondered how many attendees milling about the building that shared DeVos’ name also shared her view of Trump: Someone whose politics she supported, but whose conspiracies proved sickening. Quite a few, it turned out, proved by the fact that DePerno failed to meet the required 50 percent threshold necessary for securing the nomination on the first ballot. “The election wasn’t stolen, and we need to believe in the election system that we have,” said Aaron Miller, a former Republican statehouse member from St. Joseph County. “How are you going to run an election system if you believe it’s all fake?” Rep. Peter Meijer, the hometown congressman and rare Republican who voted to impeach Trump, skulked around the periphery, unwilling to tell reporters which candidates he’d supported.

Michigan’s nominating process privileges candidates whose positions appeal to the activists, local party leaders, and elected officials who serve as delegates — in other words, the GOP base. John Yob, a strategist for DePerno’s campaign, told me he expects the issue to strike less of a chord with primary voters who seem otherwise fixated on the economy. The worry, skeptics said, is that running candidates so strongly associated with a baseless claim will hamper Republicans in a year that looks ripe for the taking. “We saw how well this worked out in Georgia, when we cast doubt on whether it’s worthwhile to go out and vote,” a delegate representing Michigan’s 3rd District, who was only willing to speak on the condition of anonymity, said.

In the end, it was the establishment who left feeling like the outcome was rigged. After her victory in the first round of voting, Karamo had been allowed to take the stage and encourage the room to vote for DePerno in the runoff. Party leadership denied Ryan Berman, a candidate for attorney general who failed to qualify for the second round, the opportunity to do the same for Tom Leonard, the establishment pick. John Lauve, a former gubernatorial candidate, choked back tears to call the party leadership “amateurs” and express how “unacceptable” the process had been.

At the end of the night, former Michigan GOP chair Laura Cox tweeted her dismay over how the day unfolded. “A chaotic convention, disenfranchised delegates and no unity.” Maddock, the current co-chair, shot back. “Put your drink down, Laura,” Maddock wrote in reply. “Winning isn’t something you would understand.”

In This Article: Donald Trump, Michigan

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