Judge dismisses Antrim County lawsuit that fueled Trump voter conspiracies
LANSING — A Michigan judge on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit over the 2020 election, delivering yet another blow to ongoing conspiracies supported by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
One week after Trump trumpeted the case as he continued to falsely claim widespread voter fraud caused his loss, 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer denied a bid for an independent audit of the Antrim County election results because Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office had already overseen official statewide audits and a local hand recount.
“There is no reason to do it twice,” Elsenheimer said as he ruled from the bench.
Antrim County emerged last fall as an unlikely focal point in conspiracies surrounding Dominion Voting Systems tabulators after the northern Michigan county’s Republican clerk Sheryl Guy initially reported skewed results that showed Democratic President Joe Biden winning the reliably GOP region.
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Election experts — and Guy herself — blamed “human error,” saying she failed to properly update software on tabulator machines after a late change to ballots in two local precincts. Guy’s office later re-tabulated the ballots, correcting the error, and a hand recount largely confirmed results certified by county and state officials.
But plaintiff Bill Bailey, a local resident, and attorney Matthew DePerno spent months alleging something more sinister. In litigation, they claimed initial reporting errors were the result of “technical manipulation” of Dominion voting machines.
Dominion has filed billion dollar defamation lawsuits against several Trump loyalists, including attorneys Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and businessman Mike Lindell, who has featured DePerno in his online video series alleging a global conspiracy to rig the election.
Elsenheimer, a Republican who previously served in the state Legislature and cabinet of former Gov. Rick Snyder, made clear in his Monday opinion that he was not ruling on the facts or evidence in the case.
“Nor am I saying the processing of election data here wasn’t corrupted or corruptible,” he added.
But by requesting an independent audit, Deperno and Bailey were asking for a form of relief he could not grant, the judge said.
“There is no right, either in the constitution or the statute, for the independent audit that Mr. Bailey seeks,” Elsenheimer said.
The Michigan Constitution, as amended by voters in 2018, specifies that all electors have the right to have the results of a statewide election audited “in such a manner as prescribed by law.” And Michigan law, updated by lawmakers in late 2018, prescribes that the Secretary of State and local county clerks are in charge of that process, Elsenheimer noted.
More than 250 audits were conducted in Michigan following the 2020 election, according to Benson, who said last month those official reviews produced “concrete evidence that November’s election was fair, secure and accurate, and that the results reflect the will of Michigan voters.”
It’s not immediately clear if Bailey and DePerno will appeal Monday’s ruling, which for now will prevent the kind of independent audit that is ongoing in Maricopa County, Arizona, another swing state that Biden narrowly won in 2020.
DePerno did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
In a statement, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the ruling “should be the nail in the coffin for any remaining conspiracy theories surrounding the outcome of the Nov. 3 general election.”
“Time and time again, people have filed frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to undermine the integrity of our democratic process in Michigan,” Nessel said. “I applaud the court for correctly concluding that there was no relief that could properly be granted on the claims presented."
Elsenheimer previously allowed plaintiffs to conduct a “forensic audit” of an Antrim County voting machine, and the case has made Bailey and Deperno well-known on right-wing media channels like Newsmax, which recently ran a segment on their tabulator claims.
Trump praised the “bombshell” lawsuit last week, alleging in a statement that his votes were “intentionally switched” to Biden. “If a thief robs a jewelry store of all of its diamonds (the 2020 Presidential Election), the diamonds must be returned,” the former president said.
The Michigan Bureau of Elections led a hand recount of ballots in Antrim County, which was open to the public and streamed online. It showed a total of 9,759 votes for Trump and 5,959 for Biden — a net change of 12 votes from the previously tabulated results.
Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes.
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