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Michigan GOP reps back Trump bid to overturn election; Nessel urges dismissal

LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to quickly reject a sweeping lawsuit backed by President Donald Trump that seeks to overturn election results in Michigan and three other battleground states won by Democrat Joe Biden.

Four of Michigan’s six congressional Republicans and 15 of 80 GOP state legislators offered support for legal briefs backing Trump’s “Hail Mary” attempt to upend an election he has claimed is “rigged” despite lower courts repeatedly rejecting his claims of fraud. 

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Nessel, in a Thursday filing, asked justices to “summarily dismiss” the legal challenge from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, arguing it is “without factual foundation or a valid legal basis” and would make the Supreme Court “the arbiter of all future national elections.”

 

The lawsuit seeks to delay the upcoming Electoral College vote and prohibit Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia from casting electors for Biden, who won the popular vote in all four states. Biden is expected to receive 306 electoral votes, well over the 270 necessary to become president, when electors meet at 2 p.m  Monday nationwide.

The Texas complaint alleges that officials in Michigan and other battleground states “gutted the safeguards for absentee ballots through non-legislative actions” during the COVID-19 pandemic. It repeats disputed claims over absentee ballot counting in Detroit and asks justices to direct Legislatures to ignore popular votes and appoint their own electors.

In her response, Nessel contended Michigan “did not violate any of the election laws” cited in the Texas lawsuit, noting that state voters approved no-reason absentee voting in 2018. 

“If the Court issues the injunction Texas requests, it will upend the statutory process for the selection of presidential electors,” wrote Nessel, a Democrat. “Moreover, it will disenfranchise millions of Michigan voters in favor of the preferences of a handful of people who appear to be disappointed with the official results.”

All but two of Michigan’s Republican Congress members disagreed. Joining a brief that proposes to set aside Biden’s popular vote win in the state are Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, John Moolenaar of Midland and Tim Walberg of Tipton, each of whom won re-election in the same contest that they now question.

Twelve state legislators also joined a pro-Trump brief: GOP Reps. Gary Eisen of St. Clair Township, John Reilly of Oakland Township, Julie Alexander of Hanover, Matt Maddock of Milford, Daire Rendon of Lake City, Beth Griffin of Mattawan, Doug Wozniak of Shelby Township, Michelle Hoitenga of Manton, Brad Paquette of Niles, Rodney Wakeman of Saginaw Township, Greg Markkanen of Hancock and Jack O'Malley of Lake Ann.

Three other legislators were not referenced in the court filing but support the brief, according to a press release: State Reps. Joe Bellino of Monroe, Bronna Kahle of Adrian and Luke Meerman of Coopersville.

Notably, that list does not include House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, or Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who discussed the election with the president at the White House last month but have said they do not plan to deviate from state law mandating Michigan award all 16 of its Electoral College votes to Biden. 

Trump and his allies have lost dozens of similar challenges in state and federal courts. Texas filed its suit directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing justices should resolve what they have now made a dispute between states.

In a motion asking to join the case, Trump alleged that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “illegally flooded the state with absentee ballot applications mailed to every registered voter despite the fact that state law strictly limits the ballot application process.”

Michigan courts have ruled that Benson acted lawfully, most recently in September, when a divided state Court of Appeals panel found she had a right to send the absentee ballot applications. 

Regardless, “registered voters who utilized the Secretary’s mailed applications for obtaining a ballot for the November election did so lawfully” and their votes should count, Nessel argued.

Republicans back Trump

The 15 state legislators who are backing Trump’s push accused officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia of "rampant lawlessness" and suggested Legislatures should certify their own electors by Jan. 5. 

Among other things, they claim there is no "independently verified reasonable explanation" for an initial reporting error in Antrim County that has fueled a global conspiracy about Dominion Voting Systems equipment. 

In testimony before the Michigan Legislature, Antrim Clerk Sheryl Guy, a Republican, said  human error in her office — not counting machines or software — caused what she initially called a "glitch" that assigned roughly 6,000 Trump votes to Biden. The reporting error was fixed and did not impact results canvassed by the county and certified by the state. 

The Texas lawsuit is “more of a public relations effort than a serious legal filing,” said attorney Steven Liedel, a Michigan election law expert who served as counsel to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

Texas does not  have “legal standing” to challenge election administration in other states, and it is asking for unconstitutional relief: to prohibit Michigan electors from meeting in the state Capitol on Monday as required, Liedel argued. 

Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes, and he beat Trump nationwide by more than 7 million votes. 

“Any one can file a lawsuit at any time,” but the Texas suit appears to be “just a shiny object that folks are pointing to to distract from the fact that Biden won,” Liedel said. “‘Don’t look at the scoreboard, look at something else.’”

Trump, who has spent more than a month repeating unproven claims about voter fraud, argued the Supreme Court should step in to delay the Electoral College vote because “nearly half of the country believes the election was stolen.”

In his filing, Trump attorney John Eastman noted the president won both Ohio and Florida and falsely stated that “no candidate in history – Republican or Democrat – has ever lost the election after winning both states.”

Even if it were true, the rare feat would not prove fraud, but it is not true: In 1960, Richard Nixon won Florida and Ohio but lost the general election to John F. Kennedy.

Trump has reshaped the U.S. Supreme Court with three appointments, giving Republican appointees a 6-3 majority. In urging quick confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett prior to the election, Trump argued it was important to have a full bench in case of election disputes.

“The Supreme Court has a chance to save our Country from the greatest Election abuse in the history of the United States,” Trump declared in a Thursday morning tweet

Legislative inquiry may take months

Despite the president’s pressure campaign, Liedel predicted the Supreme Court will either take no immediate action on the Texas lawsuit or quickly dismiss it, as justices did earlier this week in a one-sentence order rejecting a GOP request to overturn election results in Pennsylvania. 

“If they were going to say that the election was conducted in some way in violation of the state or federal constitution, they’ve had the opportunity to do that already in Pennsylvania, and declined,” Liedel said. “And if any members— including Trump appointees — disagreed, they had an opportunity to file a dissent and did not.”

Michigan already certified its election and sent the federal government a list of the 16 electors who are scheduled to meet at the state Capitol at 2 p.m. Monday to formally cast their votes for Biden.

“The election in Michigan is over,” Nessel wrote in her filing.

Shirkey, the Senate GOP leader who has said an Electoral College coup is “not going to happen” in Michigan, said this week he is “paying attention” to the Texas lawsuit. 

“We hope for swift … action ... in order to provide certainty for our elections going forward,” he said Wednesday on Twitter. “We also hope our Attorney General will uphold the responsibility of her office and seriously review these matters instead of dismissing the concerns of millions of voters,” he added without elaboration.

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature is conducting its own inquiry into the Nov. 3 election, and Chatfield said Wednesday that the House will vote next week to give subpoena power to the House Oversight Committee.

Chairman Matt Hall, who last week allowed Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to question his own witnesses in a four-hour legislative hearing, told Bridge he hopes to ensure local clerks preserve election records and is seeking testimony from Dominion Voting Systems. 

Hall said Dominion has not responded to his prior requests, but the company has offered to send an official to Michigan next week to testify in the Senate Oversight Committee.

There is “a lot of confusion” over Dominion machines used in parts of Michigan and 22 states, Hall acknowledged, suggesting he wants to offer the company a platform to respond.

While the Legislature’s two-year session is coming to a close, Hall said the ongoing  inquiry is likely to stretch into the new session that begins next year. In the end, he hopes to recommend a series of “policy solutions” to ensure the integrity of future elections, he told Bridge. 

“It’s going to take months,” Hall said. “But that's our goal – good policy – and that's why we're approaching it this way.

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