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Michigan to recount Proposals 2, 3. ‘Fishing expedition’ won’t change outcomes

Tony Daunt
Michigan Board of State Canvasser Tony Daunt, a Republican, called the partial state recount a “fishing expedition” but voted for rules to govern the county-level process (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Officials to recount Proposal 2 and 3 results in 43 counties
  • Backers have spread unfounded election fraud claims
  • Canvassers approve rules in attempt to avoid ‘chaos’

LANSING — Michigan election officials are preparing to conduct a partial recount of abortion rights and voting ballot proposals approved last month, even though the effort has no mathematical chance of overturning the results. 

The hand recount of paper ballots, set to begin this week, was requested by a conservative activist network that previously advocated for "decertification" of the 2020 presidential election and is now claiming "fraud" in the 2022 contest.

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Organizers say hundreds of thousands of dollars in state fees will be paid by a Utah businessman who helped fund national efforts to overturn Republican former President Donald Trump's loss two years ago.

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The group isn't aiming to overturn the 2022 ballot measures — both of which voters approved by wide margins — but backers say they are instead seeking "data" that "will be used to determine future actions."

Critics contend the partial recount is a waste of time and taxpayer resources because mandatory payments from the group are unlikely to cover the full cost.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Monday adopted rules that will govern the hand recount of paper ballots from more than 500 precincts in at least 43 of the state's 83 counties, as requested. 

Canvasser Tony Daunt, a Republican who chairs the state board, blasted the recount request as a "fishing expedition," arguing it is "unnecessary, frivolous and ridiculous" because it cannot overturn the results.

But Daunt nonetheless voted to allow the recount to proceed by supporting rules that county canvassing boards will be required to adhere to later this week, saying he thinks it is "important for us to let people utilize the rights provided to them in our Constitution."  

Under the unanimously approved rules, which Daunt said are designed to prevent “chaos,” opponents and proponents of each ballot proposal will be able to appoint one joint "challenger" to oversee the county-level hand recount for each precinct subject to the request. 

County canvassers will "act completely at the direction of the State Board of Canvassers," said state canvasser Mary Ellen Gurewitz, a Democrat. "They are not going to engage in an investigation of the purported fraud that these people fantasize about." 

Michigan voters last month approved Proposal 3, the abortion measure, 57 percent to 43 percent, a spread of 583,476 votes. 

The recount, as initially requested, would have been limited to no more than 909 Michigan precincts and absentee counting boards where a combined 479,000 voters supported the measure, according to Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater. 

State canvassers on Monday limited the request to about 500 precincts by specifying between in-person and absentee ballot precincts in Detroit, clarifying language in the request. 

That means the recount could not change the outcome even if a review of paper ballots shows that every "yes" vote was actually a "no," Brater said. 

Likewise, the recount could not mathematically overturn Proposal 2, which wrote existing voter ID rules into the Michigan Constitution and will guarantee up to nine days of early in-person voting. 

Michiganders approved that measure 60 percent to 40 percent, by a total of 861,145 votes. The recount request was limited to fewer than 50 Michigan precincts where a combined 38,000 voters supported the measure. 

In requesting the recount, a Michigan activist group known as the Election Integrity Force alleged last month's statewide election was conducted using voting machines that were not properly certified and were connected to the internet, claims state and local officials have repeatedly denied as misinformation. 

Jerome Allen, a member of the nonprofit group, paid the state $428,000 to cover estimated fees required for the recount under Michigan law. 

Some of that money will be refunded because the initial estimate was based on the assumption it would cost $250 per precinct, but the cost is actually $125 per precinct, according to Michigan Secretary of State spokesperson Angela Benander.

Regardless, recount requesters say the tab will be covered by The America Project, a national nonprofit founded by Utah businessman Patrick Byrne — founder of Overstock.com — and former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. 

The goal is to "provide more transparency to what happens in our elections," Sandy Kiesel, executive director of the Election Integrity Force, told Bridge Michigan on Monday.

The recount will show how vote tabulator "machines performed" and may show whether any ballots were "mis-voted" and should have been rejected, she said. 

The volunteer-based group has already been "canvassing" the 2022 election by knocking on doors and asking voters about their ballots, according to Kiesel. The recount data could assist those efforts or help improve poll challenger training for 2024, she said. 

Activists are also asking organizers whether they will use information from the recount to file lawsuits, alert law enforcement or "protest the election," Kiesel told Bridge.

"Until we see the data we really can't know what those future actions will be," Kiesel said. "Hopefully we're not just doing this to you know, do an exercise like when you go to the gym and you run on the treadmill for 20 minutes."

The partial recount is limited to about 500 precincts in 117 Michigan municipalities, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Ann Arbor. There are about 4,751 voting precincts in the state. 

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said her staff and some additional workers will begin recounting "thousands" of ballots from 22 precincts on the Proposal 2 and Proposal 3 questions. 

While the nonprofit group paid for the recount, it still doesn't "come close" to what the effort will cost taxpayers, said Brown, a Democrat.

"It's not the best use of taxpayers' money if you ask me," Brown said, calling the recount a "frustrating" exercise that will spur continued "misinformation and disinformation" around Michigan's elections. 

"It makes people not trust our process," Brown said, arguing the recount organizers' accusations about voting equipment glitches changing the outcome is "wrong" and "inaccurate."

Doreen Takalo, chair of the Marquette County Republican Party and a member of the county board of canvassers, said she doesn’t believe any fraud will be found when the local canvassing board meets Friday to go over results from five county precincts.

She said it will probably take four or five hours.

“I hope people come and observe,” she said. “Come and watch the process.”

The Election Integrity Force in October joined then-Michigan Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo in a failed lawsuit that sought to invalidate absentee ballot votes in Detroit. 

Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny reject the suit, saying Karamo, the Election Integrity Force and other plaintiffs had "raised a false flag of election law violations and corruption."

Karamo and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley — who is accused of misdemeanor crimes for his actions in the January 6, 2021, uprising at the U.S. Capitol — have both promoted the recount in emails urging their supporters to apply to work the recount for local clerks. 

Bryne, the Utah businessman, is funding the effort through his America Project nonprofit, Kiesel confirmed. 

"They just kind of look for places in states where there's volunteer organizations that are just trying to do the right thing," Kiesel told Bridge, adding that "100 percent of what they donated went directly to the state."

Earlier this year, the America Project published poll watcher, challenger and election "integrity guides" for nine states, including Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. 

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The America Project reportedly spent more than $3 million to help fund a partisan audit of Arizona's 2020 election. Bryne has also claimed he assembled the "forensic" data team that worked with conservative attorney Matthew DePerno to examine voting equipment in Michigan's Antrim County.

Dominion Voting Systems last year sued Bryne for defamation, alleging he enlisted businessman Russell Ramsland to “manufacture a fake report" about the Antrim County machines that fueled Trump's attempts to overturn his election loss.

Bryne is fighting the suit, but a judge in April denied his motion to dismiss the case. 

Oralandar Brand-Williams of Votebeat and Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed

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