Muskegon fake voter applications probed in 2020, referred to FBI, Nessel says
- In 2020, a worker for a voter registration firm turned in scores of voter applications that state officials say were ‘clearly fraudulent’
- State officials say they detected the problem, were set to press charges but referred case to FBI as part of larger probe
- No one voted as a result of effort; GOP is now raising issue anew
LANSING — Michigan authorities found evidence that scores of 2020 voter registration applications submitted in Muskegon were “clearly fraudulent” but did not issue charges because the matter was referred to the FBI as part of a national probe, state officials confirmed.
The nearly three-year-old case gained new attention last week as the Michigan Republican Party worked with a far-right website to release police reports from an investigation that included state police and the attorney general’s office.
GOP leaders renewed claims the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump and argued the lack of prosecution amounts to a double standard, since he and his supporters have been charged with crimes in recent weeks because of their attempts to overturn Democratic President Joe Biden’s win.
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Michigan officials counter that, far from a smoking gun, the Muskegon case shows that “the system worked” to prevent any fraudulent votes because the forged voter registration applications in question were intercepted before the election and did not affect the outcome.
State authorities suspect employees at the "lowest levels" of a national voter registration firm were responsible for the fraudulent applications, but it is the FBI's decision whether to prosecute, said Danny Wimmer, a spokesperson for Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Here’s what you need to know.
The case is not new news
The allegations at the heart of the Muskegon case — that a group submitted a large batch of suspect voter registration applications in the largely Democratic city — were covered in October 2020 by multiple media outlets, including west Michigan television stations WOOD-TV and WZZM-TV.
Muskegon Clerk Ann Meisch, who had alerted authorities, said at the time that her office had received an estimated 6,000 applications from a single organization. Most of the applications were valid, she told WZZM-13, but she estimated that "several hundred" had "irregularities," including wrong birthdays, addresses and signatures that did not match versions on file.
Bridge Michigan also reported on the initial state investigation in a "politics tracker" blog post published days before the Nov. 3 general election that officially saw Biden beat Trump by 154,188 votes.
“Any resulting registrations have been voided, and there is no expected impact on any election,” Michigan State Police spokesperson Shannon Banner told Bridge on Oct. 30, 2020.
So what is new?
Michigan GOP officials obtained, and shared with the Gateway Pundit website, police reports from the ensuing probe, including documents showing state police and Nessel’s office had effectively ended their investigation by mid-2021 and turned over materials to the FBI as part of what police called a related national investigation.
According to the police reports, a woman who said she worked for a Tennessee-based voter registration company called GBI Strategies dropped off an unusually large batch of 8,000 to 10,000 voter registration applications in Muskegon, a traditional Democratic stronghold that had roughly 28,500 registered voters eligible for the 2020 election, including about 11,200 who voted.
Investigators later determined that some of the applications were “legitimate” but that others were “clearly fraudulent" or "highly suspicious” because of forged signatures, wrong addresses or other errors, police wrote in one report.
The police documents detail execution of a search warrant at a GBI Strategies office in Southfield, where authorities found computer tablets, prepaid phones, T-shirts, pay cards and rental vans the group provided to canvassers hired to try to register potential voters in multiple cities, including Muskegon, Benton Harbor, Inkster, Flint and Southfield.
Police also found several guns in the group's Southfield office that were examined by an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives but not confiscated because they were deemed to be the legal property of an employee, according to the law enforcement reports.
What does that office evidence prove?
Not much, according to the attorney general’s office.
The pay cards, prepaid cell phones and voter registration forms found at the Southfield office were “all determined to be normal operational devices in (GBI’s) line of work,” which includes political field operations and voter registration drives in multiple states, said Wimmer, the attorney general spokesperson.
“All detected firearms were determined by federal authorities to be legally owned, and incidentally stored in the location by an employee irrelevant to the business purposes of (GBI),” Wimmer told Bridge. “None of the materials seized resulted in furthering evidence of voter fraud.”
GBI Strategies, which did not respond to voicemails seeking comment, was working to register voters in Michigan cities that traditionally support Democratic candidates, and campaign finance records show the group has worked for Democratic campaigns.
Was anyone criminally charged? Why not?
No one has been charged in the Muskegon case, at least not yet.
The police reports show Michigan agencies turned the investigation over to the FBI in 2021 – and continued to maintain evidence for the FBI through 2022 – as part of what state authorities called a national probe related to GBI Strategies.
It’s unclear whether that federal investigation is ongoing or ended without charges. A spokesperson for the FBI’s Detroit field office did not respond to a request for comment this week.
As for the state probe: “Fraud was determined to have occurred at the lowest levels of the company,” Wimmer, from the attorney general’s office, told Bridge.
“The leading internal indication was that fraud was being perpetrated against GBI Strategies by its employees to fabricate work product without conducting the work expected of them, and not in explicit pursuit of defrauding the election infrastructure of the state.”
The case was referred to the FBI “on the grounds of national jurisdiction” because GBI Strategies is based in Tennessee and operates in multiple states, Wimmer continued.
“The decision to prosecute the fraud would be with the FBI,” he said. “Internal business records of GBI Strategies were used to determine specific individuals of interest, but the decision was made to close the state-level investigation after the FBI assumed the case. To be clear, at no point was it determined by state agencies that no crimes had been committed.”
Michigan GOP claims corruption, double-standard
The Michigan Republican Party and its chair, Karamo, are touting the police reports as evidence of widespread “corruption in our election system” and amplifying unproven claims the FBI “buried” findings of the state investigation.
With no criminal charges filed nearly three years after the voter registration application forgeries, GOP officials are also claiming a double-standard given recent state-level charges against Trump and Michigan Republicans.
Nessel’s office last month filed charges against 16 “fake electors” who signed a document falsely claiming Trump won the 2020 election, and a special prosecutor recently announced charges against two pro-Trump attorneys accused of breaking into voting machines to try to prove fraud.
“Those who are in office who have benefited from this corrupt system are not going to investigate it,” Karamo said in a Monday social media video. “This is why we the people must lawfully get involved politically, to do something about systemic election corruption.”
What the GOP ignored, misrepresented
While the GOP claims Democrats won’t investigate election fraud because they benefited from it, Nessel — who is a Democrat — has investigated and charged multiple individuals in recent years.
Nessel charged a Centerline nursing home worker who forged resident signatures on absentee ballot applications for the 2020 election and ultimately pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors, for instance.
She has also secured convictions against a Democratic Southfield clerk who covered up a ballot counting error in 2018 and a Democratic Flint Township clerk who tampered with a ballot container after the 2020 primary.
The Michigan GOP has also made some false claims about the police reports.
In a Wednesday email alleging "criminals have captured our Republic," the state party suggested police discovered "illegal ballots" at GBI Strategies’ Southfield office, echoing a similarly false claim by the Gateway Pundit.
In reality, the police reports clearly state that authorities found applications – not ballots themselves. That's an important distinction, because you can't vote on an application.
Michigan officials: ‘The system worked’
Despite the lack of criminal charges for the fraudulent applications, spokespeople for Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a fellow Democrat, this week argued the Muskegon police reports show a thorough probe prompted by a diligent clerk who successfully thwarted the potential for fraudulent votes.
Meisch, the Muskegon clerk, “followed the law and immediately reported this situation to local law enforcement and the Bureau of Elections in the fall of 2020,” Benson spokesperson Angela Benander told Bridge.
“There is no evidence that any of the invalid voter registration applications in question resulted in people getting registered to vote, receiving absentee ballots, casting absentee ballots, or voting in person in any election.”
While the state probe revealed that not all of the Muskegon bulk voter registration applications were fraudulent, those with forged signatures or false addresses were intercepted and “not filed into the state's voter database," said Wimmer, the attorney general’s spokesperson.
"This attempted fraud was detected because the system worked," Wimmer continued.
"The City Clerk in Muskegon detected the fraudulent material provided and alerted the proper authorities. A thorough investigation was conducted by multiple agencies within the state and no successful fraud was perpetrated upon the state’s election process or qualified voter file."
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