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Trump activists seek Michigan vote forensic audit. Next stop: ‘revolution’

Matthew DePerno, Jon Rocha
Republican attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, left, and congressional candidate Jon Rocha discuss their pending petition drive at a Capitol rally to demand a “forensic audit” of Michigan’s 2020 election. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Update: Who’s at door? It may be Trump loyalists, hunting for Michigan ‘ghost voters’

LANSING — Michigan supporters of former President Donald Trump are preparing a petition drive to try and force a third-party "forensic audit" of the 2020 election, a process that could take months to complete and cost $10 million.

Republican congressional candidate Jon Rocha and Michigan GOP Coalitions Vice Chair Tami Carlone announced the pending Audit MI petition drive Tuesday at a state Capitol rally that Trump had personally promoted but did not attend.

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"This is how a revolution starts," Rocha told a crowd of roughly 1,000 activists, several holding signs declaring "Trump won" despite his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden. 

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Top Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature have resisted Trump's continued calls for an Arizona-style audit of the state's 2020 election after a GOP-led Senate Oversight probe debunked several election conspiracies and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud here.

But conservative activists now seek to collect at least 340,047 voter signatures to put an audit initiative before lawmakers and demand GOP leadership allow a vote, Rocha told reporters.

"Unfortunately, that's where we're at," said Rocha, who lives in Portage. "So our job is to put this legislation on the board."

Organizers are finalizing petition language with Trump-endorsed state attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno. The Republican lawyer filed a failed lawsuit alleging that a clerk error in rural Antrim County was evidence of a vast global conspiracy theory involving Dominion voting machines.

Speaking at the rally Tuesday, DePerno accused legislators of "hiding" inside the Capitol to avoid activists seeking another election review. 

In fact, he spoke in front of a largely empty building as many lawmakers attended the funeral of state Rep. Andrea Schroeder, who died last week.

"They don't want to hear your redress of grievances," DePerno suggested. "They don't care."

Activists
Activists rally at the Michigan Capitol to demand a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who Dominion has threatened with a potential lawsuit for spreading "lies" about the voting machines used in dozens of Michigan counties and many other states, is also helping review the draft petition language, according to Rocha. 

And state Rep. Steve Carra, a Three Rivers Republican who Trump has endorsed for Congress in an attempt to unseat longtime GOP Rep. Fred Upton, used his taxpayer-funded office to request draft language from the Legislative Services Bureau, Rocha said.

The proposed audit would be the latest in a series of partisan reviews that have ultimately served to "reduce voter confidence and delegitimize elections" in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina, said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. 

"And of course these all follow the massive failure in Arizona, where given eight months, full access and millions of dollars and a margin 1/15th that of Michigan, they couldn't find any fraud," said Becker, whose nonprofit aims to improve voter confidence, participation and election administration.

"The grifters who are pushing this effort in Michigan are part of a pattern that we're seeing in other states," Becker told Bridge Michigan by phone.

Tuesday’s audit rally, which Trump had urged his supporters to attend, was at least the second of its kind at the Michigan Capitol. It featured a who’s who of activists who continue to question 2020 election results certified by Congress on Jan. 6 hours after riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Speakers included DePerno, Carra, Colbeck, Trump-endorsed Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo and state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, who reportedly wore a QAnon conspiracy theory button to the rally.

Former Troy Mayor Janice Daniels, who was recalled by local voters in 2012 after making homophobic comments and rejecting federal funds for a transit center, served as emcee at the event, organized by a group called the Election Integrity Force and Fund.

At one point, Daniels told attendees it was "possible" that Trump may phone in to speak at the rally. He did not.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, blasted the event, calling it "disgraceful" that Trump and a handful of state lawmakers "continue to undermine faith in what was a successful, secure election."

Benson has championed more than 250 local audits conducted by election officials that confirmed results of the 2020 contest, which was administered at the local level by more than 1,500 clerks, including many Republicans.

"I have faith that the people of Michigan will see through this charade and that voters on both sides of the aisle will continue to believe in their voices, their votes and their authority to hold their elected officials accountable," she said.

Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel on Monday announced new election fraud charges against three individuals accused of wrongdoing in 2020, calling the pending prosecutions proof that Michigan laws are sufficient to protect against ballot crimes.  

Republicans in the Michigan Senate last week advanced legislation that would tighten voter ID rules and other election laws, and the state GOP is backing an election reform petition drive that aims to circumvent a promised veto by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

But Republican legislative leaders have shown little interest in ordering -— or paying for — the kind of forensic audit in Maricopa County Arizona that ultimately affirmed Democratic Joe Biden's win there. 

"The House Oversight Committee did a very thorough job last year listening to people’s concerns about the 2020 election and looking into claims of irregularities," said House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell.

"They gave this Legislature a significant list of verifiable problems that need to be addressed, and we are working on those issues now... and that is where our focus will stay."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's office did not reply to a request for comment on Tuesday, but the Clarklake Republican has touted the Oversight Committee report that dispelled 2020 election myths. In a Friday radio interview, he called it "the best review of the election process of any state, including the $10 million that was spent on an audit review in Arizona."

Organizers have not yet released language of their pending petition, but Rocha said the initiative will propose creating a committee of 16 precinct delegates — who would apply and then be randomly selected — to select a third-party company to conduct the audit. 

Rocha said the committee could decide to hire a firm like Cyber Ninjas, which conducted the Arizona audit that was rebuked by election officials but has spurred copy cats across the country.

Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes, and Rocha estimated it would cost another statewide audit would cost between $6 million and $10 million, including a hand recount and “forensic” examination of a record 5.6 million ballots cast by voters last year.

Private funders may help pay for the audit and will help fund the petition drive, Rocha said, declining to name potential donors.

Becker said Cyber Ninjas has "zero" expertise in election administration, and it showed in its Arizona report, which "made false accusations" and mischaracterized ballots but ultimately confirmed Biden's narrow win there.

There really is "no such thing" as a "forensic audit," said Becker, who worked as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Section under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"They are really just two words that people put together because they thought they sounded good."

The Audit MI committee plans to submit petition language to the Michigan Secretary of State in short order and hopes to begin collecting signatures as soon as mid-November. 

Organizers would then have 180 days to collect voter signatures, meaning the earliest they could send the initiative language to the Michigan Legislature would be next summer. 

If the Legislature declines to take up the initiative, it could end up on the 2022 ballot for voters to decide. It's likely the audit would not be completed until more than two full years after the 2022 election. 

"If something’s broke, you've got to find out, whether it's ten years from now or three months from now," Rocha said. 

"Talk to anyone on the conservative side, and this is their No. 1 issue."

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