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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Trump backers want audit of 2020 Michigan vote funded by anonymous donors

lansing capitol
Supporters of former President Donald Trump turned in petitions at the state Capitol on Tuesday calling for a forensic audit of the 2020 election. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

LANSING — A petition drive to require a “forensic audit” of Michigan’s 2020 presidential election would guarantee anonymity to private backers who would pay for the multi-million dollar review, according to language filed Tuesday.

Organizer John Rocha, a Republican state House candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump,  told Bridge Michigan the proposed audit process would be transparent, but he argued funders should be allowed to remain private to prevent backlash.

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“A lot of people have been getting shamed and doxxed” for political activities and beliefs, Rocha said before a small rally at the Michigan Capitol. “We don’t want that for people who are willing to support this.”

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The audit proposal, which organizers hope to put before voters in 2022, is the latest in a series of attempts by Trump loyalists to challenge the 2020 contest, which the former president continues to claim was rigged despite local audits and a GOP-led oversight investigation that found no evidence of fraud.

The petition proposes creating a 16-member audit board, composed of political precinct delegates, that would raise money to hire private contractors to conduct another review of Michigan’s 2020 election, which Democratic President Joe Biden won by 154,188 votes. 

Thirteen members of that audit board would also serve on a state grand jury that would have the power to subpoena evidence and issue arrest warrants for local clerks, other individuals or entities that fail to comply with the audit. 

Contractors would be required to audit every precinct in the state by reviewing voting machines, poll books and paper ballots, which would need to be inspected "for proper ink markings and depressions to confirm that the ballot was completed by an individual and not by a machine." 

Auditors would be required to video record every aspect of their work, but shielding private funders from disclosure is the height of “hypocrisy,” said Chris Thomas, a former state elections director and Detroit election consultant. 

The proposal is explicit: "There shall be no disclosure requirement of the source of the private funds."

The language is “just bizarre” and would allow the audit to be financed by Trump, other aggrieved candidates or dark money groups with “vested interests” in the outcome, Thomas told Bridge Michigan after reviewing the petition language.

“And to put precinct delegates in charge? Precinct delegates are the most political people in this whole state and they do not have a clear vision of reality in many cases,” Thomas said.

Rocha and other organizers announced the petition drive in October but took more than two months to finalize proposed language, a process marked by infighting and accusations among grassroots activists. 

Organizers filed their proposed language with the Michigan Bureau of Elections on Tuesday and hope to begin circulating petitions early next year. They’ll need at least 340,047 voter signatures to send the initiative to the Legislature, where lawmakers would have 40 days to enact it or send it to the 2022 ballot. 

The proposal follows a similar audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, conducted by a private firm called Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO had echoed Trump’s call to “#StopTheSteal” before he was hired by Senate Republicans in that state. 

The Maricopa County audit, which reviewed 2 million ballots and affirmed Biden’s win in Arizona, was primarily paid for by private sources. It reportedly cost $9 million and took six months to complete. 

The proposed statewide audit in Michigan would be a much larger undertaking.

It would require a hand review of 5.5 million paper ballots, election equipment, data servers and a bevy of detailed information that the state’s 1,500 local election officials would be required to provide, including a log of any companies licensed to print ballots and ballot formatting data. 

Rocha estimated the 2020 Michigan election review could cost $25 million. And if approved by voters in 2022, the “forensic audit” would not begin until late that year and experts say it could take months or even years to complete. 

Supporters contend it is a necessary and important process to assuage lingering doubts about election integrity. 

“We have a system ripe for fraud, and we need to investigate it and see what worked and what didn’t work in the last election,” said state Rep. Steve Carra, a Three Rivers Republican and Trump-endorsed Congressional candidate. 

Michigan election officials from both major political parties already conducted more than 250 local audits of the 2020 contest. A Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee spent months investigating the election but found there was no evidence of major fraud and said voters should trust the results. 

Still, Trump has continued to question the results, and supporters have fought on his behalf. 

In addition to the proposed audit, Michigan activists are "canvassing” the state, knocking on doors to ask voters about their 2020 ballots. They're on the search for "phantom voters" or "ghost voters," organizers said in October. 

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The former president, meanwhile, has been working to reshape the Michigan Legislature and topple Lansing's power structure after Republican leadership refused his requests to block Electoral College certification in 2020. 

Trump has already 10 candidates for the Michigan Legislature and thrown his weight behind Republican state Rep. Matt Maddock's campaign to be the next House Speaker

Trump also endorsed 2020 election skeptics Matt DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for Secretary of State – Michigan's top election official. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat up for re-election next year, said her Bureau of Elections staff will process the audit petition in an “unbiased manner,” just as it would with any other submission.

But she panned continued critics of the 2020 election.

“Over a year into this grift, their goal is now clear,” Benson said in a statement. 

“They no longer want only to change the outcome of the 2020 election, but to also undermine citizens’ faith in our democracy and dissuade them from being engaged and informed voters in future elections.”

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