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Trump favorite Matt DePerno back in court, seeks another Antrim County audit

Attorney Matt DePerno
Attorney Matt DePerno, a Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for attorney general, appears before a Michigan Court of Appeals three-judge panel Tuesday, April 12, 2022 to argue his client William Bailey’s right to an independent audit of Antrim County election results. (Zoom Court of Appeals screenshot)

April 21: DePerno loses another bid for Antrim County audit as court dismisses appeal

Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno is arguing that every Michigan voter should be able to obtain an independent audit of election results — even if it means thousands have to be performed every year.

DePerno — who’s been endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the race for attorney general — was back in court on Tuesday in an effort to revive his client William Bailey’s request for an independent audit of the Antrim County’s 2020 election results.

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Local election officials initially reported incorrect results that showed Democrat Joe Biden winning the reliably Republican county over Trump. The county’s clerk blamed human error and quickly fixed the mistake, but Antrim County is often cited in voting conspiracies as evidence of widespread irregularities. 

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Last year, 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer dismissed a lawsuit demanding a new audit, citing official statewide audits and a hand recount conducted by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office that confirmed the results certified by election officials. 

Arguing before a Michigan Court of Appeals, DePerno suggested the Secretary of State’s review of the results didn’t go far enough, telling the three-judge panel that it’s the “individual right” of every registered voter in Michigan to obtain a robust audit of election results under a 2018 constitutional amendment.

Because the hand recount in Antrim County only examined the presidential election and not down-ballot races, “we cannot say that there was an audit of the statewide elections at all,” DePerno argued.

“The plaintiff was entitled to a review of the computer systems, the software, any attached equipment, any modems, connections, communication devices, ballot images, the ballots themselves,” DePerno said. “We did not get any of that.”

The appeal marks the latest effort by DePerno and Bailey to raise questions about the northern Michigan county’s election results in the wake of Trump’s loss to Biden.

A Michigan Bureau of Elections hand recount of Antrim County ballots that was open to the public and streamed online showed a total of 9,759 votes for Trump and 5,959 for Biden, a net change of 12 votes from the previously tabulated results. Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes.

DePerno made his argument to the court by citing the voter-approved Proposal 3 of 2018, which enshrined of voting rights initiatives into the state constitution including allowing electors to have the results of a statewide election audited “in such a manner as prescribed by law.” 

An update to Michigan law approved by legislators in late 2018 puts the Secretary of State and local county clerks in charge of that process. 

Asked by Court of Appeals Judges Thomas Cameron and Michael Gadola whether his interpretation of the amendment could lead to thousands or millions of audits of every election, DePerno said that’s theoretically possible, but unlikely. 

But a common understanding of the constitutional language “simply does not support” the idea of an individual right to an audit, Assistant Attorney General Erik Grill told the court. 

That would “mean that no election results would ever be final” and undermine the integrity of elections, he continued.

“No one voting for this amendment would have thought the proposal would result in 8 million individual audits throughout the state of Michigan,” Grill said. “There would always be room for doubt as to what the outcome of the election was.”

The Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee, which spent months investigating many of the claims made about Michigan’s election process, found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election and urged investigations into “those who have been utilizing misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own ends.”

DePerno is in a tight race for the Republican attorney general nomination with Tom Leonard, a former state House speaker who is seeking the chance for a rematch with sitting Attorney General Dana Nessel. State Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce, is also running.

Leonard has pressed DePerno to explain what he has done with the nearly $400,000 he has collected from citizens pressing the Antrim County lawsuit, and this week, it was revealed the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission is investigating his involvement in the case.

The confirmation came from an April 7 letter sent from DePerno to the law firm Plunkett Cooney that was obtained by multiple media outlets.

In the letter, DePerno alleged Leonard accessed privileged information from Plunkett Cooney, his employer, while DePerno was a client at the firm seeking assistance in the commission’s investigation.

"He knows that (as a client) I have no interest in making these investigations public; yet he has publicly called on me to release information, making them public,” the letter states. 

Leonard has denied the claims.

The Attorney General’s office also opened an investigation into DePerno, but Nessel has recused herself from the proceedings due to the possible political implications. 

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DePerno has called that probe “completely ridiculous.”

On April 23, Michigan Republican delegates will vote to endorse an attorney general candidate to face Nessel in the November election, a decision typically made official in a separate August convention. 

In addition to Trump’s support, DePerno has picked up an endorsement from Michigan Republican Party Co-chair Meshawn Maddock, who called DePerno and Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo the “strongest candidates” to address “the stolen 2020 election.”

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