Capitol building closed during Electoral College vote over threats, Detroit elector calls it ‘back to the future’

By: - December 14, 2020 8:44 am

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The state Capitol building, Anderson House Office Building and Binsfield Senate Office Building will be closed Monday as Michigan’s 16 electors are set to cast their votes for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, due to “credible threats,” according to GOP officials.

Lawmakers and staff have been advised to work at home.

“The decision was not made because of anticipated protests, but was made because of credible threats of violence,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) spokesperson Amber McCann said Sunday night.

The New York Times reports that the electors will receive a police escort into the Capitol building. The 2 p.m. event is closed to the public and will be livestreamed here. The Electoral College votes in all states and Washington, D..C., on Monday and electors in other states have reported threats. The votes are then sent to Congress to be counted.

A pro-Trump group centered around debunked conspiracy theories about election fraud, Stop the Steal, has a protest planned in Lansing Monday.

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Elector Helen Moore told the Michigan Advance on Monday morning that she is looking forward to going to Lansing to cast her Electoral College vote. Moore is a longtime Detroit parent advocate and civil rights activist. 

But is the Black woman who pushed back against hostile whites harassing African-American students at Detroit’s Cody High School during the early 1970s worried about her safety in Lansing?

“Hell no!” Moore, 84, said. “I’ve been dealing with this type of mess for a long time. We’ve [African Americans] faced all kinds of problems. Just read the history. This is back to the future. I’ve been through this before. It’s too bad that it is happening in 2020 and we’re trying to complete the voting.”

This is not the first time that the Capitol has been subjected to violent threats this year. In October, state and federal agents announced the arrests of far-right extremists who plotted to kidnap and assassinate Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and possibly burn down the Capitol. The Capitol was the site of several heavily armed right-wing protests both over Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions and to support President Donald Trump after he lost the election.

This month, two Democrats, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson, had threats leveled at them concerning the election.

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Biden won Michigan over President Donald Trump by more than 154,000 votes. He leads in the Electoral College 306 to 232. 

A number of lawsuits in federal and state courts have found that there is no evidence of any widespread election fraud. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a suit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which four Michigan members of Congress and 15 state House members joined.

There were 126 members of Congress total with these members from Michigan: U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) and John Moolenaar (R-Midland).

The state lawmakers are: state Reps. Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), John Reilly (R-Oakland), Julie Alexander (R-Hanover), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Daire Rendon (R-Lake City), Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), Douglas Wozniak (R-Shelby Twp.), Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), Brad Paquette (R-Niles), Rodney Wakeman (R-Saginaw Twp.), Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock), Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian) and Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville).

Since late last week, there has been differing and sometimes conflicting information given to the media about whether the building would be open.

The decision to close the Capitol is determined by the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC), which oversees the building and grounds. The commission has debated banning guns amid threats this year, but has taken no action.

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On Friday, MSCC Vice Chair John Truscott said the Capitol building will be closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns and in compliance with Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) orders.

“The Capitol building is closed in compliance with the DHHS order. It will likely remain closed through the end of the month. (It must be open on session days according to state law),” MSCC Vice Chair John Truscott said in an email Friday. “But other than that, it will remain closed as long as the order is in effect. We are not aware of any security issues for Monday.” 

The Michigan State Police echoed that it was unaware of any credible threats ahead of Monday’s vote. When asked about this, MSP spokesperson Brian Oleksyk would not confirm details.

“MSP will be prepared to ensure safety, but will stop short of discussing safety protocols,” Oleksyk said.

Incoming House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) called on House Republicans who have pushed election-fraud rhetoric to “publicly apologize, renounce their actions and respect the will of the voters.”

“The meeting of the Electoral College should be a celebration of our democracy, but instead has now become a target for threats, intimidation and violence,” Lasinski said. It is a sad fact that the shameful actions by certain Republicans to smear our democratic institutions and deny the clear will of the voters has undeniably created this dangerous, hostile environment. These unpatriotic Republicans have put fealty to President Trump over love of our country and they are complicit in one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. political history.”

Several Democratic lawmakers confirmed they had received notice of credible threats.

 

Along with the electors, Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a few Michigan Democratic Party staff members and a small reporter pool also will be in attendance. 

Advance reporter Ken Coleman contributed to this story.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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