Flag at at a Trump Rally outside the Michigan State Capitol Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols
Even as the Nov. 8 election inches ever closer, many Republican candidates on the ballot in Michigan — a key swing state in presidential elections and the focus of many endorsements from former President Donald Trump — still refuse to accept the results of the 2020 general election that Trump lost.
Aside from outrightly rejecting the reality that President Joe Biden won, which has almost certainly undermined public trust in secure elections, having a litany of 2020 deniers up and down the ballot could have big implications for future races.
Michigan is not alone in having many GOP candidates running for office (see also Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania). FiveThirtyEight reports that 60% of Americans will have an election denier on the ballot this year. And the Washington Post found that the majority of GOP nominees for the House, Senate and key statewide offices have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Given our status as a key state in 2024 — and having a trifecta of election deniers on the 2022 ballot — leaves the Great Lakes State among the most-watched on Nov. 8.
Experts warn that how votes will be counted and the outcomes of 2024 races — including the presidency — are at stake.
“Repeated false claims about 2020 have made election denial a key issue in many races this year, including for offices that will play a role in running or certifying the 2024 elections,” said Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program.
“We’ve come to a point where each side is saying the other is an existential threat to democracy. But elections don’t work if people don’t trust the result, so this rhetoric risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if it shakes voters’ confidence in democracy.”
Whoever occupies the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state has significant power over election certification and outcomes. So do members of Congress.
The secretary of state —the chief election official — has the most direct impact on elections in most states. Governors can sign or veto legislation dictating the administration of elections, which could affect which voters are able to cast ballots and more. Executive orders concerning election administration in emergency situations could also come into play.
How much of a part governors play in the certification of electoral votes varies among states, but governors in every state are required to transmit those votes to Congress. If a governor chose to certify their state’s electors with fewer votes, the final say on certification would then go to state and federal courts.
Governors could also be empowered to select their state’s presidential electors in a new way if Congress were to reform how electoral votes are counted.
Repeated false claims about 2020 have made election denial a key issue in many races this year, including for offices that will play a role in running or certifying the 2024 elections.
– Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program
Members of Congress are charged with certifying electoral votes — the process that insurrectionists disrupted on Jan. 6, 2021. After pro-Trump rioters breached the U.S. Capitol, 147 Republicans, including three from Michigan, voted to overturn the election results.
A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Defend Democracy Project also named Michigan’s GOP nominees for governor, secretary of state and attorney general — Tudor Dixon, Kristina Karamo and Matt DePerno, respectively — as among the top threats to democracy statewide.
But it doesn’t stop there. Aside from the top three statewide posts, there are at least three dozen candidates for Congress and the Legislature in Michigan who still doubt — to varying degrees — that the 2020 election was anything but safe and secure.
“Michigan’s slate of anti-democracy Republican candidates is incredibly concerning,” said Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountability Project launched in May 2020 by the Washington, D.C.-based Defending Democracy Together. “Having these types of Republicans, who continue to sow distrust in our electoral system, play any part in election administration could be potentially catastrophic for our democracy.”
Here is the Advance’s roundup of all such candidates running for top offices and congressional seats.
Governor and lieutenant governor
“Steal an election then hide behind calls for unity and leftists lap it up,” Dixon tweeted in a Nov. 8, 2021, reply to a tweet from Trump.
She has publicly and falsely claimed that Trump won in Michigan as recently as May of this year.
Dixon was far from the only election denier running for governor. Other candidates, including Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley, falsely claimed that Trump won in 2020. Kelley was also present at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in D.C. He is fighting misdemeanor charges stemming from his participation in the mob after being arrested by the FBI this summer.
Dixon is challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the state’s top office. Whitmer has said she will accept the outcome of Michigan’s November election, whereas Dixon has not.
Dixon’s running mate, former state Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron), also signaled doubt in the 2020 election by signing onto a letter calling for a so-called “forensic audit” of the process while he was still a state legislator, a popular idea from Trump supporters who don’t accept his loss.
More than 250 official state and local audits were conducted in Michigan in the wake of the 2020 election. Each uncovered no evidence of fraud or election security issues, but right-wing election conspiracists have continuously pushed for a more widespread audit.
“Should Republicans keep their majorities in the state Legislature, and Tudor Dixon wins, she could work with ‘Stop the Steal’ Republican state legislators to pass election-related legislation ahead of the 2024 election that negatively affects the voting process,” Ramer warned.
GOP Attorney General nominee Matthew DePerno has made no shortage of statements calling into question the integrity of the 2020 election.
DePerno has claimed there were rigged voting machines in Michigan, has repeatedly and falsely stated that Trump was the true winner in 2020, said he plans to prosecute his opponent, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, for a number of baseless claims and more.
DePerno was the attorney behind a failed 2020 civil lawsuit claiming that a vote-tallying issue in Antrim County was evidence of possible widespread fraud. In it, DePerno incorrectly surmised that some voting machines in the county had been “compromised.” The issue was, in fact, found to be due to human error, which had been quickly resolved at the time. The suit was dismissed.
The lawyer has also been active in so-called “forensic audit” efforts in both Michigan and Arizona.
Nessel has spoken out against election misinformation and has said that any claims that call into question the security and fairness of Michigan’s election process are “wholly without merit.”
“If Matthew Deperno wins, he would be the leading legal official in the state and could open up investigations into the 2024 election results that would continue to sow distrust in our electoral system,” Ramer said.
Secretary of state
Running to oversee Michigan’s elections is Republican Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo, a former community college lecturer, who is also Trump-endorsed and has said she still has “major questions” about who won the presidency in 2020.
She is challenging Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic incumbent who has repeatedly noted the state’s election process is safe and secure and pointed to the more than 250 state and local audits confirming there was no widespread election fraud and confirming the 2020 election results.
As a poll challenger in 2020, Karamo claimed in an affidavit that she saw voter fraud firsthand in Detroit, but she has not provided evidence. She has also criticized Benson for practices that have made voting in Michigan more accessible, like mailing out absentee ballot applications to all residents.
“The election of Kristina Karamo is dangerous to our democracy for two main reasons,” Ramer said. “As Michigan’s chief election officer, she could change the election process ahead of the 2024 election and she would have to certify the 2024 election results. Should a Democratic presidential candidate win the state of Michigan in 2024, Karamo has given no indication that she would certify the election results.”
Here is a roundup of election deniers running for Congress in Michigan:
Jack Bergman — 1st Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) is one of four congressional Republicans who signed onto a legal brief in support of a lawsuit that attempted, and ultimately failed, to delay the 2020 Electoral College vote to solidify Biden’s win. Bergman also voted not to certify some election results on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to deny Biden the presidency.
In addition to being involved in the Antrim County lawsuit with DePerno, Bergman has also claimed “voting irregularities,” “fraud” and a “lack of security in absentee voting” were at play in the 2020 election.
Bergman also voted against the Presidential Election Reform Act, which was passed by the U.S. House last month to reform the Electoral Count Act and prevent the subversion of future presidential elections.
He faces Democrat Bob Lorinser on the ballot for Nov. 8. Michigan’s new 1st District includes the whole of the Upper Peninsula and the northern swatch of the Lower Peninsula.
John Moolenaar — 2nd Congressional District
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) also signed onto the failed federal lawsuit challenging the 2020 election. He has since accepted the results of the election, with some reservations.
Moolenaar voted “no” on the Presidential Election Reform Act that seeks to reform the Electoral Count Act.
The incumbent faces Democrat Jerry Hilliard in November. Michigan’s 2nd District includes the west and central Michigan cities like Mount Pleasant, Manistee and Ludington.
John Gibbs — 3rd Congressional District
Small business owner John Gibbs is running for the new 3rd Congressional District in the Grand Rapids area against immigration attorney Hillary Scholten, a Democrat.
Gibbs also received an endorsement from Trump before ousting U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) in the August Republican primary.
Much like his high-profile endorser, Gibbs has often called into question the results of the 2020 election, particularly with a focus on the merits of absentee ballots.
“What I want to do, two weeks from now, is win [the primary] by a large enough margin that we beat the cheating,” Gibbs said earlier this summer.
Gibbs pulled out a narrow win with a roughly 3.5% margin over Meijer, who did not contest the results.
Michigan’s 3rd District includes Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Muskegon.
Bill Huizenga — 4th Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) also signed onto the brief challenging the Electoral College vote. He has raised reservations about the 2020 election but has not fully denied Biden’s win. He is challenged by Democrat Joseph Alfonso.
Huizenga voted against reforming the Electoral Count Act.
Michigan’s 4th District encompasses cities including Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor and Holland on Michigan’s West coast.
Tim Walberg — 5th Congressional District
Along with Bergman, Moolenaar and Huizenga, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) also signed onto the legal brief in support of challenging Biden’s win. He has publicly claimed that the 2020 election contained “irregularities” and voted not to certify election results on Jan. 6, 2021 in key states.
Walberg also voted against the Presidential Election Reform Act.
Walberg will face Democrat Bart Goldberg on Nov. 8. Michigan’s 5th District includes a swath of southern Michigan and cities like Hillsdale, Jackson and Monroe.
Tom Barrett — 7th Congressional District
State Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) for the newly drawn 7th Congressional District. Barrett was one of 11 state senators who signed onto a 2021 letter urging members of Congress to examine baseless claims of voter fraud.
A leaked version of the letter asked Congress to delay election certification “in the name of national unity” ahead of the Electoral College’s vote to certify Biden’s win, but that was not sent.
The 7th District now encompasses the Mid-Michigan cities of Lansing, Eaton Rapids and Owosso.
Lisa McClain — 9th Congressional District
Running for the newly drawn 9th District is U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Romeo), who is among the Republicans who supported an investigation into the 2020 election.
She was elected for the first time in 2020, but claimed there were “deep flaws” and “irregularities” in the election process, despite no evidence to back up the claim. Along with Walberg and Bergman, she voted not to certify election results on Jan. 6, 2021 in some states.
McClain also voted “no” on the Presidential Election Reform Act.
Democrat Brian Steven Jaye is also vying to oust McClain to represent the district that includes some of Macomb County and much of Michigan’s Thumb area.
John James — 10th Congressional District
John James, a two-time former U.S. Senate candidate who previously lost against incumbents Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), announced in January that he was again running for office, this time for Michigan’s 10th U.S. House District.
The seat is open after Democratic U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Twp.) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) both decided to run for the new 11th Congressional District, which Stevens won in the August primary.
Like other Trump-endorsed candidates, James has publicly doubted the integrity of Michigan’s election system and called for an investigation into the election results after his 2020 loss to Peters.
He had even prematurely declared victory, with former campaign strategist Stu Sandler writing in a since-deleted tweet that James had become Michigan’s first Black senator.
James is running against Democrat Carl Marlinga for the Macomb County-based district that includes Warren and Clinton Charter Township.
In addition to these candidates, two more have not yet provided a stance either way on the 2020 election.
Those include Whittney Williams, a Republican seeking to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District; and Steven Elliott, a Republican challenging incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) for the 12th Congressional District.
GOP congressional candidates who do accept the election results are: Paul Junge, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) for the 8th Congressional District; Mark Ambrose, who is running against Stevens for the 11th Congressional District; and Martell D. Bivings, challenging U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) in the 13th Congressional District..
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