By: - September 9, 2022 12:59 pm

Ex-state Sen. Patrick Colbeck speaks at a right-wing rally calling for a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election at the Michigan Capitol, Oct. 12, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

Michigan’s top elections official is taking a no-tolerance approach following reports that GOP leaders encouraged prospective poll workers during a training session to break the rules.

“Let me be abundantly clear: I will not tolerate anyone interfering with our elections or disrupting the voting process,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in a tweet. “We welcome and encourage citizens from all parties to work as poll workers, but anyone found breaking the law will be swiftly removed.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in Detroit May 17, 2022 | Ken Coleman

The CNN report that prompted the tweet came Thursday and stated that during a Zoom training for poll workers and partisan observers held the evening before the Aug. 2 primary, Wayne County GOP leaders encouraged them to ignore election rules that banned cell phones and pens from inside polling places and vote-tabulation centers.

A recording of the call, which was obtained by CNN, included Cheryl Costantino, the GOP county chairwoman and host of the call, instructing participants how to sneak in the banned items.

“I would say maybe just hide it or something, and maybe hide a small pad and a small pen or something like that because you need to take accurate notes,” said Costantino.

When some of the participants asked about the consequences of breaking the rules, Costantino replied, “That’s why you got to do it secretly.”

Meanwhile, GOP former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck told trainees that the rules did not need to be followed.

“None of the constraints that they’re putting on this are legal,” said Colbeck, one of the creators of Election Integrity Force, a Michigan GOP group that has made numerous false claims about the 2020 election.

The group was among the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit seeking to decertify the 2020 election and in July instructed poll workers and observers to call 911 and involve law enforcement in election-related complaints.

Wayne County, a heavily Democratic area that is home to Detroit, was a hotbed of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden. Republican protesters tried to shut down absentee ballot counting at the former TCF Center. Later, Republican members of the county election board almost didn’t certify election results.

The revelation of encouraging election volunteers to break the rules did not come as a surprise to Progress Michigan Deputy Director Sam Inglot.

“Encouraging election workers and volunteers to break the law to satisfy the conspiracy-theory-driven-bloodlust running rampant in Michigan’s right-wing circles just goes to show how far the Michigan Republican Party will go to hold onto power,” said Inglot. “The MIGOP has continued to not only allow conspiracy theorists to have a dangerous hold over their party, but also allowed — and recruited — election deniers to hold party leadership positions. We must hold Republicans accountable for their repeated attempts to break the law and subvert the will of Michiganders.” 

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.