Hello, and happy Thursday,
Michigan Republicans are quietly moving to replace officials on key elections panels in the state with candidates who have embraced conspiracy theories about the last election, a move that could cause significant chaos in the counting of votes in the 2024 election and beyond.
Some of the people being nominated have voiced racist ideas and expressed support for the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. Excellent reporting in the Detroit News this week lays out how this is happening.
This year, Republicans have nominated new people to serve on boards of canvassers – which play an important role in the machinery of elections – in eight of Michigan’s 11 largest counties. Michigan is a key swing state in US presidential elections and Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump there by more than 154,000 votes in 2020.
“It’s very unusual,” Chris Thomas, who served as the state’s election director for decades, told me. “Hardcore activists aren’t necessarily the best people to be in a position that requires, frankly, a little bit of neutrality.”
After election day, a four-person board of canvassers in each county, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, reviews precinct election results and makes sure that there are no abnormalities that need to be investigated. Once they check the results, they certify them, passing them to the state board of canvassers for final certification.
Last year, the usually under-the-radar board of canvassers became a key part of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in Michigan. Facing pressure from Trump and his allies, the two Republican members of the board of canvassers in Wayne county, the most populous in the state and home to Detroit, initially refused to certify the election results before eventually backing down.
There was similar pressure on Republicans on the state board of canvassers, which eventually certified the vote after a high stakes hearing in which Aaron van Langevelde, a Republican, sided with Democrats to certify the vote. Van Langevelde has since been replaced on the state board of canvassers.
Monica Palmer, one of the Wayne county Republican canvassers who voted to certify the vote, is among those who are not being tapped for another term. “I think this is clearly an attempt [to ensure] that I don’t remain on the board of canvassers because I did eventually certify the election,” Palmer told the Detroit News last week.
Among the three people Republicans have put forward to replace Palmer is Hima Kolanagireddy, who appears to be the same person who appeared with Rudy Giuliani at a state legislative hearing last year and made racist comments about Chinese Americans.
In Macomb county, which includes the Detroit suburbs, Republicans nominated just one person, Nancy Tiseo, for an opening on the board of canvassers. Tiseo urged Trump last year to “suspend” the meeting of the Electoral College and set up “military tribunals” to investigate the election.
Mr. Pres., 80 million of us want you use the Insurrection Act & to suspend the Jan. GA Senate run off & the Dec. meeting of the Electoral College so military tribunals can 1st be set up to properly investigate & resolve the cyber warfare 11-3-20 election issue.@realDonaldTrump
— Nancy Taylor Tiseo (@NancyTiseo) November 30, 2020
The moves in Michigan come as people who have embraced lies about the 2020 election have launched campaigns to become the chief election official in several states, a perch from which they could wreak considerable havoc in 2024 and beyond.
Thomas, the former elections director from Michigan, said that the new canvassers, acting on their own, would not be able to stop the state from certifying election results in 2022 or 2024. But if more “stop the steal” advocates are placed on the boards in 2023, he said, they could cause the county panels to deadlock, slowing down the certification process after the election.
“It can be very disruptive,” he said. “They’ve got a position, so they’ve got a mouthpiece. So they’re in a position, as any canvasser is, to be able to express disinformation and misinformation and media will pick some of that up. It gives them a bully pulpit if you will. It’s a little unsettling for sure.”
Thomas said he would be more concerned if “stop the steal” advocates began to get seats on the statewide board of canvassers, which has a final say in certifying elections. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any developments.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in last week with questions. You can continue to write to me each week at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on twitter at @srl and I’ll try and answer as many as I can.
Alex from Scotland writes: “A European might start to think the unthinkable – is the USA finished with, and as, a democracy?”
When we launched our voting rights project two years ago, we asked the same question: how can the US call itself a democracy if it keeps so many people from the ballot box? The 2020 election, in which Republicans openly made an effort to overturn the election results, has made that question more relevant than ever.
But looking back at the election, it is clear that America’s democratic guardrails held. The person with the most votes in the presidential election, Joe Biden, won. The institutions that are supposed to guard the democratic process, from secretaries of state to federal and state courts, and Congress, ultimately performed their duties. But they were tested. Now some activists and politicians are hoping to strengthen those guardrails, so that an emboldened attack on democracy in 2024 does not succeed.