Election integrity volunteers 'afraid' to attend recount after Michigan AG threatens prosecution
Many of the volunteers, seeking to "scrutinize" Michigan's election process in the aftermath of two controversial ballot proposals, melted away after Democratic AG warned of law enforcement response to possible "criminal acts."
An apparent threat by Michigan's Democrat Attorney General Dana Nessel to arrest and prosecute local activists promoting election integrity and anti-voter fraud efforts caused many of them to steer clear of a contentious monitoring effort out of fear of being targeted by the government, according to a Michigan attorney deeply involved in the situation.
Across Michigan on Wednesday, dozens of counties and hundreds of precincts began a recount for two controversial ballot proposals that were approved by voters on Nov. 8.
The first measure in question is Proposal 2, which establishes early voting, expands access to absentee voting and preempts Republican efforts to enact more stringent voter ID rules. The other measure is Proposal 3, which enshrines abortion rights in the state's constitution.
The recount was triggered by the efforts of Election Integrity Force (EIF), a group that says it seeks "transparent and trusted" elections. The effort is unlikely to reverse the proposals, which were approved by comfortable margins.
Still, volunteer election challengers affiliated with EIF showed up to observe the recount, requesting access to look for errors or irregularities on ballots and ballot boxes. Daniel Hartman, an attorney in Michigan who's been working with EIF and closely monitoring the recount effort, said the recount is meant to "scrutinize" Michigan's election process more so than to overturn the proposals.
"There was a great turnout on Wednesday," he told Just the News. "This was a group of unpaid volunteers who appeared from all walks of life and peacefully assembled with short notice to participate in the recount process. They got involved because it was the right thing to do."
EIF released a statement Wednesday night claiming the first day of the recount revealed "evidence of ballot box tampering" without providing evidence. The group's executive director, Sandy Kiesel, echoed those allegations in a video message on Thursday.
While most recounts were smooth, volunteer challengers filed police reports in multiple precincts when their efforts seeking access to the ballots were rebuffed, claiming election workers were violating the law by denying their requests.
In Jackson County, for example, challengers observing the Proposal 3 recount asked to inspect election equipment and to see the entire ballot, not just the proposal section, according to the MLive news site, which noted they were denied because the recount only covers the proposal votes. One challenger claimed the election workers rebuffing them was illegal and reported the incident to law enforcement.
Despite the incident, county elections director Jennifer Crews maintained the recount "went really well" overall.
There were reports of disturbances in other areas such as Wayne County, where a challenger and an election supervisor argued over the recount procedure. The challenger maintained a calm tone but threatened to take legal action.
These incidents were reported to Nessel's office, which proceeded to issue a statement on Wednesday night.
"Recent reports of threatening behavior and interference at locations where recounts are taking place cause unnecessary disturbances and may even rise to the level of criminal acts," said Nessel. "My department is monitoring the situation closely and will not hesitate to act should circumstances demand a response from law enforcement."
Supporters of the recount seemed to read the statement as a threat.
"The attorney general without any grounds issued a press release that she's investigating the people participating in the recount for harassing and interfering with election workers," said Hartman.
He described how significantly less people showed up to support the recount on Thursday, noting sarcastically the drop-off wasn't because people "suddenly lost interest."
"Many of the volunteers were afraid to come because they're afraid of being investigated by the attorney general," he said. "A lot of first-timers were especially scared."
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, also released a statement on the alleged disturbances.
"The local, county, and state election officials overseeing the recounts," said Benson, "will not tolerate attempts to intimidate them, interfere with the recount process, or illegally access any election equipment or materials not explicitly allowed by law."
Hartman wasn't alone in taking issue with government efforts to prevent election integrity advocates from fully challenging election results.
"It is not a crime to question or investigate an election contest," said Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who chairs the Election Integrity Network. "That is part of the statutory framework of every election code in the country."
In Michigan, however, some election officials have questioned the motives of EIF. For example, Tony Daunt, a Republican who chairs the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers, which approved the recount, expressed concern that the effort was meant "to get in and start filing subpoenas or forensic audit nonsense."
According to Hartman, however, the recount is about citizens understanding and having faith in their electoral process.
"All we want to do is look at what's going on," he told Just the News. "I'm not a paranoid person, but the entire system feels like it's rigged and out of our hands. That's not being an election denier. That's being a concerned citizen."