Michigan election denial probe hangs over critical races

LANSING, Mich. — Matthew DePerno made a political name for himself by loudly and repeatedly questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election. It earned him the fervor of Republican delegates and the endorsement of Donald Trump in his candidacy for the post of Attorney General.

But now the political novice is accused of helping to gain abusive access to voting machines and intending to use them to advance the bogus allegations, just three months before voters are due to go to the polls in this and other key statewide races on the Michigan Battleground.

The reliability of election systems and equipment was already at stake in the race, given DePerno’s history, but Michigan political experts said the new charges ensure the issue will play a critical role as the Voters will decide whether to re-elect the Democratic incumbents or replace them with three Republicans who wooed primary voters by pledging their belief in Trump’s bogus claim that he won the election.

The charges against DePerno became public this week as Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel acknowledged a clear personal conflict and called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to oversee the charges against his opponent and others.

The Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council, a state agency, said in a statement that its staff can take 60 to 90 days to review an application and select an attorney. This could mean that the problem is not resolved before the November 8 election.

DePerno released a statement late Sunday denying the allegations and saying the allegations were “purely based on political prosecution.”

During a radio interview on Monday morning, Deperno said that “90% of the facts that (Nessel) exposes, which she calls facts in her petition, are either false or I don’t know what she is talking about.” .

The Kalamazoo attorney is a political novice whose embracing of Trump’s lies about the 2020 election won him the former president’s endorsement and later the appointment of state party members as prosecutors general against a former Michigan House speaker who narrowly lost to Nessel in 2018.

DePerno’s legal career has generally focused on tax cases, with rare public scrutiny. As his profile rose following Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, a March report from Bridge Michigan revealed a series of disagreements with his former legal partners over billing, clients and other court officials that brought some Republicans to question his willingness to serve as the state’s top law enforcement official. official.

DePerno made a name for himself among right-wing activists in Michigan by suing County Antrim, claiming that voting machines there registered votes for Trump as being for Biden in the 2020 election. state senate GOP leaders and raised money to try to challenge election results in other states.

Trump, however, gave DePerno his endorsement in September 2021 and DePerno relied on it to defeat two other party endorsement contenders in April, despite public acknowledgment that he could be among those subject to of an investigation by the state for profiting from allegations of electoral fraud in Antrim. County.

County Antrim’s lawsuit was dismissed and a Republican-led state legislative panel found no evidence of fraud in Michigan’s 2020 election, calling DePerno’s claims “patently false.”

The allegations made public this week went even further – naming DePerno as one of the ‘main instigators’ of a plan to gain improper access to voting machines and use them to challenge the 2020 presidential result. .

According to documents released by Nessel’s office, five vote tabulators were taken from Roscommon and Missaukee counties in northern Michigan and Barry County in western Michigan. Investigators found that other members of the group broke into the tabulators and performed “tests” on the equipment.

“It was determined during the investigation that DePerno was present in a hotel room during these ‘tests,'” the petition to the prosecutor’s office said.

Unlawful possession of a voting machine used in an election is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

DePerno and the others named in the Michigan documents join others who are threatened by law for embracing Trump’s election lies, including a Colorado county clerk accused of planning to violate election materials.

Bernie Porn, a nonpartisan pollster who has worked in the state for more than 30 years, said public opinion was against Republican candidates in several key areas, including abortion and the veracity of the 2020 presidential race. In a May poll by his Lansing company EPIC-MRA, Porn said 61% of Michigan general election voters said Biden won “fairly and squarely.”

Among Democrats, the total was 97% and among independents 66%

Based on those numbers, Michigan Democrats “would be crazy” not to point out DePerno’s legal troubles this fall, as well as the Republican list’s unanimous primary statements backing Trump’s lie about the 2020 result, said Porn.

“If I were campaigning for a candidate against the Republican candidates for Governor, Attorney General or Secretary of State, I would advise them to constantly remind voters that those on the Republican side believe the election was stolen and that ‘They haven’t proven it yet,’ he said.

Even before the allegations were made public, DePerno told reporters in Michigan that the race for attorney general should not focus on “the election issue.”

“Let’s start talking about the real issues that people face every day in their budget and how they manage their families,” he said following a June 30 gubernatorial debate.

Republican leaders in the state backed DePerno after the probe was announced, with Michigan GOP party co-chairman Meshawn Maddock tweeting that Nessel is “determined to take on her political opponents.”

Party Chairman Ron Weiser said he expects the party’s formal nominating convention on Aug. 27 to endorse all candidates previously endorsed by party delegates, including DePerno. He said Republicans “have a great opportunity” this fall in Michigan and questioned the timing of Nessel’s request, accusing him of using his office to target a political opponent.

“The public is fed up with what happened during the pandemic, as well as what is happening now between Gretchen Whitmer and her allies,” he said.

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Foody brought back from Chicago. Cappelletti is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.