Report classifies one-fifth of Michigan Legislature as ‘election deniers’

A protester attends a right-wing rally at the state Capitol on March 26, 2022. (Laina G. Stebbins/Michigan Advance)

By Michigan Advance

March 7, 2024

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—Seven states, including Michigan, that were the focal points of Republican efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election have more than 200 legislators labeled in a new report as being “election deniers.”

States United Action, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to protect elections, issued the report Thursday using data collected  with the assistance of Penn State University’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy. It found 202 “election deniers” currently serving as state legislators in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“In our decentralized election system, state legislators have immense power to shape voting procedures and election administration. Election Deniers can – and are trying to – leverage this power to erode our democracy. And they’re doing it outside the spotlight of national politics,” said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action.

In general terms, the group identified “election deniers” as those who have either introduced or cosponsored bills that would add barriers to voting, enabled investigations of voters, promoted election conspiracy theories, made it harder for nonpartisan election officials to do their jobs, or otherwise interfered with the routine functioning of elections.

While the phrase “election deniers” is one often used in the fallout from the 2020 election, States United Action says adding legislators to their list relied on research of their social media accounts, including Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and other platforms like Truth Social and YouTube, as well as their websites and news media coverage to gather information on election-related statements and actions.

Using that data, States United Action says it then specifically identified “election deniers” as having done one or more of the following:

  • Falsely claimed former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election instead of the legitimate winner, President Joe Biden.
  • Spread lies or promoted conspiracies about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election or subsequent election cycles in public, including in social media, press statements, or comments to the press.
  • Refused to certify, or called on or pressured election officials to refuse to certify, the 2020 presidential election results or a race in subsequent elections based on meritless claims about election fraud, voter fraud, misinformation or lies.
  • Taken action to undermine the integrity of the 2020 presidential election and/or subsequent election cycles, including:
  • Filing or supporting litigation seeking to overturn the results based on conspiracies or baseless legal theories;
  • Filing or supporting litigation that was sanctioned for being malicious or without merit in the aftermath of an election;
  • Promoting or participating in a Stop the Steal-sponsored or branded event or rally during or following the 2020 election;
  • Calling for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election or a race in subsequent elections after the results were certified, were officially audited, or stood up to multiple legal challenges
  • Refused to concede a race, or publicly supported a candidate’s refusal to concede a race, after the results were officially audited or stood up to multiple legal challenges

In Michigan, the report identified 31 state legislators, all Republicans, who fit within that description, noting that together they make up 21% of the 148-person body and part of the leadership in both the state House and Senate.

Among the key examples listed in the report were three current members of the Michigan Legislature identified by the U.S. House January 6 Select Committee as having agreed to support the fake-elector scheme that sought to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss to President Joe Biden. They were state Sens. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) and Roger Victory (R-Husonville).

Also named by the committee as having agreed to take part in that scheme were former Reps. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine) and Daire Rendon (R-Lake City). Rendon is also currently facing criminal charges as the result of an investigation into potential tampering with election equipment.

The report also took notice of state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), pointing out that he traveled to Washington, D.C.,and attended a Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 5, 2021. Maddock and his wife, former Michigan Republican Party co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, organized buses for people from Michigan to attend the Jan. 6 protests in Washington, D.C. that resulted in the storming of the U.S. Capitol later that day.

The couple also attempted to deliver fake elector ballots to the Michigan Capitol building on Dec. 14, 2020, while the state’s legal electors for President Joe Biden met to cast their legitimate ballots. It was part of an alleged scheme for which Meshawn Maddock and 14 others were charged and are awaiting trial.

Matt Maddock was also among more than 100 representatives from Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia who sent a letter to then-Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 5, 2021 asking that the results of the presidential election not be certified.

Other Michigan House members identified as “election deniers” in the report are: Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) and Reps. Dale Zorn (R-Ida), Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Brad Paquette (R-Niles), Jamie Thompson (R-Dearborn), Rachelle Smit (R-Martin), Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), Robert Bezotte (R-Howell), Douglas Wozniak (R-Shelby Twp.), Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), Gina Johnsen (R-Lake Odessa), Angela Rigas (R-Caledonia), Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville), Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.), Pat Outman  (R-Six Lakes), Tom Kunse (R-Clare), Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), John Roth  (R-Traverse City), Ken Borton  (R-Gaylord), Neil Friske (R-Petoskey) and Gregory Markkanen (R-Hancock).

Other Michigan senators identified as “election deniers” in the report are: Sens. Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe), Jonathan Lindsey (R-Sturgis), Lana Theis (R-Brighton), Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), Kevin Daley (R-Lum) and Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton).

“We have to keep track of the Election Denier movement, especially those who are outside the spotlight of national politics. In an election year as critical as this one, every level of government matters,” said Lydgate. “What we found is clear: Election Deniers in state legislatures pose a real threat. Among other things, they’re introducing legislation that undermines our free and fair elections, and they’re eroding public trust by pushing conspiracy theories and lies.”

READ MORE: Rough 3 years for Michiganders who tried to overturn 2020 election

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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