BELLAIRE — As elected officials in Washington, D.C., debated the merits of a second impeachment of President Donald Trump, 750 miles to the northwest, local officials in Antrim County watched and waited.
They waited not only for impeachment results, but for something most county-level leaders didn’t have to concern themselves with — the next step in an ongoing election-related lawsuit, landing the small, rural and largely conservative-leaning county, in the national news.
“Antrim exploded before my eyes,” said County Clerk Sheryl Guy, a Republican, of the days following the election. “Oh boy, I struggled so with the calls, emails and the complaints of fraud, the personal criticism, nasty comments and groups expressing anger and making threats.”
In November, a Central Lake Township man sued Antrim County, saying his constitutional rights had been violated, following an error in the initial tabulation of votes that resulted in a change in some down-ballot tallies, including one to approve a marijuana dispensary.
The day after the 2020 Presidential election, Guy acknowledged her office hadn’t properly updated voting equipment software, which not only showed the marijuana proposal had resulted in a tie, but that about 2,000 votes cast for Trump had been mistakenly assigned to challenger and now President-elect, Joe Biden.
Only voters living in the Village of Central Lake were eligible to vote on the marijuana ordinance, plaintiff Bill Bailey’s home is more than a mile outside village limits, but that fact was not mentioned in court filings.
Michigan’s powerful Senate Oversight Committee held a hearing on election challenges statewide and ultimately stood behind Guy’s explanation that human error caused the mistaken vote tally. The Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections also found no fraud after a hand recount.
Nevertheless, Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists and attorneys working for the president’s election-challenging legal team seized on the error, and it went viral on social media with some falsely accusing Guy of criminal acts.
Attorney Rudy Giuliani, former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who’d been pardoned by Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and conspiracy theorist and attorney Sidney Powell, the subject of a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit, all shared false reports about Antrim County with their millions of followers.
“I’m not sure how it relates to the impeachment, and ultimately we can only really comment on what happened here,” said Jeremy Scott, the county’s deputy administrator. “But we’re absolutely confident in our election results and our goal all along has been to make our residents feel as confident in those results as we are.”
A forensic exam of the county’s Dominion voting machines spread what state and U.S. elections officials labeled deliberate falsehoods, though Scott said many in the community accepted the report as fact.
Antrim County Administrator Pete Garwood has received death threats, as did Guy, as previously reported.
Sheriff Dan Bean said in December his office was investigating “credible” threats lodged against local officials, delivered through anonymous phone and email messages.
Guy feared for her safety, and expressed gratitude for the sheriff’s deputies assigned to walk her to and from the county building and to monitor the door of the Kearny Township Hall on Dec. 17 during a hand recount of ballots.
That sense of gratitude felt especially acute, she said, following the Jan. 6 violent attack on the U.S. Capital building, where five people died, including a Capitol police officer. Another Capitol police officer died by suicide on Jan. 7.
“The Capitol is sacred ground and for the marchers, protestors and thugs that stormed the grounds is a disgrace to democracy,” Guy said, adding that extremist groups have destroyed or damaged the people’s respect for the Republican Party she knew years ago.
Guy said Antrim County’s 2020 election was the most secure election she’d ever presided over, even with the error and the struggles to fact-check the forensic security report.
“I get it, there’s a lot of frustration out there,” Scott said. “People are frustrated and they are looking for a reason to be angry. But the threats — those are totally unwarranted. It’s the wrong way to be active about any issue.”
On Monday, 13th Circuit Court Chief Judge Kevin Elsenheimer ruled the Secretary of State, who intervened in the case against the county and now is listed as a co-defendant, needs to produce discovery documents, though much narrower in scope than what Bailey’s attorney, Matthew DePerno, had originally asked for.
Elsenheimer also ruled that DePerno must produce the names of the “forensic experts.”
Just before 4 p.m., the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for a second time, a decision not likely to be a popular one in Antrim County.
“I don’t have any comment beyond saying that a second impeachment is clearly political,” said Terry VanAlstine, chair of the county’s Board of Commissioners. “The lawsuit, that’s an ongoing thing, and it’s not done.”
Following discovery, which is due by Feb. 1, witness depositions are the next step.
The impeachment vote will have no impact on the election lawsuit, and neither did the official count of electoral college votes — temporarily interrupted by a riot — certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election.
Conversely, the results of the lawsuit against Antrim County will have no impact on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Scott said he wasn’t sure why the suit was proceeding; Guy said she was concerned the county was being used to promote a false, and possibly violent, agenda.
“Hopefully, there are better, peaceful days ahead,” she said.