LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democrats hope to keep control of two key Michigan statewide offices Tuesday, as the incumbent attorney general and secretary of state both face challenges from Republicans endorsed by former President Donald Trump and who have embraced his lies about the 2020 election.
In the attorney general race, Democrat Dana Nessel is seeking a second term against GOP challenger Matthew DePerno, a former tax lawyer who is under investigation by a Michigan special prosecutor for allegedly gaining unlawful access to voting machines after the 2020 election.
Nessel, a former prosecutor-turned-civil rights lawyer, was best known for her successful fight to overturn Michigan's ban on gay marriage when she first ran in 2018. She became the first Democrat to hold the office since 2002.
She has campaigned, like other Democrats in the state, on her opposition to Michigan's 1931 abortion ban that was triggered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade earlier this year. Nessel refused to defend the state in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan that asserted the law was unconstitutional and blocked it from taking effect.
DePerno rose to prominence in the party by echoing false claims of a stolen election in the state and leading an unsuccessful lawsuit pushing for a forensic audit of the 2020 election in northern Michigan. He is under investigation for allegedly seizing and tampering with voting machines by a special prosecutor, who said Friday that no decision will be made before Election Day. Nessel's office has said that DePerno was one of the "prime instigators of the conspiracy."
DePerno has slammed the probe, calling it "political prosecution" and saying that anything he did was lawful. If he wins, DePerno has said that he will open investigations into Nessel, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, all of whom are Democrats.
Benson is running for reelection Tuesday as the state's top election official. She is being challenged by former community college instructor Kristina Karamo, who also received an early endorsement from Trump after claiming she witnessed election fraud in 2020 as a poll challenger in Detroit.
It had been 24 years since a Democrat was Michigan's secretary of state when Benson won in 2018. She has since tried to expand voting rights in the state, including a push to boost absentee voting in fall 2020 voting amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Her campaign this year has said that she will continue to push for expanded voter rights after she oversaw "the safest, most secure" election in Michigan history.
After several Republican county and state officials refused to certify the 2020 presidential election in the state, state Senate Republicans opened an investigation that concluded there was no widespread or systemic fraud and that the election's outcome represented the "true results."
Following the 2020 presidential election, Karamo began appearing on conservative talk shows saying that as a poll challenger in Detroit she saw "ballots being dropped off in the middle of the night, thousands of them." Benson has repeatedly refuted claims of fraud at Detroit's election center in 2020.
The outcome of the secretary of state race will impact how the 2024 presidential election is handled in the battleground state as the two candidates have opposing views on policies such as early and absentee voting and voter identification laws.
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.