A summary of the events leading up to and following the 2020 election, and why they matter for Michigan voters today and in the future. 

With so much happening all the time, it’s hard to remember what happened last week much less last year. But as we head into another election season, we can’t let ourselves memory-hole all the ways Republicans have tried to ignore and overturn the will of Michigan voters and voters across the country because they’re still trying anything and everything to put up barriers between voters and the ballot box.

So, as we head into a series of congressional hearings focused on the way Michigan Republicans tried to ignore the voices of our voters, Progress Michigan has a handy recap for you. Journey with us back into the past. While we can’t promise the trip will be completely free of pain, we’ll try to make it as painless as possible.

The Highlights:

  • Trump started sowing the first seeds of the Big Lie months before the 2020 election ever took place.
  • In the days and weeks after the election, Trump supporters, Trump’s campaign team, and Trump himself attempted to undermine the will of Michigan voters by trying to disrupt ballot counting at Detroit’s TCF Center, refusing to certify Wayne County ballots, filing lawsuits, and spreading conspiracy theories like the one centered around Antrim County.
  • In December 2020, the Michigan Senate and House Oversight Committees held hours and hours of sham hearings hosting conspiracy theorists and spreading misinformation. 
  • On December 14, 2020, Trump supporters, Republican lawmakers, and party officials, tried to enter the Michigan Capitol to falsely cast electoral votes for Trump and 16 Republicans signed a certificate falsely declaring they’re Michigan’s electors in an attempt to overturn the Michigan election results.
  • On January 6, 2021, hundreds of Michigan residents, including Republican lawmakers and officials, went to D.C. on the day of the siege on our Capitol and attempted insurrection. Over a dozen have since been arrested and charged with crimes related to that day.
  • In the spring and summer months following Joe Biden’s inauguration, Michigan Republicans continued to use baseless conspiracy theories to introduce legislation that would restrict the rights of Michigan voters.
  • Now we are facing a slow-motion insurrection: fighting against a Republican Party rotted from the inside out by the Big Lie and extremism—including the extremist conspiracy theorists running for office—battling ballot initiatives that would take election powers away from the Secretary of State and make it more difficult for Michiganders to vote, and seeing the installation of 2020 conspiracy theorists as election officials. All of it intended to ensure Republicans win future elections, no matter what voters decide. 

The Details:

The Big Lie Begins 

The conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump—which has zero evidence to support it and has been debunked in every conceivable way—began long before the election even happened.

Summer and Fall 2020

As the pandemic raged across the country and across the world, we were learning to bake bread and always make sure we’re muted on Zoom calls, and—oh yeah—preparing to vote. Election officials worked to make voting safer during the pandemic by expanding access to absentee voting, which led to a historic turnout across the country and here in Michigan. 

Meanwhile, before most people even voted, President Donald Trump was sowing the first “Big Lie” seeds of doubt in his supporters. Again and again, he claimed that absentee ballots—and the steps election officials were taking to ensure those absentee ballots were accessible for all—were evidence of fraud. Spoiler: None of this is true.

Detroit: The TCF Center

In the early days of November, all eyes were on Detroit, where election workers at the TCF Center were counting ballots. It quickly became a breeding ground for election-related misinformation and conspiracy theories.

November 2, 2020

The events that unfolded at the TCF Center started even before Election Day, where poll workers had begun lawfully processing—but not counting—absentee ballots. Police had to remove multiple Republican poll challengers for causing disruptions (literally, a guy with poll challenger credentials wore a horror movie mask and shouted that the process was “crooked”—and refused to follow COVID protocols.) 

November 3, 2020

After the polls closed on Election Day, Republican challengers were still disrupting workers trying to do their jobs and the ACLU sent additional staff to the TCF Center to monitor the situation.

November 4, 2020

Early Wednesday morning, Biden appeared to be pulling ahead of Trump in Michigan and Trump falsely claimed he won the national election. Spurred on by calls to action (which are now under investigation by the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and Trump’s efforts to hold onto power) from right-wing groups like Stand Up MI and the Michigan Conservative Coalition, as well as Michigan GOP officials, Trump supporters descended on poll workers just trying to do their jobs, and the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit attempting to stop Michigan ballots from being counted (the lawsuit was thrown out by a judge the next day). Lies and misinformation about what’s happening inside TCF flooded social media.

November 5, 2020

With counting over and 100 percent of precincts reporting, Biden won Michigan by over 100,000 votes. And Trump falsely claimed he “won” Michigan and called Detroit one of the most politically corrupt cities in the country.

November 11, 2020

Far-right activist and leader of a white nationalist group, Nicholas Fuentes, who was at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and encouraged occupying the U.S. Capitol, organized a “Stop the Steal” rally at the Michigan Capitol.

November 16, 2020

Forty Michigan Republican lawmakers signed a letter feeding into the Dominion Voting Systems conspiracy theory that plagued Antrim County after a simple error—quickly caught and rectified—first showed Biden winning and then showed the true results were that Trump won the county.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers

November 17, 2020

The Board deadlocked along partisan lines, with Republican canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann initially voting against certifying the votes for Wayne County. Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox issued a statement praising their refusal to certify (Palmer said she did not see this statement until later). Palmer, the Chairwoman of the Board, offered a compromise, saying they could certify communities (with majority white populations) other than Detroit (a majority Black population), which obviously sparked outrage. 

After hours of public commentary, Palmer and Hartmann reversed course and voted to certify the election. We later learned that Palmer and Hartmann both received phone calls from Trump himself after this meeting.

November 18, 2020

Palmer and Hartmann released affidavits saying they wanted to rescind their votes to certify the election. (Sidenote: According to these affidavits, both Palmer and Hartmann were at the TCF Center watching ballots being counted.)

November 19, 2020

The Trump campaign withdrew a federal lawsuit in Michigan, citing Palmer and Hartmann’s desire to rescind their vote to certify and then held a press conference about so-called widespread voter fraud. And the Big Lie gets its wings. 

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers

November 23, 2020

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified Michigan’s election results statewide in what is typically viewed as a procedural step but—this time around—involved hours of public comment and was watched online by over 35,000 people. Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox asked the Board to investigate Wayne County further before certifying, and one Republican Canvasser, Norm Shinkle, was convinced enough by these baseless claims of fraud that he abstained from voting to certify. The other Republican Canvasser, Aaron Van Langevelde, voted with the two Democrats to certify the election. 

(Sidenote: Norm Shinkle was demanding an audit days before this hearing. Sidesidenote: Rudy Guiliani and other Trump advisors apparently asked the Antrim County Prosecutor to hand over Antrim County voting machines around this time.)

The Michigan Legislature

In what will become the beginning of months upon months of the Big Lie conspiracy theory influencing the Michigan Legislature’s agenda and Republican lawmakers using it as wink-wink, what-if justification for trying to strip Michiganders of our voting rights, we have some of the silliest (and somehow also the most serious) hearings ever held in Lansing. AG Dana Nessel, as she often does, called it exactly like it was: a “state-sponsored disinformation campaign geared toward undermining our electoral system.”

Legislators in both chambers of the Michigan legislature reported receiving calls and emails from the Trump campaign asking Republican lawmakers to ignore Michigan voters, overrule the election results, and appoint electors that would cast Electoral College votes for Trump. Trump supporters also called for the legislature to overturn Michigan’s election results. 

November 20, 2020

Then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and other GOP lawmakers met with Donald Trump at the White House. 

December 1, 2020

Dozens of people, mostly Republicans who said they were poll watchers or challengers at Detroit’s TCF Center, appeared before the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee. They spent seven hours repeating misinformation and lies about the election that have been rejected in court, debunked by election officials, and had zero evidence to back them up. Despite the ridiculous conspiracy theories put forward in these hearings, Senate Oversight Committee Chair Ed McBroom said they would help inform future changes to Michigan’s election law.

December 2, 2020

In a parody of a hearing so ridiculous that it became a Saturday Night Live skit, Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani—along with Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis—brought a group of folks (including Melissa Carone) who testified before the House Oversight Committee on debunked claims of voter fraud and election misconduct. 

Giuliani called for the legislature to ignore the votes of Michiganders, ignore the hard work of election officials, and disregard Michigan’s certified election results. Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox also appeared with Giuliani in a virtual event where he told state lawmakers that certifying the election results would be a “criminal act.” Cox has now been subpoenaed to appear before the January 6 Congressional Committee.

December 10, 2020

Four of Michigan’s six congressional Republicans and 15 of 80 Republican state lawmakers signed their names supporting the Trump campaign’s last ditch legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Michigan Presidential Electors Cast Votes

December 14, 2020

Republican State Rep. Gary Eisen hinted at disrupting the Electoral College process and was removed from his committee assignments. Trump advisor Stephen Miller went on Fox & Friends, telling the hosts that “alternate” electors could offer a second set of results, seemingly designed to overturn the election.

Michigan’s 16 presidential electors convened in a closed Senate Chamber—due to credible threats of violence—and officially cast Michigan’s 16 electoral votes for Joe Biden. Earlier that day, Trump had posted to Twitter claiming that if our duly chosen electors cast their votes, they would be committing “a severely punishable crime.” Meanwhile, police prevented Trump supporters and Republican activists from entering the Capitol building. 

Among the Republicans who tried to enter the Capitol were 16 false electors. Michigan law requires that electors meet in the Senate Chamber, but police prevented these false electors from doing so. Still, they sent phony documents to the four places Electoral College documents are legally obligated to be sent to: the office of Vice President Mike Pence, the Michigan Secretary of State, the National Archivist, and the chief judge of the western district of Michigan. This may have been a crime, for which this group is currently under investigation. Recently Meshawn Maddock, current co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party and one of the 16 false electors, was caught on video saying the Trump campaign directed these fake electors. 

After failing to overturn the election up to this point, Trump had one last move: getting Congress to ignore the votes of millions of Americans.

(Sidenote: December 14 is also when a group of Trump supporters released a so-called report on the Antrim County conspiracy theory, which has since been proven to be riddled with misinformation and unsubstantiated claims.)

The Attempted Insurrection at the United States Capitol

January 6, 2021

Fourteen people from Michigan have been charged with crimes in connection with the January 6 siege on our nation’s Capitol, including five from Macomb County alone—which is one of the largest clusters of people nationwide that have been charged in connection with January 6—four of whom are facing stiff prison sentences for assaulting officers.

Current co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, and one half of everyone’s favorite right-wing extremist power couple, Meshawn Maddock, helped organize transportation for groups of Michiganders that went to D.C. on January 6 (hundreds of Trump supporters traveled on buses from Michigan to D.C.). She attended the Trump rally that turned into a siege at the Capitol, calling the group: “the most incredible crowd and sea of people [she’d] ever walked with.” Meshawn and Matt Maddock also took part in a “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. the day before. A lot of Republican lawmakers and groups have since tried to downplay or even celebrate the events of this abhorrent act of violence and attempt to overturn our democracy, including the RNC calling it “legitimate political discourse.” 

Experts have repeatedly said that the extremism in Michigan, including an armed occupation of our statehouse and a foiled plot to kidnap our governor, were a “dress rehearsal” for the U.S. Capitol riot and attempted insurrection. 

Hundreds of Republicans and Trump supporters gathered at the Michigan Capitol on this same day, carrying guns and hoping the 2020 election results could still be overturned. Members of the Proud Boys and others erected a large cross, and State House representative and extremist congressional candidate Steve Carra and conspiracy theory peddler-slash-gubernatorial candidate Patrick Colbeck spoke to the crowd

The January 6 Siege Aftermath

January 15, 2021

Governor Whitmer activated the Michigan National Guard to prepare for armed protests and possible violence around Joe Biden’s inauguration. The Capitol was boarded up and fencing was placed around the building.

Michigan’s Ongoing Slow-Motion Insurrection

In the months following the attempted insurrection of our nation’s Capitol, there was an ongoing trend of Republican lawmakers using the Big Lie conspiracy theory to try and restrict our voting rights.

March 24, 2021

Despite zero evidence supporting allegations of fraud during the 2020 election, Michigan GOP senators introduced 39 anti-voter bills that would make voting harder for all Michiganders and especially our voters of color. The bills were, unsurprisingly, condemned by voting rights advocates. Republicans proceeded to spread a bunch of lies about those bills, wrapped in more conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 election.

May 18, 2021

A judge dismissed a lawsuit—that was still advancing the Antrim County Dominion Voting Systems conspiracy theory six months after the election—demanding an audit of Antrim County. 

May 26, 2021

Michigan House Republicans adopted a resolution against the For the People Act, a federal voting rights bill to protect and expand access to voting across the country.

June 4, 2021

Michigan House Republicans introduced over 40 anti-voter election bills (these were introduced gradually over the past few months), similar in nature to the 39 Senate bills introduced months before.

June 23, 2021

After wasting hours and hours of taxpayer-funded time investigating conspiracy theories and giving misinformation a platform, the Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee released their report finding zero evidence of fraud in the Michigan election and even recommending criminal investigations into some of the people spreading misinformation about the 2020 election. This report did nothing to slow the Big Lie wildfire spreading through the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican State Senators who signed onto it were censured by multiple county Republican parties.

July 1, 2021

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said the Michigan GOP had a plan to get around Governor Whitmer’s certain veto of their anti-voter bills: a ballot initiative. We later learn this is the “Secure MI Vote” petition. 

August 30, 2021

Michigan Republicans launched their “Secure MI Vote” initiative, funded almost entirely by Michigan GOP co-chair Ron Weiser, which voting rights advocates and election officials have condemned. 

January 19, 2022

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved the Audit MI ballot initiative, which would take the state’s election audit away from the Secretary of State. The head of Audit MI, Jon Rocha, was a January 6 protestor at the Capitol. And Jon-Paul Rutan, who helped found the group, is a former member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group. The Oath Keeper’s founder has been charged with seditious conspiracy after setting up in a Virginia hotel room with a ton of ammunition and guns in preparation for January 6.

January 29, 2022

Mike Detmer, a GOP candidate for Michigan state Senate, encouraged people to “be prepared to lock and load” and “show up armed” to polls. And Ryan Kelley, a GOP candidate for governor (and January 6 protestor), encouraged poll workers to unplug voting machines if they “see something [they] don’t like happening.” These comments have resulted in nothing but crickets from the Michigan Republican Party.

What Now

Despite the Michigan Republican Party’s official line that it’s time to move past the 2020 election, it’s easy to see the Big Lie conspiracy theory has taken over their core voting base and is rotting their party structure from the inside out. Michigan GOP candidates running for local and state office spout Big Lie conspiracy theories. County-level parties have censured lawmakers for saying the 2020 election results are legitimate, supported Big Lie candidates, continued to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories while demanding the state party follow suit, and even hosted January 6 anniversary parties

High-level Michigan GOP Party officials who advocate for moving beyond 2020 have been ousted and the ones that are left—many of whom have been Big Lie supporters from the start—continue to wink and nod about 2020 election conspiracy theories. Michigan GOP grassroots activists continue to support the Big Lie in their efforts to not only try to overturn the 2020 election but also twist the system in their favor for the 2022 election. And the Michigan GOP is filling election canvassing boards across the state with people who believe the Big Lie about the 2020 election, giving people who embrace a conspiracy theory about election fraud actual power to affect our future elections.

The story that has continued to unfold since the November 2020 election is one riddled with misinformation, lies and deliberate attempts to put up barriers between Michiganders and their right to vote in order to protect Trump and his allies’ political power. 

But the other chapter to this story is about us and those like us who are willing to stand up for one another, regardless of race, income or ZIP code, and fight for our freedom to vote. This story continues and together, we have the power to write an ending that protects our voting rights, helps shape our communities for the better, and holds those accountable who would try to trample over our collective voices.