Insurrectionist leads effort to overturn 2020 election in Michigan


'I don't know how in the world another audit is going to satisfy conspiracy believers,' said one Michigan county clerk.

The 2020 election has long been decided, but in some states there remains a dogged effort by far-right activists to overturn its results. One such state is Michigan, where a citizen group has recently succeeded in its first step toward a ballot initiative to conduct a "forensic audit" of the 2020 election. That effort is being spearheaded by a man who was present at the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Audit Michigan is a citizen-led ballot initiative to "reestablish confidence among Michigan voters" by conducting a forensic audit of the 2020 election whose summary petition language was recently approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. The initiative language also sets up criteria to trigger a "forensic audit" for any future elections. A review of official Michigan ballot initiative petition documents reveals that the head of the initiative is Jon-Paul Rutan. 

Rutan, whose address is listed at the bottom of the official petition documents, was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to a review of his Facebook page. In one photo, Rutan is seen posing next to his daughter with the Capitol and a mob of rioters behind him, with the caption, "Teaching the offspring how to be viligent [sic] and watchful of our government employees."

Rutan did not respond to a request for comment. Speaking with Newsweek in January, he confirmed that he, along with Jon Rocha, who is also involved with Audit MI, was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but said he was not involved with the mob that stormed the building. Neither man has been charged with any crime related to the Jan. 6 riot. 

According to Newsweek, however, Rutan was also once a member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers. Numerous Oath Keeper members, including the group’s founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, have been charged with crimes related to Jan. 6, including for seditious conspiracy.

Though the petition still needs formal approval before Audit Michigan can begin collecting the signatures required for it to be placed on the ballot in November 2022, this initial approval by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers has some election officials concerned. 

"I don't know how in the world another audit is going to satisfy conspiracy believers," said Barbara Bynum, who serves as the county clerk for Ingham County, where the state capital of Lansing is largely located. "And it is very suspect, at least for me, hearing that this gentleman is pushing this citizen-initiated legislation."

The results of the 2020 election in Michigan have long been at the center of conspiracy theories promoted by former President Donald Trump. False claims that the election in the state was somehow rigged endure despite the more than 250 audits conducted of election results in Michigan precincts

"Let's be clear. This movement that spurred the violent and deadly insurrection on our nation's Capitol and resulted in Michigan's vote tallies getting audited over 250 times to date has nothing to do with uncovering fraud,” said Lavora Barnes, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. "It's about dismantling reality and democracy alike in order to install, rather than elect, our future cycles of leaders. This pursuit fueled by baseless lies will never end and is dangerous to the future of our state and democracy."

One aspect of Rutan's ballot initiative that has Bynum, Barnes, and others concerned is a provision in the summary language that would allow the proposed audit board to use private funding to pay for a forensic audit — and would not require that the sources of the funding be disclosed. 

"I think this puts us all at risk," Bynum said. "Having those people out front collecting signatures for a 'forensic audit' of our elections only does more harm. Not just for 2020 but for future decades."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.