When the news broke in 2020 that 16 Republicans in Michigan had signed a certificate falsely claiming to be electors for Donald Trump, Rosemary Herweyer was dismayed to find a prominent local politician, Kent Vanderwood, listed among the signatories.
“His willingness to sign a fake elector paper and try to send that in and negate Michigan’s actual vote speaks to his integrity,” Herweyer said of Vanderwood, who was then a member of the Wyoming, Michigan, city council. “How can I trust anything he does?”
Vanderwood, who served on the city council for 16 years before being elected mayor of the city in 2022, now faces eight felony charges for his role as a false elector during the 2020 presidential election. Fifteen other Republicans, including the former co-chair of the Michigan GOP, have also been criminally charged.
Since Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, announced the charges on 18 July – making the state the first to prosecute a full slate of false electors involved in the seven-state scheme – voters and good government groups have begun a push for elected officials involved to resign. Across the state, a mayor, a school board member and a township clerk whose role includes administering elections have each been arraigned and have pleaded not guilty, and in each community, constituents are pushing for accountability.
“Over 2 million people voted for Joe Biden in Michigan, and Stan Grot decided that our votes didn’t matter,” said Alisa Diez, a Democratic party activist in Shelby Township, where Stanley Grot, one of the 16 false electors, currently serves as township clerk.
After Grot was charged, the state stripped him of his ability to administer elections, but he remains in office.
At a packed public meeting of the township board of trustees on 15 August, residents questioned Grot’s ability to serve as clerk, given the pending charges and the fact that he can no longer perform a key function of his post. “What, we pay him for a job he can’t do?” said Diez, who organized a protest at the meeting demanding Grot’s resignation. “It’s ridiculous.”
Grot’s lawyer, Derek Wilczynski, said in a statement that there “is no merit to the charges alleged against Mr Grot”, and called the secretary of state’s directive that Grot pause his election-related responsibilities “improper”. Wilczynski added in an email to the Guardian that Grot “does not intend to resign his position as Township Clerk”.
In a statement, Vanderwood’s attorney wrote that the mayor “had no intent to defraud anyone” when he signed his name as an elector in 2020 and added that Vanderwood “will not resign or voluntarily recuse himself from the important and completely unrelated work he is required to perform as the duly-elected Mayor of the City of Wyoming”.
In Grand Blanc, a small city south of Flint, Michigan, Amy Facchinello, a school board member who in 2021 generated outrage for promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory on social media and now faces charges for her participation in forging the false electors’ certificate, could face a recall. On 14 August, the Genesee county elections commission approved a filing to recall Facchinello – meaning residents can begin to collect signatures to petition for an election.
“Eight felony charges aren’t a good look for a school board member,” said Michelle Ryder, who filed the recall language. Ryder, who has two children in the school district, said school board meetings became chaotic and politicized during the pandemic, with Facchinello’s radical beliefs often a focal point.
Ryder said she hoped the felony charges would inspire residents to recall Facchinello, whose term will otherwise end in 2026. “This is an opportunity for our community to say ‘this isn’t who we are,’” said Ryder.
Facchinello and her attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Vanderwood, Grot, Facchinello and the 13 others charged met “covertly” in the basement of the Michigan Republican party headquarters in December 2020 to sign paperwork falsely claiming to be official electors, Nessel said, calling the action “an attempt to outmaneuver and circumvent the longstanding electoral college process”.
The Michigan plan formed part of a broader push by Trump and his inner circle to overturn the results of the 2020 election by delivering alternate slates of electors for Trump and Pence in seven swing states. The multistate effort has emerged as a critical element in the prosecution of the former president and his allies, with several of Georgia’s false electors now facing charges in Fulton county.
At least 17 fake electors across the US currently serve in public office, including the Arizona state senator Anthony Kern, Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Burt Jones and Robert Spindell, a member of the Wisconsin elections commission. The prosecutions in Michigan and Georgia have brought increased scrutiny on the false electors, and Arizona’s attorney general, Kris Mayes, has confirmed her office is investigating the slate of fake electors there.
A coalition of activists and progressive organizers from groups including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, All Voting Is Local Michigan, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Michigan People’s Campaign are supporting efforts in Wyoming and Shelby Township to oust their elected officials who served as fake electors. In letters to the Wyoming city council and the Shelby Township board of trustees, the advocates, referring to themselves as the Democracy Coalition, called on the local governments to address the issue of the false electors.
The charges, the group wrote, “raise serious concerns” about the officials’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities “in a manner that upholds the values and principles an elected official should abide by”.
Daniel Rivera, an organizer with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and a resident of Wyoming, Michigan, said he helped get the word out before a tumultuous city council meeting on 7 August, where residents lined up to call for their mayor’s resignation. “When I saw the formal charges, that’s where I decided to really push for recruiting folks to come to the meeting and provide public comment myself,” said Rivera. “As a resident, it just raises a lot of concerns, because we deserve to trust our government.”
Herweyer, who worked the polls during the 2020 presidential election and spoke at the 7 August city council meeting, said she already believed Vanderwood’s role as a false elector in 2020 disqualified him for public office when he ran for mayor in 2022. The idea that a longtime civil servant had apparently participated in the effort to overturn the presidential election upset Herweyer deeply.
“It didn’t take the [attorney general] filing charges to get me upset,” said Herweyer. “I wanted him off immediately.”
But while some individuals like Herweyer were bothered by the news about Vanderwood back in 2020, the issue didn’t get much local play until the charges dropped.
Ivan Diaz, a Kent county commissioner whose district includes parts of Wyoming, said the false electors news wasn’t a major campaign talking point during Vanderwood’s mayoral race, and that he was “pleasantly surprised” when residents flooded the city council meeting to demand the mayor’s resignation.
“Once there were actual charges, I think it kind of just elevated to a situation where it’s [in] everybody’s awareness,” he said.
Residents cannot launch a recall until Vanderwood’s first year in office concludes in December.
“At that point, he’ll probably very much be in danger of being recalled,” said Diaz.
This article was amended on 23 August 2023 to correct a name.