After she voted to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Wayne County, Michigan, Republican election canvasser Monica Palmer received an alarming text message from a member of her own party.
“You should quit all your GOP posts and never show your face at an event ever again,” read the Nov. 18 text, from Shane Trejo, chairman of Michigan’s 11th District Republican committee.
Less than a year later, Palmer was indeed out of her post as a canvasser in Michigan’s largest county. Nominated to replace her were a trio of Republicans who promoted conspiratorial claims about the 2020 election, the Detroit News first reported. Those candidates had been chosen by local Republican district chairs, one of whom was Trejo.
Even before Joe Biden’s victory in Michigan, the battleground state was a hotbed for election fraud conspiracy theories. With Biden forecasted to win the critical state, fans of Donald Trump circulated now-debunked rumors about elections officials plotting to swing the election in Biden’s favor. Following Biden’s victory in the state (which has been upheld in the state’s most comprehensive set of recounts ever), some promoters of election fraud hoaxes announced runs for state office. The trend isn’t limited to candidates like Matt DePerno, a Trump-backed conspiracy theorist running for Michigan attorney general. The state also seen a hard-right swing in election roles that are typically less partisan, where more moderate Republicans have been replaced by those who outright deny Biden’s victory in their state.
Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of Michigan’s Republican Party, said the new GOP focus on elections officials marks an ominous strategy.
“It’s kind of scary looking ahead because the Republicans are making no secret about their plans to create chaos and throw a wrench in the gears of the next election,” Timmer told The Daily Beast, “trying to put people in place who will go beyond what the law allows and do things in the next election that they didn’t feel they had people in place to do in the last one.”
Michigan’s county-level canvassing boards are not usually hyper-partisan affairs. Each is staffed by two Republicans and two Democrats, who are nominated by local party leadership. Canvassers review election data and, if it is accurate, certify an election. But with Trump denying his Michigan loss, some Republican canvassers in the state hesitated before certifying Biden’s victory. Even Palmer, the former Wayne County canvasser, initially declined to certify her county’s election, before agreeing to confirm Biden’s win.
Palmer’s eventual decision put her in conflict with Trejo, who in addition to chairing his local Republican committee, is also a writer for the far-right website Big League Politics.
Even before the election, Trejo had promoted conspiracy theories about looming voter fraud. In a now-deleted Big League Politics article before the 2020 election, Trejo uploaded audio of what the site described as “explosive evidence of election trainers in the city of Detroit telling poll workers how to lie to voters, destroy ballots, and disenfranchise poll challengers on election day.”
The audio, in fact, did not illustrate any of those claims, as the Detroit Free Press reported at the time. Still, as Biden’s Michigan victory became more assured in the 24 hours after Election Day, Trump fans swarmed Detroit’s TCF center, where votes were being counted. Members of the crowd claimed that election malfeasance was taking place inside, with some pounding on windows and chanting “stop the count.” Trejo met Palmer there, according to text messages reviewed by The Daily Beast.
“Hey Monica this is Shane Trejo u gave me your number during the tcf ballot mayhem,” read one Nov. 17 text. “I’m doing a story on the ANTIFA/left wing response to the wayne county board of canvassers decision today. If you’d like to provide a quote I would be happy to include it in the article for BigLeaguePolitics.com. I would also like to interview you too if that would be possible. Stay strong! Thanks”
The following day, after Palmer had certified the election, Trejo followed up. “Lol. Nevermind,” he wrote her, adding that she should quit her posts and never appear at events again.
Palmer did not intend to quit her GOP posts, she told The Daily Beast. Although her term on the board of canvassers was up, she had indicated her intent to remain in the role, which is seldom competitive.
Timmer, the former Michigan GOP leader confirmed that election canvasser is largely an administrative job.
“It’s a role that’s very perfunctory and administerial in nature,” he said. Canvassers must ask, “Did the clerks certify that the vote totals are accurate? If they have all the paperwork in order and the math adds up, then the canvassers certify the election. They’ve never been an instance to continue the partisan battle that happens up to the election date.”
But despite her interest in continuing on in the job, Palmer found herself off the list of Republican nominees for canvasser in 2021—a decision she claimed was “absolutely” retaliatory.
Wayne County’s three new nominees for canvasser were selected by four local Republican chairs, including Trejo. One, Hima Kolanagireddy, had previously served as a witness for Rudy Giuliani in a post-election legal bid to prevent Biden’s Michigan victory, the Detroit News reported. Another, Josephine Brown, is a vocal election fraud conspiracy theorist whose Facebook pictures include screenshots from election hoax documentaries by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Brown, who did not return requests for comments, also uploaded pictures of herself with Lindell, and a Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol. (“You can feel it in the air. You just knew. There were Trump signs everywhere,” Brown told the News of her conviction that Trump won.)
Robert Boyd, the third nominee, was confirmed for Palmer’s old role this month. He told the Detroit Free Press that he would not have certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory, had he been in his role in November.
The staffing of elections boards with election deniers bodes ill for fair elections, David Knezek, a Democratic Wayne County commissioner, told The Daily Beast.
“Across the country there is a sad and systematic effort to create an alternate reality in which Donald Trump won the 2020 election,” Knezek said. “Part of that effort is to seat canvassers who want to perpetuate this lie and call into question the validity of all elections across the country. Americans of both political parties must come together to put aside partisanship and protect our system of democracy by passionately advocating for the truth.”
Elsewhere in Michigan, other Republican canvasser nominees have raised eyebrows. In Macomb County, in metro Detroit, Republican leaders nominated just one canvasser, instead of the usual three. The move limits options in canvassers, possibly in violation of state rules, local Democrats have argued.
That nominee, Nancy Tiseo, tweeted at Trump in November, asking him to use the military to intervene in Biden’s victory and in upcoming Georgia Senate races (which were later won by Democrats). “Mr. Pres., 80 million of us want you use the Insurrection Act & to suspend the Jan. GA Senate run off & the Dec. meeting of the Electoral College so military tribunals can 1st be set up to properly investigate & resolve the cyber warfare 11-3-20 election issue,” Tiseo tweeted.
Palmer, meanwhile flagged another longtime Michigan canvasser whom she said had been replaced post-2020.
“My bigger concern is the removal of people like the canvasser in Genesee County, who had every intention of continuing on the board, who has 13 years of experience,” she said. “They replaced her with someone brand-new. So you’re seeing, across the state, people with years of experience being replaced by people without experience. Losing that institutional knowledge is going to be a problem.”
Trejo did not return The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. But in a recent video podcast (in which he counsels listeners against speaking to the press), he appeared to confirm the authenticity of his texts to Palmer, after his cohost played a radio interview in which Palmer described the conversation.
Trejo laughed and shrugged at the audio clip.
“Not unfair,” his cohost said, in response to Palmer’s allegation that Trejo had called her a traitor.
“No, not at all,” Trejo replied.
Trejo went on to accuse Palmer of “folding” by certifying the election.
“Folding like that is not acceptable for any politician,” he said, later continuing that “I was there with her in TCF watching it all get stolen and then she certifies the election. I was not happy. For the purposes of party leadership and moving on and being a good Christian, I haven’t attacked her personally, other than to point out that she folded and write an article about how she folded after she did it, but now I think she’s proven all my initial feelings toward the situation as 100 percent correct and right.”
Timmer, the former Michigan GOP leader, voiced concern that his party is headed down a “rabbit hole.”
“There’s no resistance within the Republican Party. They are wholly invested, almost to a person, in the delusional Big Lie that there was some widespread irregularity and malfeasance in the last election, and that they need to take extraordinary steps, either by changing laws or in this case, changing elections personnel in order to fix a non-existent problem.”