The invitation went out in early July.
Republican activists, lawyers and elected officials in Michigan who call the results of the 2020 election fraudulent would unite with a single focus: “to provide ongoing citizen oversight, transparency, and accountability” in elections. They adopted the name Michigan Fair Elections and the simple slogan, “Choose Freedom.”
Over the next months, the participants got to work trying to remake democracy in the nation’s 10th largest state under the banner of integrity.
They recruited and trained challengers to spot and document minute ballot irregularities; filed lawsuits to undermine protections for the vote-counting process; and debated the merits of calling 911 on poll workers deemed to be violating rules. In weekly Zoom meetings, they discussed friendly insiders positioned on Michigan canvassing boards, which certify results; repeated debunked conspiracy theories about election machines, ballot “mules” and widespread voter fraud; and obsessed over the idea that Democrats “cheat” to win elections.
“If there is a close election, it’s going to be up to us to fix it,” said Erick Kaardal, a lawyer with the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group in Chicago, during an Oct. 27 Zoom attended by more than 50 people. “We’re the team that’s going to have to fix an election in Michigan if it’s rigged.”
The New York Times reviewed more than 20 hours of recordings of Michigan Fair Elections meetings, along with training sessions and organizing calls from closely linked groups. What emerged was a picture of an organization fueled by falsehoods, bent on trying to influence the 2022 midterms and determined to change the voting system in ways that would benefit Republicans.
The Michigan group has counterparts around the country. Since the 2020 election, activists have rallied behind Donald J. Trump’s claims about rigged elections and set out to find evidence to prove their theories and change the system. They have staked out ballot drop boxes, recruited thousands of volunteers to monitor voting in the midterm elections and filed legal challenges.
In Michigan, the organizers behind the effort include both Republican stalwarts and grass-roots activists. Attendees on the calls included Cleta Mitchell, the longtime elections lawyer who tried to help Mr. Trump overturn his 2020 loss; Ann Bollin, the chairwoman of the Elections and Ethics Committee in the Michigan House of Representatives; Patrick Colbeck, a former Michigan state senator who has called election denial a “spiritual battle”; and Sandy Kiesel, a Michigan activist who runs a group still pushing to decertify the 2020 election nearly two years after Mr. Trump left office.
The coalition grew out of Ms. Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network, which has established groups doing similar work in states including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia…