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Secretary of State shoots down MIGOP bid to ditch primary elections

Over the weekend, some Michigan Republican Party leaders announced they would consider a motion to allow precinct delegates to decide the party’s candidates for most local, state and federal races, rather than voters in primary elections.

By Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance - January 10, 2024
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A resident votes at the Zion St. Joe United Church of Christ on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in St. Joseph, Mich.
A resident votes at the Zion St. Joe United Church of Christ on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in St. Joseph, Mich. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP, File)

However, the Secretary of State’s Office said any changes in how the party nominates candidates for the general election would require changes to Michigan’s elections laws. 

The motion will be up for consideration at a meeting scheduled by party Chair Kristina Karamo for this Saturday, Jan. 13 in Houghton Lake. However, members voted to remove Karamo as chair at a Saturday meeting in Commerce Township. Co-Chair Malinda Pego said she is acting chair. But Karamo has said she’s still in charge and will hold a meeting this weekend. Pego, in turn, has said she has the power to cancel that meeting. 

Against this backdrop of infighting, this proposal to change how Republicans select candidates could be another controversy. 

By shifting control of party nominations to precinct delegates, supporters of the motion say this will allow the party to vet candidates and provide better representation. 

“Right now, I feel our elected officials represent who gives them the most money to get elected and not the people who have elected them,” MIGOP Budget Committee Chair Dan Bonamie said in the announcement posted to the party’s Rumble account. 

“We will be putting that back to where the delegates will be picking the representation, not who spends the most money on campaign material,” Bonamie said. 

The current system shows disunity, Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Studebaker said in the announcement.

“We have this war in the spring and summer and all of a sudden we’re supposed to unite in August,” Studebaker said. “Meanwhile the Democrats unite. They already agree on their candidate long before, and the primary is a formality.”

Regardless of the party’s actions, the state will still hold a primary election in August. 

In an email to the Advance, Secretary of State spokesperson Angela Benander said state election law specifies the method by which each candidate receives a party’s nomination and proceeds to the general election. Any changes would require legislative action. 

“The Department and the Bureau of Elections are still bound by the Election Law as written. There will be a primary election in August,” Benander said.

Attorney Steve Liedel, who served as counsel for Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, outlined additional scenarios in which the party could select its own nominees in a thread on X

Election officials will continue to conduct primary elections unless there is a change to Michigan election law; the Republican Party is relegated to minor party status; or if the motion’s proponents form a “New Republican Party,” with new parties nominating their general election candidates using party procedures under Michigan Law, Liedel said.

“One reason Republican proponents might want to do this: statewide and federal office [candidates] would no longer be required to collect signatures on nominating petitions that comply with state law. That didn’t go so well for Republicans in 2022,” Liedel said, referencing five Republican gubernatorial candidates failing to make the primary ballot as the result of a signature collection scandal

While Studebaker argued in the announcement video that the plan would not disenfranchise voters, the effort was denounced by a number of Republicans for cutting voters out of the nominating process.  

Former Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon blasted the proposal in a statement on Saturday. 

“In August 2022, over 1 million Republicans cast ballots for their preferred candidates in state and local races. Instead of trusting voters, the Michigan Republican Party is now attempting to consolidate power into the hands of 2,000 people. The MIGOP leadership has become what it claims it despises,” Dixon said.

Garrett Soldano, a right-wing activist who lost to Dixon in the race to be the Republican nominee for governor, also criticized the proposal. 

“This is a HORRIBLE idea! Unfortunately, a lot of us knew this is how it would end up,” Soldano said in a post on X

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) also opposed the motion on social media, saying the party should focus on turning out Republican voters and helping candidates win instead of working to disenfranchise Republican voters. 

Originally published by the Michigan Advance


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