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Michigan GOP candidates draw scrutiny for suggestions to unplug election machines, use firearms to protect observers

Poll workers process and count absentee ballots during the 2020 general election at the TFC Center in Detroit on Dec. 4, 2020. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Lansing County. The story has been corrected to identify the county as Livingston County.

Republican candidates for governor and the state Senate in Michigan are drawing scrutiny for suggesting that poll workers unplug voting machines if they suspect fraud and that people should “show up armed” to protect GOP election observers’ access to ballot counting.

The comments by Ryan D. Kelley, a gubernatorial candidate, and Mike Detmer, a state Senate candidate, were made at an event over the weekend in Livingston County, Mich., and captured on video that has since circulated widely on social media.

Their comments also came swiftly to the attention of Michigan’s top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats.

Benson on Monday referred both men’s comments to Nessel’s office.

“Tampering with ballot machines is illegal, and as a court made clear in 2020, so is voter intimidation by brandishing a firearm at a polling place,” Benson said in a statement.

During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, she said that “law enforcement absolutely needs to investigate,” adding that there are “a number of potential legal violations.”

As Michigan is called for Biden, tensions and challenges surround the vote-counting process

Nessel also weighed in on the episode, tweeting Sunday that “engaging in such conduct will result in arrest & prosecution.” She also asked: “Will [the Michigan Republican Party] condemn the encouragement of felonious acts by its candidates for office? Or is this cool now?”

Nessel’s tweet included video from the event in Livingston County.

In the video, Kelley is seen telling the audience of prospective poll workers, “If you see something you don’t like happening with the machines, you see something going on, unplug it from the wall.”

Detmer, meanwhile, was asked what could be done to “protect” Republican election observers at the venue in Detroit where absentee ballots were counted after the 2020 presidential election.

“The ideal thing is to do this peacefully,” Detmer said. “That’s ideal. But the American people, at some point in time, if we can’t change the tide, which I believe we can, we need to be prepared to lock and load.”

“You asked what can we do. Show up armed,” he added.

The venue in question, then known as the TCF Center, attracted scores of Republican protesters after the election. Supporters of then-President Donald Trump claimed GOP poll workers there were treated unfairly.

The Detroit News reported that in a text exchange Monday, Detmer emphasized that it would be best to handle such situations peacefully. But he stood by his use of the phrase “lock and load.”

“That’s what the 2nd Amendment is for,” Detmer wrote. “Worst case … lock and load.”