Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray rendered a decision that will not fully appease either side in the state’s most prominent lawsuit regarding the 2020 general election. Allegan County Clerk Robert Genetski and the Michigan GOP were seeking a full forensic audit of all absentee ballots to see if signature matches could be verified. That was denied, but on the whole, Murray sided with the plaintiffs against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

She was found to have violated the Administrative Procedures Act when she gave guidance to local clerks on how to verify signatures in October of 2020. Murray said that directive was really a rule and fell outside of her purview to give. The state legislature has authority over how elections are conducted and Murray found the plaintiffs correct in asserting that it needed to come from them to be treated as binding.

Benson held a press conference on March 2nd, touting an unprecedented post-election audit that should quell doubts over the election’s integrity.

Murray’s ruling undoes some of the trust that was built up during the audit process. A survey of Republicans shows an overwhelming majority still believes the 2020 election was invalid due to perceived fraud across several battleground states, Michigan included. Keweenaw Report reached out to Representative Greg Markkanen last week on legislation the GOP is promoting on election reforms. He did not return our request for comment. It is unclear if the majority will push for a forensic audit as requested by Genetski.

The document that was distributed by Benson instructed clerks to presume the signatures were valid as a starting point when inspecting the ballots. It says clerks should accept t he ballots if there are “any redeeming qualities in the [absent voter] application or return envelope signature as compared to the signature on file.” Redeeming qualities were defined to mean as little as possessing “distinctive flourishes.”

The effects of the guidance are potentially profound. Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly says her main tool in fighting fraud is signature verification when a substantial portion of the ballots received are absentee. Clerks were running into issues, especially with the elderly.

More on this story Thursday.