Full Disclosure: I am an elected DNC delegate and a founding member of MISolidarity.

MDP leadership, particularly Chair Barnes and Appeals Committee Chair Tim Hughes, are actively undermining our election system – both internal Party elections and state primary elections for three of the four highest offices in our state government, the Michigan Supreme Court, and other offices.

Even as our legislators in Lansing fight GOP voter suppression and election rigging by administrative rules, MDP leadership is suppressing voters and rigging elections in our own Party. Chair Lavora Barnes and her team have kept membership in the dark about their egregious rule breaking, even refusing to inform the State Central Committee of the details, explained in MISolidarity’s written appeal. They don’t want the SCC to compare our complaint with the Appeals Committee’s ridiculous ruling in response. They certainly never considered letting the membership know what’s going on. So let’s be very clear, the membership and even the vast majority of the State Central Committee have no idea any of this is happening. The Chair and her team are doing everything they can to keep it quiet. Here’s what everyone should know.

First, the April 10th State Central “meeting” where the below events took place was not a meeting under MDP Rules, thus no election could have taken place. Under our rules, MDP leadership must ensure that all meetings take place “in a single room or area or under equivalent conditions of opportunity for simultaneous aural communications among all participants” (Robert’s Rules 1:1 as required by MDP Rules 2.6, emphasis added). The entire meeting was conducted in a zoom webinar where Chair Barnes and her staff always had total control of members’ microphones. It was impossible to communicate at all without the Chair’s permission. The entire meeting was illegitimate.

Second, Chair Barnes performed an appointment of “officers-at-large” to the State Central Committee, rather than an election as required by MDP rules (7.1.1). Every election procedure under MDP rules requires an open nominating process, where anyone can nominate the candidate or slate of their choice. When the “officers-at-large” agenda item came up, Chair Barnes presented her slate of 82 officers, and immediately asked for a motion to vote on her slate and only her slate. Since she – through her staff – controlled the microphones, when people raised their (electronic) hands to nominate MISolidarity’s slate, her staff made sure the first person called on was a loyal and would move immediately for the vote, and the next person they called on would second the motion. Then the Chair could bring us directly into discussion, closing out any opportunity for others to nominate anyone. Here’s the video.

Chair Barnes deliberately skips opening nominations for “officers-at-large.”

The very next item on the agenda was the election of vice-chairs. Vice-chairs, like “officers-at-large,” are officers of the State Central Committee, and therefore fall under MDP Rule 7.1.1 – they must be elected, not appointed. This time, Chair Barnes followed the rules and immediately opened the floor for nominations. Here’s the video.

Chair Barnes immediately opens floor to nominations for vice-chairs.

Chair Barnes knew MISolidarity had prepared slates for “officers-at-large,” but not for vice-chairs. As a courtesy, we sent her our slates several days in advance of the meeting. At the meeting, she confirmed receiving our slates. Here’s the video.

Chair Barnes confirms MISolidarity slates were received.

Chair Barnes intended to prevent MISolidarity from nominating our slate, and arranged to ensure we couldn’t. This was not a mistake. It was a deliberate violation of the clear, written rules. When we raised objections to this egregious behavior, Chair Barnes asserted that appointments instead of elections for these positions is the “customary practice” of the MDP. You can hear here using this phrase at the beginning of the first video above, and she used it again later in the meeting in response to objections raised. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that written rules are a higher authority than “customary practices.” This should be obvious to anyone running a democratic organization. Democracy means rule by the people. It is not possible for the people to rule if they aren’t allowed to read the written rules, or if they can’t rely on the written rules to be the complete rules. If this is allowed to stand, the Michigan Democratic Party effectively has no rules. The full video of the meeting is here.

It’s worth noting that Robert’s Rules of Order specifies that “in the absence of a rule establishing the method of voting … the rule established by custom” (RRoR 46:30, emphasis added) may be used. However, MDP Rule 7.1.1 specifies that SCC officers must be “elected,” and we have a detailed document establishing the Rules for Voting and Elections in the MDP. Therefore Robert’s Rules forbids using a rule “established by custom” in this case because “a rule establishing the method of voting” for SCC officers exists in the MDP. Under Robert’s Rules written rules to always be a higher authority than “customs.” Since MDP rules are silent on the question of customs, Robert’s Rules govern the MDP.

Third, on May 14th the Appeals Committee met to adjudicate the appeal MISolidarity filed in response to these illegitimate acts. Instead of holding Chair Barnes to the rules, they rubber stamped her egregious rule breaking. Chair Hughes and his committee – all appointed by Chair Barnes, of course – effectively abdicated their role as arbiter of the rules by accepting the Chair’s “customary practices” doctrine.

In practical effect, they’ve given the Chair absolute power to decide which rules she’ll follow and which she’ll ignore in favor of her preferred “customary practices.” The appropriate Appeals Committee response to the “customary practices” doctrine would have been to quote MDP Rule 2.5, “no bylaw adopted by any unit of the MDP shall be valid unless publicly posted on the MDP website.” There is no list of “customary practices” on the MDP website. The MDP rules are posted there. Rule 7.1.1 requires State Central Committee officers to be elected, not appointed. 

In addition to their subservience to the dictates of the Chair, at the May 14th meeting the Appeals Committee lied about the facts. Sheila Cummings, the MDP’s lawyer, claimed MISolidarity did have an opportunity to nominate, despite the clear and obvious steps Chair Barnes and her team took to ensure we could not. The first video clip above makes clear this is false and the second clip only emphasizes that Chair Barnes deliberately, intentionally, with knowledge and forethought broke the rules to prevent MISolidarity from nominating our slate. If Cummings is being paid by the MDP, her client is the State Central Committee, not Chair Barnes. Lying about our opportunity to nominate and the status of “customary practices” under the rules serves Chair Barnes’ interest in covering up her illegitimate acts – not the MDP’s or the State Central Committee’s interest in fairly adjudicating the appeal. It is my understanding that a lawyer is bound to serve their client, and knowingly acting against their client’s interests is a violation of their professional ethics. Here’s the audio of Cummings lying (there was no video of the Appeals Committee meeting).

MDP’s Lawyer Sheila Cummings lies about the facts.

Chairs Barnes and Hughes should be immediately removed from office for such outrageous behavior. They’ve both demonstrated – now on multiple occasions – that they cannot be trusted to follow the rules, as I’ve often detailed on this site. Here’s a good introductory article covering a lot of ground, here’s an article reviewing most of the major issues over the past four years (has a good section on Chair Hughes’ past ridiculousness), and here are a few other articles on various rules violations.

Why should anyone care?

First, Members of the Party should care because it’s our Party, and leadership is trying to burn it down and bury it under the weight of their egregious reputation for ignore the rules and discriminating against new people, especially progressives and young people (discrimination is itself a rules violation, we have very explicit rules about discrimination as you might imagine). They are actively driving people away from the Party with this illicit behavior. Members have an interest in seeing the rules followed and when violated, fairly adjudicated.

Second, the Michigan Democratic Party, and more specifically the State Central Committee as it’s governing body, is charged by our State Constitution (Article V Section 21) and various statutes to run the primary elections for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Michigan Supreme Court Justices, University Boards, and other positions. Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, perhaps the most notoriously corrupt Democrat, is famous for saying “I don’t care who does the voting, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Controlling the nomination is controlling the options available to voters. If the only options available to voters are selected by the Chair and her hand-picked officers-at-large, their choices, not the voters’ choices, determine the outcome of the election. That’s oligarchy, not democracy.

Third, the MDP State Central Committee controls the nominating process for the second, third, and fourth highest-ranking officials of our State government, Michigan Supreme Court Justices, and other positions. The Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party has granted herself the authority to make the State Central Committee operate under whatever she decides are “customary practices.” And her hand-picked Appeals Committee has rubber stamped her power grab. She has effectively consolidated her authority to ignore the rules governing the SCC, a committee charged with carrying out a Constitutionally mandated election process. Suppose there was a Committee charged with running the Democratic primary for Governor. Suppose the Chair of that committee decided to ignore the rules requiring officers to be elected by the people, and instead decided to appoint their hand-picked loyalists. Every Democrat would be up in arms about it, just like we’re all up in arms about GOP voter suppression and process rigging. We would all recognize it as a corrupt practice and be rightly furious. Is it any less corrupt because it’s the primary for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Supreme Court Justices?

MDP leadership has total control of the State Party. If they believed in democracy, they could ensure democracy in the Michigan Democratic Party. Instead, where they unquestionably have the power to enforce democratic norms, they refuse to follow the rules. At the State Capitol, where they don’t have total control, they fight Republicans for democratic norms and principles. Where they’re not in total control, they fervently want more democracy, because it gives them more power than they already have. Where they are in total control, they’re willing to blatantly break the rules and lie to prevent anyone else from taking their fair share of decision-making power as determined by the voters. That’s just naked authoritarianism. Nothing less. What Republicans across the country are doing loudly and publicly, MDP leadership is doing right in our own Party, but trying to keep it quiet.

MISolidarity will not be silent in the face of this continuing assault on our democracy.

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