Antrim County in Michigan seemed like an unlikely place to try and overthrow an American election.
In the mitten shape of the state’s lower peninsula, Antrim makes up a fingertip in the far north. It is located on Grand Traverse Bay’s eastern shore. The name Antrim comes from French explorers who paddled canoes along its narrow width in the 18th century. La grande traverseIt was called by them.
Antrim has a population of 233,000 people. Many work in fruit production, including the cherry farms that make the region the “cherry capital of the world.” They grow sweet cherries and sour: Montmorency cherries, Balaton tart cherries. Cavaliers are Sams and Emperor Francises. Golds, Golds, Ulsters is a local favourite.
The cherry trees bloom in spring with white and pink blossoms. The county is home to the “chain of lakes”, a collection of 14 terraced lakes that run from Beals Lake up the mountain and then into Grand Traverse. Torch Lake is the largest and most deepest of these bodies. This lake was where Native Americans used torchlight to fish. Today Antrim’s residents sail their boats up and down its length on turquoise waters.
Antrim County lies on a peninsular, with its population few and far between, and its stunning landscape. It all makes the scene seem strange. The stage was set for the next: intrigue, violence threats, private planes landing in the middle of the night and an attempt to undermine the will of American citizens.
Sheryl Guy started her election day with coffee. The old Bunn coffeepot was poured into the mug. Because you never know what may go wrong, she covered it with a lid.
Since her very first sense, Antrim County Clerk had been pushed to this point by life. Here in the Antrim County Building is her birth certificate. Sheryl Ann was eight-pounds and ten ounces when she was born in May 1961.
On Friday she graduated from her local high school and on Monday, she began work as a receptionist in the county building. As she worked her way up, she sat in all the chairs in the county building: chief deputy 1, deputy 2, administrator and chief deputy 2. For thirty-one years she worked under the previous county clerk, whom she viewed as a mother figure and who granted Sheryl—maiden name Kirts then—a license to marry her high school sweetheart, Alan.
Guy was now nearly sixty-two and was a county clerk. Antrim voters had elected her eight years prior to this year. She loved the position. It’s a small county, so on Election Day she and her staff of four handled election duties along with the everyday responsibilities: collecting court fees, paying the county’s bills, certifying births and marriages. “Busy,” she said.
Everything went well during the vote. Michigan’s counties are split into grid-like townships that are home to the villages they refer to: Elk Rapids Village, Central Lake Village, etc. People across the county voted on issues specific to their villages—on school boards, on a proposed marijuana shop—and bigger questions like the US presidency. A last-minute amendment added a candidate as village trustee, but the vote was conducted without incident or confusion. Guy voted to elect Trump again.
Poll workers in precincts around Antrim fed people’s ballots into scanners, which printed out tally tapes that looked like thirty-foot strips of receipt paper. Also, the scanners recorded votes onto memory cards.
At about 6:00 p.m., Guy walked from the county building to buy dinner for the staff—“the girls”—at Short’s, a pub that sells sandwiches with names like “Sketches of Winkle” (salami) and “Old Man Thunder” (braised beef). After the polls were closed, the results began to arrive. They worked as they ate. Guy received the memory cards from poll supervisors in the county. She then plugged the results into the central computer. The spreadsheet was used to organize the votes, sorting approximately sixteen thousand votes into rows and columns.
This took several hours. Guy is quick to admit she’s not technologically adept. “I’m not a techie person,” she said. “I type, and I use my computer when I have to.”
In total exhaustion, they finished the task just before 5:05 a.m. Guy spent hours staring at rows and columns for an hour and was finally too exhausted to take a step back and see a wider picture of the election. It was clear to her that she, as a Republican, won the reelection of county clerk. She ran unopposed. However, she was just too exhausted to note the number of votes she received. It was vaguely stated that Joe Biden won the presidency vote.
About 5:00 am, she left the office and returned to her home for a quick shower. There was no time to sleep. The machinist Alan was greeted by a short hello and she returned to her office. Along the way she stopped at McDonald’s to buy breakfast for the girls, who wanted sausage and egg McMuffins. After placing her order, arriving at the pickup counter and receiving the email, she was contacted by an early-rising citizen. She had been following reports from Antrim about the presidential election. The short message was ominous: “Things don’t look right.”
Unofficial results showed Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump by approximately 3,200 votes. This would have been almost impossible in Antrim, which is a reliably Republican county. Guy felt like she was being thrown out of her world by this sudden change in voting patterns. “Oh CROW,” she cried. Although she wanted to sprint to the office, she could only stay in the drive-through. She finally drove to the county office after she had picked up her McMuffins.
She quickly put out a statement on Antrim’s official Facebook page. “By this afternoon, we expect to have a clear answer and a clear plan of action addressing any issue,” she said. “Until then, we are asking all interested parties to bear with us while we get to the bottom of this.”
She was sure that it sounded good, but she still felt dumb inside. What could’ve happened? Computers were suspected to be the culprit. They probably weren’t talking to each other right. She and her team tallied up the votes from each precinct, and then entered the data manually into the central computer. They then republished their results which showed Trump as the victor.
However, a problem appeared. The totals now showed over 18 thousand votes. This was more than two thousand.
Sheryl Guy pulled down all the numbers published and attempted to rebuild. However, by this time the entire world knew that something was amiss in Antrim County. The 6th of November saw the New York Post published a story that began, “President Trump’s supporters are pointing to a small Michigan county as evidence that vote-counting software used in the state may undercut Trump’s number of votes.”
The days that followed were a blur of meetings and calls with county attorneys and software programmers, and through the haze, a thought gradually dawned in Guy’s mind: This is what I did. It’s my fault.
The counting machines should have been updated to reflect the changes when she added the last-minute village trustee candidate. But she hadn’t. When the numbers began rolling in, the incorrect columns were created. A little over two thousand Trump votes had been shifted to Biden’s column. Her error.
Then when she had tried to fix the issue, entering the correct numbers directly into the central computer, she hadn’t zeroed out the mistaken ones. She published both the wrong and correct totals.
“It’s a horrible mistake,” she told the county’s attorneys. “I own it.” She said the same to people who called the office to complain, to her neighbors, to the county commissioners.
At last, the night of November 6, the team of people working on the problem had stripped away all the compounded mistakes—they rescanned all ballots—and published the correct tally of votes: a win for Trump, by 3,800 votes. They were certified by the county board. The system was successful. This error was quickly noticed. The mistake was immediately corrected. It seemed, that night, like the end of a terrible episode in Guy’s public life.
This was her biggest mistake. The plot about to unfold in out-of-the-way Antrim County would render her a pariah in the community she’d called home since birth, and tear at the social fabric of Antrim itself. This would put at risk the presidency of the United States.
It would be on one ballot in Antrim County, a vote to support the local cannabis shop.
On Friday night, December 4, Sheryl Guy received a call. Sheryl Guy answered the phone regardless, even though it was Friday evening.
At the opposite end, she met Bill Bailey (66) an Antrim County agent who was also a Republican.
“We’ve got an order from the judge, Sheryl,” he told her. “We need access to the machines.”
What?It was her thought.
Although she knew Bailey had filed a lawsuit against the county following Election Day, she never imagined anything would come of it. Now, sure enough, he had a decision from Circuit Court judge Kevin Elsenheimer that Bailey faced “irreparable harm” as a voter.
“Specifically, in the recent election, the Village of Central Lake included a proposed initiated ordinance to authorize one marihuana retailer establishment within the village,” the judge wrote, using the spelling for marijuana common in Michigan officialdom.
The small Central Lake Village residents voted in two presidential candidates and for a ban on a downtown pot shop. The marijuana vote tied at 262–262, which meant it didn’t pass. After the election, during the rescan of Antrim County’s ballots, the Dominion machines wouldn’t accept three ballots, like a vending machine rejecting a crinkled dollar bill. Two election workers (one Republican, one Democrat) transferred two marks to new ballots. Both of them scanned well. But the third unscannable ballot was peculiar—it didn’t show any mark for or against the marijuana shop and shouldn’t have been counted in the first place. It was the unpredicted statistical outlier that is inevitable in an election. So the two workers didn’t count it as a vote for or against the pot store.
The new total, 262–261, meant that the proposal passed.
The judge wrote, “Plaintiff argues that failure to include the damaged ballots in the retabulation resulted in the marihuana proposal passing and violated his constitutional right to have his vote counted. The temporary, let alone total, loss of a constitutional right constitutes irreparable harm which cannot be adequately remedied by an action at law.”
So Bailey and his lawyer, the judge ordered, could access and photograph the county’s central computer, Dominion machines, thumb drives, memory cards. Bailey explained that the county needed immediate access. The team arrived. . . This is how you can help. . . by private jet.
“Sheryl, this isn’t about you, ya know,” he told her. The private jet was a clue that it wasn’t really about the pot shop either.
Rudy Giuliani arrived two hours later tweeted:
HUGE WIN FOR HONEST EELECTIONS.
Antrim County Judge, Michigan, orders the forensic examination 22 Dominion voter machines.
Here is how the untrustworthy Dominion Machine flipped 6000 Trump votes to Biden.
All over the state, Dominion spied on votes.
Some powerful people had been snooping around on Bailey’s behalf. For instance, the lawyer Katherine Friess, a member of Trump’s legal team, had called Guy at her office.
“We want to clear your name,” Friess told her, according to Guy. She wanted access to Antrim County’s equipment. “You want to show that this isn’t you.”
Guy realized it was her mistake. It was her mistake.
“I think she tried to woo me,” Guy said. Guy claimed that Friess tried to win over election workers in townships by telling them about her recent dinners with Trump, Giuliani.
On Sunday, December 6, Trump’s attorney Jenna Ellis removed any doubt about who was behind the push in Antrim. She told Fox News, “Our team is going to be able to go in there this morning and we’ll be there for about eight hours to conduct that forensic examination.”
Within hours, the team—ostensibly working to bring down a local pot shop—arrived at Sheryl Guy’s office from all over the country, led by Dallas-based Allied Security Operations Group, or ASOG. They arrived with their operatives and snapped pictures of machines, memory cards, as well as the zipper bags made from red canvas that election workers used to carry them. Sheryl Guy watched as they moved around her office from a corner.
This moment was pivotal, not only in Antrim County. But across Michigan. And perhaps even the United States. The pro-Trump campaign could prove that Dominion’s machines are vulnerable, which could have a negative impact on the overall election. Michigan’s Biden was victorious by a staggering margin of over 154,000 votes. Trump’s team was determined to raise enough doubt about Michigan’s votes to allow the Republican-led legislature to step in and give Trump victory.
A week after its visit to Guy’s office, ASOG released a report about Antrim County that might have had a profound influence elsewhere in the country. More than any other document, it outlined the narrative of a stolen election and, ultimately, undermined Americans’ faith in the vote.
It began by succinctly stating the conspiracy theory that would grip Trump and his supporters: “We conclude that the Dominion Voting System is intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.”
The report warned of potential “advanced persistent threats and outside attacks” from hackers and denied Sheryl Guy’s admission of her own mistake: “The statement attributing these issues to human error is not consistent with the forensic evaluation, which points more correctly to systemic machine and/or software errors.”
Then the report delivered the sentence the Trump campaign hoped for most: “Because the same machines and software are used in 48 other counties in Michigan, this casts doubt on the integrity of the entire election in the state of Michigan.”
Shortly after the report’s release, Trump tweeted, “WOW. The report reveals massive fraud. Election changing result!”
Immediately after that, Trump directed aide Molly Michael to email the report to the Department of Justice with the subject line, “From POTUS.” It included a set of “Antrim County Talking Points” for Jeff Rosen, soon to be acting attorney general.
The talking points were breathtaking and included “This is the evidence that Dominion Voting machines can and are being manipulated.”
And “This is not human error as we have proven.”
And “This is a Cover-up of voting crimes.”
Sheryl Guy was not a dumb county clerk, but rather a tech-criminal genius. Many believed her. She received a deluge of voicemail, letters, and sideways glances on the street from neighbors she’d known her whole life. The inter-state political agents motivated by wealth and power took her word, not the local clerk who certified their marriages and births. She was called a lie, fake Republican and many other vulgar terms. She was “stupid” and “should be put in front of a military firing squad.” They called her, in the only way she could bear to tell it, “an f ’ing c.” They called for her death and for her disgrace, not because she had draped herself in glory but because she had admitted her own mistake—because she had told the truth.
Bill Bailey was not in agreement. However, did Bill Bailey really believe Sheryl Guy was the sophisticated digital criminal?
“I got a different view of Sheryl that I didn’t have at the beginning because I’ve always thought she’s just a sweet woman,” he said. “She’s very emboldened now. A different girl than I knew, I can tell you that.”
However, did she actually pull off an electoral heist.
He hesitated. “I got a feeling that there was some pretty nefarious stuff that happened across the country, including here in Antrim County,” he said. Then he added, “I personally don’t think the clerks know about it.”
After Bailey’s team descended on Guy’s office but before their inflammatory report, the local newspaper, the Record-EagleThe judge found the scoop. The judge had made a mistake: Bailey didn’t actually live in Central Lake Village, site of the proposed marijuana shop. The “marihuana” question had not been on his ballot, so he couldn’t have voted for or against it. He suffered no “irreparable harm.”
Sheryl Guy’s damage was done.
She cried a lot at home for a while after that. Alan, her husband, encouraged her resignation. The four decades she spent in public service were sufficient. Antrim County was changing under her. Even the farm stands were polarized now; Republicans bought their cherries from Friske’s, not King’s, because Friske’s defied the pandemic mask mandate. There were also right-wing militias. Fourteen men were arrested by the FBI for plotting to kidnap Antrim County’s governor just weeks prior to Election Day.
Antrim County seemed unlikely to be the location of an attack on an American election. But the qualities that made it seem that way—its rural remove, its small population, its Luddite clerk and drowsy judge—in reality made it ideal as a political target.
Guy decided to withdraw from the society. “You feel like you can’t get air, you’re just . . .” her voice faded. “I drank a little more, I ate a little more.”
“I drank a lot of Mike’s Hard Lemonade,” she said. “I was drinking the Mike’s Hard and then I started diluting it with Crystal Light and ice, so I wasn’t drinking as much.”
As she talked, a couple walked into the clerk’s office and approached the counter. Both were nervous and aged twenty-four. Both needed to get a marriage certificate.
“That’ll be $20,” Guy said. Their children seemed young. To her, they seemed like babies. It was official. She took out her mechanical embossing mark and signed it. She was left alone after they made a big smile and then left.
She doesn’t plan on running for county clerk again.
Excerpted From The Steal by Matthew Teague and Mark Bowden, via Atlantic Monthly Press. Copyright 2022 – Matthew Teague and Mark Bowden