VULCAN, Michigan—Right around the time Donald Trump was flexing his conspiratorial muscles on Saturday night, recycling old ruses and inventing new boogeymen in his first public speech since inciting a siege of the U.S. Capitol in January, a dairy farmer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sat down to supper. It had been a trying day.
The farmer, Ed McBroom, battled sidewinding rain while working his 320 acres, loading feed and breeding livestock and at one point delivering a distressed calf backwards from its mother’s womb, before hanging the newborn animal by its hind legs for respiratory drainage. Now, having slipped off his manure-caked rubber boots, McBroom groaned as he leaned into his home-grown meal of unpasteurized milk and spaghetti with hamburger sauce. He would dine peacefully at his banquet-length antique table, surrounded by his family of 15, unaware that in nearby Ohio, the former president was accusing him—thankfully, this time not by name—of covering up the greatest crime in American history.
A few days earlier, McBroom, a Republican state senator who chairs the Oversight Committee, had released a report detailing his eight-month-long investigation into the legitimacy of the 2020 election. The stakes could hardly have been higher. Against a backdrop of confusion and suspicion and frightening civic friction—with Trump claiming he’d been cheated out of victory, and anecdotes about fraud coursing through every corner of the state—McBroom had led an exhaustive probe of Michigan’s electoral integrity. His committee interviewed scores of witnesses, subpoenaed and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, dissected the procedural mechanics of Michigan’s highly decentralized elections system, and scrutinized the most trafficked claims about corruption at the state’s ballot box in November. McBroom’s conclusion hit Lansing like a meteor: It was all a bunch of nonsense.
“Our clear finding is that citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan,” McBroom wrote in the report. “There is no evidence presented at this time to prove either significant acts of fraud or that an organized, wide-scale effort to commit fraudulent activity was perpetrated in order to subvert the will of Michigan voters.”
For good measure, McBroom added: “The Committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.”
This reflected a pattern throughout the report—a clear and clinical statement of facts, accompanied by more animated language that expressed disgust with the grifters selling deception to the masses and disappointment with the voters who were buying it. Sitting at his dinner table, I told the senator that his writing occasionally took a tone of anger. He smirked. “I don’t know that I ever wrote angry,” McBroom replied. “But I tried to leave no room for doubt.”
So much for that. Soon after the report was released, Trump issued a thundering statement calling McBroom’s investigation “a cover up, and a method of getting out of a Forensic Audit for the examination of the Presidential contest.” The former president then published the office phone numbers for McBroom and Michigan’s GOP Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, urging his followers to “call those two Senators now and get them to do the right thing, or vote them the hell out of office!”
McBroom had grown up a “history nerd.” He idolized the revolutionary Founders. He inhaled biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. He revered the institution of the American presidency. And here was the 45th president, calling him out by name, accusing him of unthinkable treachery.
“Surreal,” McBroom said quietly. He leaned back, running his hands through a mess of sweaty blond hair. Then he folded his thick arms, which bulged from a red cutoff button-up shirt, staring heavenward in search of the words. Some 30 seconds went by. “Just … surreal.”
Perhaps trying to cheer himself, McBroom told me he doubted whether Trump had personally written that statement. He doubted even more whether Trump had actually read the report. (If he had, Trump would understand why an Arizona-style “forensic audit” would be pointless.) But this was cold comfort. In many ways, Trump was a stand-in for the constituents McBroom knew who insisted that the election was stolen, who raged against the scheming Democrats and the spineless Republicans, who believed that America was succumbing to an illegitimate leftist takeover. Most of them, McBroom realized, would not read the report, either. And he wasn’t sure what more he was supposed to do for them.
“I can’t make people believe me,” McBroom said, an air of exasperation in his voice. “All I can hope is that people use their discernment and judgment, to look at the facts I’ve laid out for them, and then look at these theories out there, and ask the question: Does any of this make sense?”
McBroom admitted to being a bit discouraged. It’s hard enough for an elected official to convince the public of something it doesn’t want to accept. Yet here he was, a lowly state lawmaker from the pastures of Dickinson County, struggling to win the hearts and minds of Trump voters while engaged in a zero-sum showdown with Trump himself.
“All politicians lie. That’s what people believe, right?” McBroom said. “Well, somebody is lying. It’s either me or—”
He stopped himself. “Somebody else.”
McBroom didn’t ask for any of this.
A fourth-generation farm boy from the U.P., he studied music education and social studies at Northern Michigan University, harboring dreams of being a teacher and leading a church choir. (He went one-for-two. McBroom is the music director at nearby First Baptist of Norway.) When several of his siblings passed on the opportunity to take over the family farm, McBroom assumed responsibility. He moved his wife, Sarah, whom he’d met at a college choir outing, and their young family to the farm. Joining them were McBroom’s younger brother, Carl; his wife (and Sarah’s sister), Susan; and their children. Together, Ed and Carl planned to grow the family business and raise their two clans as one on the sprawling McBroom compound.
Before long, however, Ed came to a detour. Having joined a host of farm-related civic organizations in the region, he found himself networking with politicians, and soon, unwittingly, being groomed to run for office himself. (Michigan has some of the tightest term limits in the nation and churns through legislators, which presents a constant demand for neophyte recruits.) McBroom had his doubts. Politics seemed an ugly, undignified game for a pious young farmer. And yet, he glowed with certain passions—outlawing abortion, preserving family values, fighting bureaucrats on behalf of the little guy—that could not be championed in the stables.
With the blessing of Carl, who committed to carrying the load on the homestead, McBroom ran for the state House of Representatives in 2010. Harnessing the energy of the Tea Party to defeat an incumbent Democrat—back when Democrats still represented rural northern Michigan—McBroom arrived in Lansing with visions of being a great conservative reformer.
They didn’t last. The Tea Party movement, he realized, was more interested in union-busting and ideological one-upmanship than in achieving tangible results. Meanwhile, his perch on the Agriculture Committee was proving ineffectual; state agencies so regularly pushed around the policy makers that McBroom wondered why he was even bothering to pass legislation. Feeling outmatched, he contemplated quitting the legislature. Only in the twilight of his time in the House did McBroom discover what seemed like his salvation, and what could later be considered his curse: the Oversight Committee. Realizing that the panel had the power to touch all areas of policy while holding the executive branch and Lansing bureaucracy to account, McBroom recommitted himself to politics. He picked the right horse for speaker of the House, maneuvered onto the committee, and positioned himself to continue oversight work if promoted to the Senate.
It was no foregone conclusion that he would seek higher office; in fact, McBroom took two years off from Lansing after his term-limited retirement in 2016. But by 2018 he was ready to resume his legislative career, running for a Senate seat that was his for the taking. Then tragedy struck: On July 7 of that year, Carl was killed in a car wreck near the farm. McBroom froze his campaign. He was now responsible not only for the entirety of a massive agricultural enterprise, and for his own five children, but for Carl’s seven children—plus the one Susan was carrying. He wasn’t sure how the farm would function with him being gone four days a week. But even if he worked the farm full-time, he wasn’t sure it could stay afloat. A Senate salary might offer a bridge to survival.
Having prayed and prayed on the decision, McBroom continued with the campaign. He felt God telling him he was needed in Lansing. After winning the seat, McBroom was promptly named chair of the Senate Oversight Committee. This offered an ideal work-life balance, granting him the autonomy to work odd hours that accommodated his 400-mile commute. It was a dream job—until the nightmare of November 2020.
“Two days after the election, Mike Shirkey calls me, and he says, ‘What do you think about all of this?’” McBroom recalled. “And I said, ‘I think people deserve answers.’”
At that moment, Michigan had emerged as America’s epicenter of electoral dysfunction. Despite boasting a wider margin than other contested states—Joe Biden led Trump by roughly 155,000 votes in the unofficial tally—Michigan was plagued by a series of episodes that lent themselves easily to misinformation and outright conspiracy. There was the reporting error in rural Antrim County, a Republican stronghold, that showed Biden trouncing Trump by an impossible margin. There was the late-night ballot dump at the TCF Center in Detroit, where poll workers covered the windows to prevent harassment from unsanctioned visitors. There were the widespread rumors about excess mail ballots floating around the state, a notion that found traction because of the historic swarm of voters taking advantage of a newly adopted no-excuse absentee-voting law. There was, above all, mass confusion about why the vote was taking so long to tabulate—and why Biden appeared to be the beneficiary.
“At the beginning, even before the investigation, I had a lot of those questions in my own heart,” McBroom told me. “Like, you watch the news or look on Facebook, and some of this seems really strange. What was going on over there? How did those votes get switched? Where did all those ballots come from in the middle of the night? These are legitimate questions, and it would have been unfair to just toss them aside.”
On November 6, McBroom announced that his committee would convene an investigation, beginning the next day, into allegations of misconduct in Michigan’s election. “Many of you have asked me to weigh in on the current election turmoil. I’ve been getting it from both sides who are fervent for the victory of their candidate,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I guess I haven’t been inclined because my fervent desire is for a fair and honest result.”
Not everyone in Lansing knew what to make of McBroom and his investigation. Some Democrats saw a Trump-supporting, anti-abortion zealot from a deep-red district where failure to wave the “Stop the Steal” flag might be fatal. Some Republicans saw an unfailingly earnest, devoutly religious man who was offended by the president’s antics and wouldn’t hesitate to wield a righteous hammer against his own party. As the committee got to work, and concerns piled up across the ideological spectrum, one person never doubted where McBroom’s conclusion was headed. “He is a good and honest person,” said Aaron Van Langevelde, a longtime friend of McBroom and the former GOP canvassing official who received death threats after voting to certify Biden’s statewide victory. “[He] is always going to put his service to the people above politics.”
When he began investigating Detroit’s late-night dump of absentee votes—ballots that are uniquely numbered and require signature verification—McBroom said his mental cinema played scenes from The Italian Job. “You know, someone climbs up into the truck through a manhole cover underneath, puts new boxes in, takes old boxes out,” he said. “And so, you ask yourself, Is that even possible?”
He continued: “Okay, sure. Somebody could break into the truck, whether it’s through the manhole cover, or the driver's complicit, or whatever. But then what? What are you switching the ballots with? Is somebody going to go to find thousands of ballots, match the numbers and signatures on all of them, then swap them out, all in a very limited amount of time, just to push Trump down to 10 percent, instead of 12 percent? … As I ran through all the possible calculations, I was able to reassure myself, like, This is not how you would steal an election.”
In his report, McBroom made clear that other conclusions were even simpler to reach.
What about dead voters? The committee reviewed a list of 200 deceased Wayne County residents who allegedly voted from the grave; it found two instances in which ballots were cast under those names, and both cases were clerical errors. (One man mistakenly voted under the identity of a dead relative who had the same name; one woman returned her absentee ballot, then died four days before the election.)
What about jurisdictions with more votes than registered voters? There were none to be found.
What about absentee ballots being counted multiple times? Nope—the poll books would have registered a disparity. (It’s not uncommon for poll books to be out of balance by a handful of votes; anything more would invite scrutiny and a recount that would invalidate ballots counted twice.)
What about tabulators being hacked with vote-switching software? Impossible, the report found, because the tabulators, no matter what Mike Lindell claims, were not connected to the internet to begin with.
While McBroom’s report crackled with annoyance at certain far-flung beliefs, he saved his saltiest language for the Antrim County saga. To recap: On the morning after Election Day, with all 16,044 votes in the county tallied, an unofficial count showed Biden leading Trump by 3,200 votes. The county clerk quickly determined that an inputting error was publishing the candidates’ totals in the wrong database fields; then, in the race to correct that mistake, officials made an additional inputting error. All of this was resolved within 24 hours, and the county’s updated totals reflected exactly what the tabulators had counted—a 3,800 vote lead for Trump. But this net swing of some 7,000 votes, and the underlying confusion about computer inputs, spawned a nationwide campaign to uncover codes in Dominion voting machines, like the ones used in Antrim County, that changed Trump votes to Biden votes.
The only problem? Dominion’s tabulators had counted the vote accurately, as confirmed by subsequent canvassing efforts and a hand recount. Human inputting error was responsible for the initial bad numbers, a fact obvious to everyone except those who stood to benefit from pretending otherwise. “All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further,” McBroom wrote in the report. “The Committee finds [that] those promoting Antrim County as the prime evidence of a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election place all other statements and actions they make in a position of zero credibility.”
He didn’t stop there. Galvanized by the shameless grifting he’d encountered during the course of his investigation, McBroom stunned his GOP colleagues by referring to Michigan’s attorney general for possible prosecution “those who have been utilizing misleading and false information about Antrim County to raise money or publicity for their own ends.”
This represented the one plot twist in McBroom’s report. (Some Democrats expressed surprise at McBroom’s recommending enhanced election-security policies, but most of his proposals are not new, and he has distanced himself from some of his party’s more restrictive new measures.) Concluding that the election wasn’t stolen is one thing. Suggesting that certain people who alleged a stolen election ought to be prosecuted—by a progressive attorney general who is loathed by the conservative base—is another thing entirely.
McBroom is aware of the risks. He will be accused of trying to silence conservatives, of censoring his own constituents, of punishing anyone who dares to question the legitimacy of the Biden administration and the U.S. elections system. But he makes no apologies. “Fraud is fraud,” he shrugged. “If they lied to people to make money off people, that’s a crime.”
I asked McBroom whether, under that standard, Trump—whose affiliated entities raised enormous sums of money under the guise of a legal strategy to overturn the election results—might be vulnerable to prosecution. He laughed nervously. “We didn’t investigate Trump. The report didn’t investigate him. So I have to stick to what the report says.”
Whatever the report says, its findings make evident that Trump, in concert with an unruly apparatus of right-wing personalities and causes, systematically tricked large portions of the American public into believing something that simply is not true. And yet, even while he recommends possible prosecutions, the urgency McBroom feels at this moment has less to do with going after bad actors and more to do with reaching “the good people who are buying this junk.” This includes people in his own district, friends and community members McBroom has known his entire life who refuse to accept what he is telling them.
“It’s been very discouraging, and very sad, to have people I know who have supported me, and always said they respected me and found me to be honest, who suddenly don’t trust me because of what some guy told them on the internet,” McBroom said. “And they’re like, ‘Yeah, but this is a good guy too.’ And I’m like, ‘How do you know that? Have you met him? You’ve met me. So why are you choosing to believe him instead of me?’”
After having kept quiet for much of the day—cooking, sweeping, applying Band-Aids, directing traffic, shooing the children outside to complete their chores—Sarah McBroom spoke up.
“That’s what has struck me. It’s seeing people that we know—some of them we know very well—who are choosing not to believe Ed, because they believe someone on Facebook they’ve never met,” she said. “I just don’t understand. Like, really? You believe that person over Ed?”
A little while earlier, when discussing the scourge of social media, Ed McBroom joked about quitting Facebook to keep his sanity. Then he rattled off the incoming fire he’s been dealing with daily—not just social-media posts and messages, but angry emails and texts from random numbers. Some people accuse him of being in league with Biden; others claim that China bought him off. Occasionally the screeds get nasty and downright threatening, though he said the most disturbing communications of that nature are delivered in middle-of-the-night phone calls. The senator knows that people can locate his farm easily enough, and worries about being gone so much during the week, leaving Sarah and Susan alone with the 13 children. (Both women, he noted, are trained and highly qualified to operate the collection of rifles that hung in a cabinet behind us.)
Still, whatever fleeting dread he feels about personal backlash is diminished by his concern for the country’s sudden epistemological crisis. Not long ago, McBroom said, he would have defaulted to dismissing any notions of mass societal irrationality. He is not dismissive anymore. He sees large portions of the voting public rejecting the basic tenets of civic education and sequestering into “this alternate world” of social media. He hears from constituents about “enemies” on the other side of political disputes and a looming civil conflict to resolve them. And he wonders, as an amateur historian, whether the “very real trouble” we’re in can be escaped.
“It’s easy to look at the current status of American culture, American politics, the American church, and be really apoplectic right now. It’s very easy to give in to that sense of panic,” McBroom told me. “But we go through different cycles in this country. I’m hoping we’re in a cycle of riots and demonstrations on and off, [and not] the cycle where we end up in civil war. I’ve encountered some folks who are like, ‘Maybe it’s time to rise up’—you know, ‘refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots,’ that stuff. And I say to them, ‘Are you seriously going to go looking for people with Biden signs in their yards? I mean, is that what you’re going to do? Make a list? Is this what this is coming to? You’re ready to go out and fight your neighbors? Because I don’t think you really are. I think you’re talking stupid.’”
McBroom closed his eyes and took a heavy breath. “These are good people, and they’re being lied to, and they’re believing the lies,” he said. “And it’s really dangerous.”