Michigan man charged after remark about hanging election official 'for treason'

Craig Mauger, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

ROYAL OAK, Mich. — A 37-year-old Livonia man will face a felony charge after he allegedly made a comment at a December recount about Joe Rozell, the director of elections in Oakland County, being hanged for treason.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced on Monday her decision to charge Andrew Hess with a felony offense punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000. Her announcement cited a state law that bans people from making a terrorist threat or making a false report of terrorism.

During a ballot recount in Oakland County on Dec. 15, Hess walked outside of the recount room and stated, “hang Joe for treason," referring to Rozell, according to the prosecutor's office.

In a press release, McDonald, a Democrat, said there are some individuals who "seek to undermine the integrity of the election process by threatening and intimidating election workers and supervisors."

"Those threats don’t just impact our election workers, they put our democracy at risk, and they will not be tolerated," McDonald added. "I will do everything within my power to hold those who make such threats accountable.”

The Detroit News first revealed the investigation into a threat against Rozell, a longtime and well-known election official in Michigan, in January.

Hess told The News in an interview on Jan. 10 that it was a possibility that he had made a remark at the recount about treason and hanging.

“I very regularly tell people the penalty for treason is hanging by the neck," Hess said during the interview.


In a Jan. 16 letter to prosecutors, Hess's lawyer, Robert Muise, argued that Hess should be protected from prosecution by the First Amendment.

"Claiming that an election official who cheats on elections should be prosecuted for treason and punished accordingly is protected speech and not an actionable threat," wrote Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, a nonprofit group.

After the 2020 presidential election, supporters of former President Donald Trump, a Republican, advanced incorrect claims that there was widespread voter fraud that swayed the results in Michigan and other battleground states, increasing the pressure and spotlight on the individuals who administer elections.

The Dec. 15 recount in question centered on a Royal Oak ballot proposal that would have allowed for ranked choice voting, a system in which voters can rank candidates for a given office on their ballot instead selecting only one. The measure passed with 51% support or by a margin of about 160 votes.

The alleged threat against an official in Oakland County, involving a relatively inconsequential ballot proposal, showed a ratcheting up of efforts to question election results, said Chris Thomas, Michigan's former longtime elections director.

“I think election officials and the public in general need to be very concerned,” Thomas previously said of threats that could come later this year.


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