EXCLUSIVE: Michigan expands investigation into voting system abuses by Trump allies

LANSING, Mich., June 6 (Reuters) – Michigan State Police obtained orders to seize voting equipment and election-related records in at least three towns and one county in the past six weeks, police records show, expanding the largest known investigation into unauthorized attempts by Allies of former President Donald Trump accepted to gain access to voting systems.

These include records not reported by search warrants and investigators’ notes obtained by Reuters through public records requests. The documents reveal a series of efforts by state authorities to secure voting machines, ballot books, data storage devices and phone records as evidence in an investigation that began in mid-February.

The state investigation comes on the heels of violations of Michigan’s local election regulations by Republican officials and pro-Trump activists trying to substantiate his unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

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Police documents reveal, among other things, that the state is investigating a possible breach of voting equipment in Lake Township, a small, largely conservative community in northern Michigan’s Misuki County. The previously unreported case is one of at least 17 incidents nationwide, including 11 in Michigan, in which Trump supporters gained or attempted to gain unauthorized access to voting equipment.

Many of the abuses are inspired in part by the false assertion that state-ordered upgrades or maintenance of the voting system would erase evidence of alleged vote fraud in 2020. State election officials, including those in Michigan, say these processes have no effect on Preserve data from previous elections.

Search warrants also allowed state police to seize and inspect election equipment in the town of Irving, Barry County. Local officials publicly acknowledged last month that state police raided the borough office on April 29, the day after the warrant was issued.

In addition, the records shed new light on election equipment breaches in Roscommon County. An official in the county town of Richfield told investigators he gave two vote-counting schedules to an unauthorized, unidentified “third party,” who held them for several weeks in early 2021. The county clerk admitted that she also handed over her equipment to unauthorized people.

Taken together, these documents depict a statewide push by pro-Trump activists to access election machines looking for evidence of debunked theories that equipment was rigged in a crucial swing vote for Trump in 2016 and Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told Reuters the state was investigating whether or not the election system violations were coordinated.

“If there is coordination, whether it is between those in our state or it reaches the national level, we can identify that and then we can seek accountability for all involved,” Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview.

in February. On September 10, Benson announced that she had asked Michigan Attorney General, Democrat Dana Nessel, to launch a criminal investigation, citing information received by state authorities about unauthorized access to voting machines and data in Roscommon County. In separate inquiries, state or local law enforcement officials investigated security breaches involving voting equipment in Cross Village Township in Emmett County and Adams Township in Hillsdale County last year.

Representatives of the state police and the prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the investigations detailed in this story.

Trump won all counties in which violations or attempted breaches were alleged in Michigan. The findings in those jurisdictions were confirmed by multiple audits and an investigation by the Republican-controlled Senate, which found no evidence of widespread fraud. But some activists and officials promoting election fraud conspiracy theories claim that Trump’s margin should have been greater in these areas, and that their efforts are upsetting communities across the state.

In rural Barry County, Republican Sheriff Dar Leaf teamed up with supporters of the bogus claim that voting machines were fraudulent against Trump. Leaf is pursuing his own investigation, despite being urged last year by the county Republican prosecutor to suspend the investigation due to a lack of evidence. Trump won the boycott by 2-1.

In recent weeks, Leaf’s office has sent out expanded public records requests to township and county city clerks, searching for a set of election-related records. In interviews and public statements to Reuters, clerks and local officials have condemned the requests as unfounded and burdensome. An editorial in the local Hastings Banner newspaper called Leaf’s investigation a “waste of time and an insult to our citizens.”

Liv did not respond to requests for comment. In an interview with Reuters in February, he defended his investigation. He said he was “concerned” by theories that nationwide voting machines were rigged in Biden’s favour, and “we need to know if that happened in Barry County.”

‘improper access’

Records obtained by Reuters show that state police in Lake Township, which has a population of about 2,800 people in Missouri County, obtained a warrant on April 22 to search the clerk’s office for evidence of potential election law violations.

Township clerk Corinda Winkelman, an elected Republican who oversees local voting, declined to comment.

Misuki County, where Trump won 76% of the vote in 2020 is home to Dyer Rendon, the Republican state lawmaker who has made the fictitious claim that widespread fraud robbed Trump of victory in 2020. Rendon has approached several clerks in her district, which includes Missaukee, Roscommon and other counties, and are required to give people seeking evidence of fraud access to their voting equipment, Reuters previously reported.

In December 2020, Rendon was one of two Republican members of the Michigan House of Representatives to join a failed federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in five glamorous states.

Rendon did not respond to requests for comment. In a May 25 interview with local Cadillac News, she admitted calling the staff but said she “didn’t touch the voting machine” and did nothing wrong.

State Police are also ramping up their investigations into alleged abuses in Roscommon County. In February, Secretary of State Benson said that unauthorized persons “gained inappropriate access to the schedulers and data drives” used in the county and in one of its towns, Richfield.

State police records show that investigators are investigating allegations that the Richfield Township Superintendent allowed a “third party” to seize the town’s polling schedules for several weeks in early 2021. Records identify the superintendent only by title and not by name, but the county has only one person in the position, Republican John Powell.

The records show an interview with a “suspect”. The name and surname have been omitted but the suspect is described as an elected local official. The official told investigators he believed the schedules were flown to the “northern suburbs of Detroit” in early February by an unknown group of people driving a small SUV. The official added that the schedules did not return until March. At one point the official said he checked in with a woman, whose name has been omitted, about when the machines should be returned, and “advised them that it was almost done.”

Records showed that state police found that both security seals on one machine indicated that it had been tampered with. The seals were intact on the other machine.

Greg Watt, the town’s clerk, whose job includes protecting election equipment, told investigators he did not know the identity of the third party that accessed the voting machines, according to records. Police documents identify Watt by name and call him as a witness in the case.

Watt and Powell did not respond to requests for comment.

These abuses cost taxpayers money. Richfield Township Council voted on May 25 to purchase two new voting schedules and three memory devices at a cost of $8,763. Watt said at the board meeting that the move was necessary to “ensure the integrity of the elections,” according to an audio recording seen by Reuters.

State police also sought to question a Roscommon County clerk in connection with an alleged separate breach of the voting system, according to police records. The county clerk, whose name is omitted in the documents, is Michelle Stephenson, a Republican.

In February, a county clerk admitted to a state election official that she had provided a data storage drive containing “one or both” election information for the Richfield Township voting schedule to an unidentified third party, according to an email from the official to police, in which the writer’s name is also omitted. . According to the email, it also gave the person access to one of Roscommon County’s vote-scheduling machines.

When state investigators tried to interview the county clerk in February. At 17, she indicated a willingness to speak with the police but refused to discuss the matter at the time, according to police records.

Two weeks later, on March 2, investigators executed a search warrant at Stephenson’s office, accompanied by representatives of Election Systems & Software LLC, the Nebraska-based manufacturer of voting machines used in Roscommon County, records show.

Stevenson declined to comment. Election Systems and Programs did not respond to requests for comment.

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(Reporting by Nathan Lane and Peter Isler) Editing by Jason Zip and Brian Thevenot

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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