Michigan expands probe into electoral system violations by Trump allies
The previously unreported documents include search warrants and investigators’ notes obtained by Reuters through public records requests. The documents reveal a flurry of efforts by state authorities to secure voting machines, poll books, data storage devices and phone records as evidence in an investigation launched in mid-February.
The state’s investigation follows violations of local election systems in Michigan by Republican officials and pro-Trump activists trying to prove his baseless allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
The police documents reveal, among other things, that the state is investigating a potential violation of voting materials in Lake Township, a small, largely conservative community in Missaukee County in northern Michigan. 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 materials. .
Many violations were inspired in part by the false claim that state-ordered voting system upgrades or maintenance would erase evidence of alleged voter fraud in 2020. State election officials, including those in Michigan, say these processes have no impact on the retention of past election data.
The search warrants also authorized state police to seize election materials in Irving Township, Barry County, and have them examined. Local officials publicly acknowledged last month that state police raided the township office on April 29, a day after the warrant was issued.
Additionally, the records shed new light on breaches of election material in County Roscommon. An official in the county’s Richfield Township told investigators he gave two vote-counting tabulators to an unauthorized and unidentified “third party,” who kept them for several weeks in early 2021. County clerk acknowledged that she, too, had turned in her equipment. to unauthorized persons.
Taken together, these documents describe a statewide push by pro-Trump activists to access the election machinery in search of evidence of debunked theories that the equipment was rigged in a crucial swing state that voted for Trump in 2016 and for Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told Reuters the state was investigating coordinated violations of the electoral system.
“If there’s coordination, whether it’s among those in our state or at the national level, we can determine that and then we can seek accountability from everyone involved,” Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview. .
On February 10, Benson announced that she had asked Michigan Attorney General, Democrat Dana Nessel, to open a criminal investigation, citing information state authorities had received regarding unauthorized machine access. to vote and data in County Roscommon. In separate investigations, state or local law enforcement officials last year investigated security breaches involving voting equipment in Cross Village Township in Emmet County and in Adams Township in Hillsdale County.
Representatives from the state police and attorney general’s office declined to comment on the investigations detailed in this story.
Trump won every county where offenses or attempted offenses in Michigan were alleged. The findings in those jurisdictions were backed up by multiple audits and an investigation by the Republican-controlled state Senate, which found no evidence of widespread fraud. But some activists and officials pushing conspiracy theories about voter fraud say Trump’s margin should have been greater in these areas, and their efforts are shaking communities across the state.
In rural Barry County, Republican Sheriff Dar Leaf joined supporters of the debunked claim that voting machines were rigged against Trump. Leaf is continuing his own investigation, although he was urged last year by the Republican county attorney to suspend it for lack of evidence. Trump won the county by a 2-1 margin.
In recent weeks, Leaf’s office has sent extensive public records requests to county township and city clerks, seeking an array of election-related documents. The demands have been condemned by clerks and local officials in interviews with Reuters and public statements as baseless and binding. An editorial in the local newspaper, The Hastings Banner, called Leaf’s investigation “a waste of time and an affront to our citizens”.
Leaf did not respond to requests for comment. In an interview with Reuters in February, he defended his investigation. He said he was “concerned” about theories that voting machines across the country were rigged to favor Biden, and “we need to know if that happened in Barry County.”
Records obtained by Reuters show that in Lake Township, a community of about 2,800 people in Missaukee County, state police obtained a warrant on April 22 to search the clerk’s office for evidence. potential violations of electoral law.
Township Clerk Korrinda Winkelmann, an elected Republican who oversees local voting, declined to comment.
Missaukee County, where Trump won in 2020 with 76% of the vote, is home to Daire Rendon, a Republican state lawmaker who embraced the false claim that widespread fraud robbed Trump of the 2020 victory. approached several clerks in his district, which includes Missaukee, Roscommon and other counties, asking them to give people seeking evidence of fraud access to their voting equipment, Reuters previously reported https://www.Reuters.com/world/us/michigan-pro-trump-state-lawmaker-sought-access-voting-machines-2022-05-20.
In December 2020, Rendon was one of two Republican members of the Michigan House of Representatives to join an unsuccessful federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in five battleground states.
Rendon did not respond to requests for comment. In a May 25 interview with the Cadillac News, a local newspaper, she acknowledged contacting clerks but said she “never touched a voting machine” and did nothing wrong.
State Police are also stepping up investigation into alleged breaches in County Roscommon. In February, Secretary of State Benson said unauthorized persons “gained inappropriate access to tabulation machines and data readers” used in the county and one of its townships, Richfield. Benson, however, did not name any suspects or provide further details.
State Police records show investigators are investigating allegations that the Township of Richfield supervisor allowed a ‘third party’ to take possession of the town’s two ballot tabulators for several weeks in early 2021 Records identify the supervisor only by title, not name, but the county has only one person in the position, Republican John Bawol.
The recordings detail an interview with a “suspect”. The name and title are redacted, but the suspect is described as a township elected official. The official told investigators he believed the tabulators were taken to “the northern suburbs of Detroit” in early February by an unidentified group of people driving a small SUV. The tabulators were not returned until March, the official added. The official said at one point he had spoken to a woman, whose name is redacted, to find out when the machines would be returned, and “she indicated that they were nearly complete.”
State police found the two security seals on a machine indicated it had been tampered with, records show. The seals were intact on the other machine.
Greg Watt, the township clerk, whose job includes safeguarding election materials, told investigators he did not know the identity of the third party who accessed the voting machines, records show. Police documents identify Watt by name and call him a witness in the case.
Watt and Bawol did not respond to requests for comment.
Violations cost taxpayers money. Richfield Township Council voted May 25 to purchase two new vote tabulators and three memory devices for $8,763. The move was necessary to “ensure the integrity of the election”, Watt said at the board meeting, according to an audio recording reviewed by Reuters.
State Police also sought to question the County Roscommon Clerk in connection with an alleged breach of the separate voting system, police records reveal. The county clerk, whose name is redacted in the documents, is Michelle Stevenson, a Republican.
In February, the county clerk admitted to a state election official that she provided a data storage drive containing election information “for one or both” of Richfield Township’s vote tabulators to an unidentified third party, according to an email from the official to police, in which the clerk’s name was also redacted. She also gave the person access to one of County Roscommon’s vote tabulation machines, according to the email.
When state investigators attempted to interview the county clerk on Feb. 17, she indicated her willingness to speak with police but declined to discuss the matter at that time, according to city records. police.
Two weeks later, on March 2, investigators executed a search warrant at Stevenson’s office, accompanied by representatives from Election Systems & Software LLC, the Nebraska-based manufacturer of voting machines used in County Roscommon, according to the archives.
Stevenson declined to comment. Election Systems & Software did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne and Peter Eisler; editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)
By Nathan Layne and Peter Eisler