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Michigan police probe alleged voting equipment breach in Roscommon County

Jocelyn Benson
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a first-term Democrat, this week requested an investigation into a possible breach of voter tabulation equipment in Roscommon County. (File photo)

LANSING — Michigan State Police are investigating allegations of unauthorized voting equipment access in Roscommon County that may be related to ongoing attempts to undermine the 2020 presidential election, a spokesperson confirmed Friday.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson requested a probe on Thursday, with her office saying it had received reports "that an unnamed third party was allowed to access vote tabulator components."

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That would be a breach of election security protocols, a potential felony, and may have exposed the machines to "vulnerabilities that render them unusable in future elections," according to Benson's office.

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It's wasn’t clear Friday when the alleged breach may have occurred or who alerted Benson. 

Aneta Kiersnowski Crisp, a Department of State spokesperson, said the agency has “no reason to believe the unauthorized access was gained prior to the 2020 election” and said “additional questions about timeline will be answered in the investigation.”

In a statement, Benson said “protecting the integrity and security of our elections, especially from those who use lies and misinformation to deceive Michigan voters, is a critical component of defending democracy.”

The first-term Democrat added: “Michigan law is clear about the security threats that emerge when anyone gains unauthorized access to our election machines or technology, and I will have no tolerance for those who seek to illegally tamper with our voting equipment.”

While Benson’s office declined to answer additional questions, it noted that a witness in a failed Antrim County lawsuit "claimed to include an image" from an Elections Systems and Software tabulator, which is the kind of machine used in Roscommon County — but not Antrim.

Roscommon Chief Deputy Clerk Theresa Downey declined comment Friday, citing the "pending investigation."  

Richfield Township Clerk Greg Watt and Supervisor John Bawol did not return voicemails from Bridge Michigan. 

Benson on Thursday also asked Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate the allegations. Nessel's office "received the referral" and has "no additional information to share at this time," said spokesperson Lynsey Mukomel. 

According to Benson’s office, at least one person gained access to both tabulation machines and data drives used in Richfield Township. Because of that,  the county may be required to replace the equipment at taxpayer expense. 

Both state law and vendor contracts restrict voting equipment access to qualified workers. It is a felony to “obtain undue possession of… (a) voting machine” in Michigan.

In a Thursday letter sent to clerks around the state, Benson said her office has "recently received multiple credible allegations of instances in which an unauthorized third-party has been granted access to vote tabulation machines in violation of Michigan law."

Benson urged clerks to refuse requests for unauthorized access to voting machines and to report any attempts.

"Providing tabulators to unauthorized parties has serious implications for all of us as election administrators, as it risks the security and integrity of all Michigan elections," she wrote.

The state police investigation in Roscommon is the latest in a series of controversies involving Michigan voting equipment following the 2020 presidential election:

A Republican-led state Senate panel spent months investigating the 2020 contest and concluded there was no widespread fraud, but Trump supporters continue to spread unsubstantiated claims and call for a "forensic audit" of the election.

As Bridge Michigan first reported, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf considered seizing voting machines in late 2020 after his attorney consulted with top Trump allies, including attorney Sidney Powell, who was later sanctioned over a lawsuit that sought to overturn the election. 

In Adams Township, a small community in Hillsdale County, Clerk Stephanie Scott was stripped of election duties last year after suggesting she would not use her own voting machine again due to erroneous fears that doing so could delete information about the 2020 election. 

The New York Times, citing "people familiar with the matter," reported last month Trump tried — but failed — to persuade Michigan lawmakers to use local law enforcement agencies to seize voting machines to search for evidence.

In Antrim County, where a mistake by the Republican elections clerk led to an error in reporting of unofficial results in 2020, a judge allowed a team of uncredentialed experts to examine voting equipment. 

Their resulting report on the election in Antrim County — where Trump officially won by a wide margin after the initial reporting error was fixed — was quickly debunked by top election officials and independent experts.

But Trump attorneys cited the report in a draft order that would have directed the Department of Defense to seize voting machines after the election. 

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The draft order, first reported by Politico, was never formally issued. But it was obtained by the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, which is probing events that led up to Capitol riots as Congress officially accepted President Joe Biden's 2020 election win.

The committee has also been investigating fake Trump electors who attempted to meet at the Michigan Capitol for an Electoral College vote affirming Biden's win.

The panel last month issued subpoenas seeking information from Michigan Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden and former Michigan 14th District Republican Committee Chair Mayra Rodriguez.

Berden and Rodriguez were listed as chair and co-chair on an unofficial elector document filed with the National Archivist in January 2021.

They have not returned calls seeking comment on the subpoenas, and the Michigan Republican Party declined comment last week.

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