Michigan widens investigation into voting system breaches by Trump allies

State police in Michigan have obtained warrants to seize voting equipment and election-related records in at least three towns and one county in the past six weeks, police records show, widening the largest known investigation into unauthorized attempts by allies of Donald Trump to access voting systems.

The previously unreported records include search warrants and investigators’ memos 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 inquiry launched in mid-February.

The state’s investigation follows breaches of local election systems in Michigan by Republican officials and pro-Trump activists trying to prove his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

The police documents reveal, among other things, that the state is investigating a potential breach of voting equipment in Lake Township, a small, largely conservative community in northern Michigan’s Missaukee 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 breaches have been inspired in part by the false assertion that state-ordered voting-system upgrades or maintenance would erase evidence of alleged voting fraud in 2020. State election officials, including those in Michigan, say those processes have no impact on the preservation of data from past elections.

The search warrants also authorized state police to seize election equipment in Barry county’s Irving Township and have it examined. Local officials acknowledged publicly last month that state police raided the township office on 29 April, a day after the warrant was issued.

Additionally, the records shed new light on election-equipment breaches in Roscommon county. One official in the county’s Richfield Township told investigators that he gave two vote-counting tabulators to an unauthorized and unidentified “third party”, who kept them for several weeks in early 2021. The county’s clerk acknowledged that she, too, handed over her equipment to unauthorized people.

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

The Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, told Reuters that the state was investigating whether the election system breaches are coordinated.

“If there is coordination, whether it’s among those in our state or reaching up to a national level, we can determine that and then we can seek accountability for all involved,” Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview.

On 10 February, Benson announced that she had asked Michigan’s attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, to begin a criminal investigation, citing information that state authorities had received about unauthorized access to voting machines and data in Roscommon county. In separate inquiries, state or local law enforcement officials have investigated security breaches involving voting equipment in Cross Village Township in Emmet county and Adams Township in Hillsdale county last year.

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

Trump won all of the counties where breaches or attempted breaches in Michigan have been alleged. The results in those jurisdictions were affirmed 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 election-fraud conspiracy theories claim that Trump’s margin should have been larger in these areas, and their efforts are roiling communities across the state.

In rural Barry county, the Republican sheriff, Dar Leaf, has teamed with proponents of the debunked claim that voting machines were rigged against Trump. Leaf is pursuing his own investigation, despite being urged last year by the Republican county prosecutor to suspend it for lack of evidence. Trump won the county by a 2-1 margin.

In recent weeks, Leaf’s office has sent expansive public records requests to the county’s township and city clerks, seeking an array of election-related records. The requests were condemned by clerks and local officials in Reuters interviews and public statements as baseless and burdensome. 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” by theories that voting machines nationwide were rigged to favor Biden, and “we need to know if that happened in Barry county”.

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