Exclusive: Trump-backed Michigan attorney general nominee implicated in voting system breach, documents show

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Aug 7 (Reuters) – The Republican nominee for Michigan attorney general led a team that gained unauthorized access to voting materials while searching for evidence to support the former’s false claims of voter fraud President Donald Trump, according to a Reuters analysis of court documents and public records. .

The analysis shows that people working with Matthew DePerno – the Trump-endorsed nominee for the state’s top law enforcement official – looked at a vote tabulator from Richfield Township, a 3-star conservative stronghold. 600 people in County Roscommon in northern Michigan.

The Richfield security breach is one of four similar incidents being investigated by current Michigan Attorney General, Democrat Dana Nessel. Under state law, it is a crime to seek or provide unauthorized access to voting equipment.

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DePerno did not respond to a request for comment.

The involvement of a Republican attorney general nominee in a violation of the voting system comes amid a nationwide effort by supporters of Trump’s fraudulent lies to win state offices that could prove key in deciding future disputed elections.

In Arizona last week, three Trump-backed candidates who claim the 2020 election was stolen won Republican primaries for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, the top official overseeing elections. . In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has pledged to decertify any election he deems fraudulent through his appointed secretary of state. Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania are all presidential battlegrounds.

Trump eulogized DePerno in front of a large audience this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. “He’s going to make sure you’re going to have law and order and a fair election,” Trump said, waving his fist as DePerno stood in the audience and waved. “It’s an important race.”

Reuters linked DePerno of Michigan to the violation of Richfield’s voting system by matching the serial number of the township’s tabulator to a photograph in a publicly available report written by a member of DePerno’s team. The photograph showed a printed record of vote tabulator activity, which also included a ten-digit string. Reuters confirmed that these numbers matched the serial number of a Richfield vote tabulator in public records obtained from the township. State officials previously identified Richfield as the site of a voting hardware security breach.

DePerno had submitted the report as evidence in a failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results in another Michigan county, Antrim. The report claimed that Dominion and ES&S election equipment was vulnerable to hacking and vote rigging.

Reuters asked an election security expert to review the documents. Kevin Skoglund, president and chief technologist of nonpartisan Citizens for Better Elections, an election security advocacy organization, said the matched numbers indicate DePerno’s team had access to the Richfield Township tabulator or to its data readers.

DePerno led “Michigan’s County Antrim Election Investigation and Prosecution Team,” which included himself, Detroit lawyer Stefanie Lambert, private investigator Michael Lynch and James Penrose, a former analyst from the National Security Agency, according to promotional materials for a July 2021 fundraising event in California sponsored by a conservative group that advertised appearances by members of DePerno’s team. Penrose, who had aided other top Trump allies in their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, authored the report that Reuters linked to a tabulator implicated in the Richfield Township security breach.

Lambert, Lynch and Penrose did not respond to requests for comment.

The previously unreported link to GOP Attorney General nominee DePerno and his associates comes as Democratic incumbent Nessel advances her investigation, which she launched in February 2022. Nessel is seeking re-election, which would create a conflict of interest should his political opponent become a suspect. in his office’s investigation. The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the details of its investigation, but said Nessel would “take appropriate steps to remove herself and her department should a conflict arise.”

Nessel’s office began investigating security flaws in the voting system after a request from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. In a February statement, Benson said “at least one anonymous third party” had gained access to tabulation machines and data readers in Richfield Township and County Roscommon.

Jake Rollow, spokesman for the secretary of state, said the office does not believe DePerno’s team has legal authority to access ES&S voting materials. Rollow declined to comment further on the attorney general’s investigation, but stressed its importance. “To ensure the safety of Michigan’s elections in the future, there must be consequences now for people who illegally accessed state voting machines,” he said.

ES&S did not respond to requests for comment.

GRAB A GLITCH

Voting and counting equipment is subject to strict chain-of-custody requirements to ensure accuracy and guard against fraud. Access to tabulators is strictly restricted and any machine compromised by an unauthorized person is usually taken out of service.

The four cases investigated by Nessel are among at least 17 incidents identified by Reuters nationwide in which Trump supporters obtained or attempted to obtain unauthorized access to material. of voting. Michigan has 11, reflecting how conspiracy theorists have sought to capitalize on an error in County Antrim’s initial 2020 results report to allege widespread fraud in the state, without proof.

A state review of the County Antrim incident found that a failure to update software correctly caused a computer glitch that led county officials to initially declare Joe Biden as the county winner reliable republican. Officials quickly acknowledged and corrected the error, and Trump’s victory was confirmed by a manual tally of every vote cast.

DePerno seized on the confusion and filed a lawsuit claiming baselessly that Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems tabulators were rigged to reverse votes from Trump to Biden in County Antrim.

“No evidence of fraud or tampering with machinery in the 2020 election has ever been presented in Michigan or any other state, and courts in Michigan and elsewhere have dismissed these allegations as baseless,” a said Dominion spokesman Tony Fratto.

In early December 2020, 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer authorized DePerno’s legal team to take forensic images of County Antrim voting materials to search for evidence of voter fraud. The court order was limited to Antrim, where only Dominion equipment was used. The order did not extend to other jurisdictions or to machines made by other voting system vendors.

Yet DePerno’s team submitted two reports in April 2021 to the court which revealed that they had also examined equipment manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S).

Penrose’s report, dated April 9, contained a photograph of a “summary tape” containing information about tabulator activity on election night, such as when results were submitted to the county. Among other things, the tape showed a string of numbers: 0317350497.

This is the serial number of one of two ES&S DS200 tabulators used by Richfield Township in the 2020 vote, according to copies of documents obtained by Reuters via a public records request.

Skoglund, the election security expert consulted by Reuters, said the matching figures indicate the report’s author had access to either Richfield’s tabulator or a data reader containing the results and other information about the election. machine.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Penrose’s photography came out of that same DS200 – that he had convenient physical access,” Skoglund told Reuters.

A second person familiar with the operation of the ES&S voting equipment reviewed records obtained by Reuters and agreed that the tabulator tape shown in the Penrose report matches the machine with the same serial number.

MORE MACHINES

The Penrose report was one of a series of submissions by DePerno’s team that failed to convince Judge Elsenheimer. At a hearing on April 12, 2021, the judge ended DePerno’s attempt to subpoena several Michigan counties over access to election data and equipment.

DePerno gave an interview later that same day to two right-wing websites, Gateway Pundit and 100 Percent Fed Up. DePerno said Penrose reviewed an ES&S machine. He added that the team had also looked at Dominion equipment “outside County Antrim”. The attorney said he did not view Elsenheimer’s decision as a dead end.

“Maybe there will be a county somewhere that decides to come forward and cooperate. That would be good,” DePerno told the Websites.

In fact, DePerno associates had already taken possession of local authority voting machines in Richfield Township in County Roscommon and Lake Township in Missaukee County, according to police records and text messages acquired via requests for public records.

Lynch, the private investigator who worked with DePerno on his County Antrim case, exchanged texts with Lake Township Clerk Korinda Winkelmann on March 20, 2021. Lynch asked for help accessing a Dominion device she had provided to him, according to the messages, obtained by Reuters through a public records request. Winkelman shared with Lynch an operational manual and password for the device, while speculating how election systems could be rigged.

Lynch had no clearance to examine the machine, and the incident is still under state investigation. Winkelmann did not respond to requests for comment.

Elsenheimer dismissed Antrim’s lawsuit in May 2021, a decision that was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals this year. DePerno’s fraud allegations have been largely debunked. A Republican-led Senate committee in Michigan released a scathing report in June 2021 that called DePerno’s various allegations “demonstrably false.”

In September 2021, Trump endorsed DePerno as the Republican nominee for Michigan attorney general, praising his pursuit of “fair and accurate elections” and his continued efforts to “reveal the truth about the presidential election scam. of November 3”.

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Reporting by Nathan Layne; additional reporting by Peter Eisler; edited by Brian Thévenot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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