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Michigan clerks who gave away tabulators risk ability to run elections, letters show

Craig Mauger, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan clerks who handed over voting tabulators to aid investigations into unproven claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election could lose their ability to administer future elections unless they confirm they've stopped allowing unauthorized access to equipment.

In Aug. 26 letters, Jonathan Brater, Michigan's elections director, told Irving Township Clerk Sharon Olson, Roscommon County Clerk Michelle Stevenson and Lake Township Clerk Korinda Winkelmann to report five times from September through January on whether they've safeguarded their voting equipment.

"If you fail to provide these confirmations, you will be instructed to refrain from administering any elections in Irving Township and legal action will be taken as necessary to enforce this instruction," Brater wrote to Olson. "Be advised that willfully failing to comply with a lawful order from the secretary of state is a misdemeanor."

The letter to Olson became public this week because it was cited in a Monday court filing by Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf.

The Secretary of State's office then confirmed similar directives were sent to Stevenson and Winkelmann. All three clerks were named in an Aug. 5 letter to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson about an investigation by Attorney General Dana Nessel's office, which alleged a "conspiracy" had occurred to gain improper access to five voting tabulators in Michigan.

The clerks' first reports on protecting equipment were due Sept. 2, and all three clerks confirmed they had not provided additional unauthorized access, said Jake Rollow, Benson's spokesman.

A fourth letter from Brater went to Richfield Township Clerk Greg Watt, but in it, Brater didn't require reports on whether unauthorized access had been allowed. Watt was not named in the Aug. 5 letter from the Attorney General's office.

Two individuals allegedly picked up two tabulators from Richfield Township from Township Supervisor Walter John Bawol, not Watt, according to the Attorney General's office.

Leaf previously sued Benson, Nessel and the state police, saying they improperly interfered with his investigation into unproven and vague claims of wrongdoing in the 2020 presidential election.

However, Nessel's office says Leaf was one of nine individuals involved in the tabulator "conspiracy."

The five tabulators, including one from Irving Township in Barry County, were taken to rental properties in Oakland County, where a group of self-described cybersecurity experts broke into them and performed tests on them, an Aug. 5 petition by the Attorney General's office for a special prosecutor said.

The petition named Leaf along with Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno and state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City.

 

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson, who was named the special prosecutor on Sept. 8, continues to review the case.

Olson, the clerk in a township with fewer than 3,500 people, provided a tabulator to an individual on March 9, 2021, after allegedly being asked to cooperate with an election fraud investigation, according to the Attorney General's office. Three months later, the person returned the tabulator to the township.

Clerks should never allow access to election equipment to entities other than election officials, staff, licensed vendors and accredited voting system test laboratories, Brater wrote in his Aug. 26 letter to Olson.

"Granting access to election equipment to unauthorized personnel may result in the decertification of election equipment or require additional procedures be followed prior to the use of such equipment," Brater added.

The "mere claim that access is being sought" for a sheriff's department investigation should not have been enough to provide access to a tabulator, Brater wrote.

"Access of this nature would require, at minimum, a subpoena, warrant signed by a judge or court order," he wrote.

State law requires local clerks to comply with instructions given by the secretary of state, who has supervisory control under the state's election policies, Brater wrote.

Olson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In the Monday court filing, Leaf's attorney, Stefanie Lambert, argued the letter amounted to threatening to remove Olson from her constitutional duties. Lambert was also one of the nine individuals named in the petition for a special prosecutor by the Attorney General's office.

DePerno, Lambert and Rendon "orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access to voting tabulators," the Aug. 5 petition said. DePerno has denied wrongdoing and described the allegations as "total garbage."

In 2021, the Michigan Bureau of Elections prohibited a local clerk in Hillsdale County from administering an election after the bureau said the clerk failed to comply with state requirements regarding voting equipment in Adams Township.

(c)2022 The Detroit News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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