Election Deniers’ Voting Machine Schemes Have Become Part Of The 2022 Midterms

People vote in the Michigan primary election at Chrysler Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan, on March 10, 2020. - Voters in Michigan and five other states headed to polls early Tuesday in the latest slate of prim... People vote in the Michigan primary election at Chrysler Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan, on March 10, 2020. - Voters in Michigan and five other states headed to polls early Tuesday in the latest slate of primaries that will decide whether Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will face President Donald Trump in November. Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington state also vote Tuesday. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Since Trump asserted that Biden stole the 2020 election despite all evidence suggesting the opposite, the Big Lie has spread like a cancer through nearly every part of the democratic process. Roles that are integral to polling sites — including poll watchers and election administrators — have been targeted by conservative activists, who have sought to politicize them and take them over. 

As TPM has reported over the past year, supporters of the Big Lie across the country have broken into voting machines — or otherwise compromised election data — in a handful of swing states. But the breaches aren’t isolated to the months immediately following the 2020 election; they’re creeping into the midterms now, as well.

In August, a poll worker in Kent County, Michigan, attached his personal USB drive to an electronic poll book, which stores sensitive election data including voters’ personal information, according to local prosecutors.

Officials identified the Republican-affiliated worker on Thursday as 68-year-old James Donald Holkeboer, and he’s since been charged with two felonies: falsifying records and using a computer to commit a crime. But the exact reasoning behind his attempted breach in August remains a mystery.

Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Republican, described the incident as “extremely egregious and incredibly alarming.”

“The breach of the Electronic Poll book could not — and did not — allow any access to voting machines, ballots, or election results, and it could not have affected the outcome of the election itself,” Lyons said in a statement. “The willful violation occurred after the files in the Electronic Poll Book were saved to the precinct’s authorized, encrypted system devices, and that system device was placed in a certified, sealed container, per standard procedure.” 

The incident is just the latest in a series of attempts by right-wing actors to access data kept in voting machines.

Among the most notable examples is an incident in which a crew working with Trump lawyer Sidney Powell accessed voting machine data at a polling place in the rural Coffee County, Georgia. A day after the January 6th insurrection, Coffee County Republican Party chairwoman Cathy Latham met Atlanta-based bail bondsman Scott Hall and a computer forensics team from the firm SullivanStrickler at the Coffee County elections office.

They proceeded to spend hours copying data and software from the office’s election management server in order to prove that the voting machines were unreliable.

As my former colleague Matt Shuham reported, these incidents are a big deal: compromising voting machines could cost a state thousands or millions of dollars, as well as render voters’ personal information vulnerable to bad actors.

The details of the Coffee County breach emerged in part through an ongoing suit by election integrity group the Council for Good Governance (CGG) against the state of Georgia, alleging that the machines were vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks, but CGG is unaffiliated with Powell and her cronies. 

Powell, and a team of technicians and lawyers working with her, had orchestrated the breach as part of a broader push to access voting equipment across several states. She’s spearheaded similar efforts to copy election data from counties in Michigan and Nevada. 

There have been other schemes, including the one carried out by a Republican county clerk in Colorado: Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters allegedly orchestrated a security breach in her office, which led to a leak of sensitive election material that ultimately surfaced at a “cyber symposium” organized by pillow magnate and Big Lie influencer Mike Lindell.

The latest attempt in Michigan foreshadows trouble for the primaries: Most of the prior breaches sought information related to the 2020 election. Holkeboer’s, however, occurred after the state’s primary election on August 2, suggesting these schemes will continue, with activists seeking data related to current and future elections, as well.

Lyons has said that her office plans on conducting a post-election audit to ensure the data from the electronic poll book wasn’t tampered with. Michigan’s secretary of state said that the equipment that Holkeboer allegedly attached a USB device to has been decommissioned and won’t be used in November.

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