Benson asks police, AG to investigate reports of election equipment tampering in N. Michigan

By: - February 11, 2022 3:01 pm

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at the Electoral College vote, Dec. 14, 2020 | Whitmer office photo

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Thursday evening that she asked state police and Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate “multiple credible allegations” her office received this week that at least one unauthorized third party illegally tampered with voting equipment in northern Michigan’s Roscommon County and Richfield Township.

The party reportedly “gained inappropriate access to tabulation machines and data drives” used in Richfield Township and Roscommon County, which Benson noted could require the equipment to be replaced at the taxpayers’ expense. Richfield Township and Roscommon County are located in central northern Michigan, approximately a two-hour drive from Lansing.

State law restricts access to voting equipment to qualified personnel. It is a felony to “obtain undue possession of [a]…voting machine,” according to state law.

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“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 in this moment,” Benson said in a press release. “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.”

A Benson spokesperson did not specify when the tampering may have occurred but said “we have no reason to believe the unauthorized access was gained prior to the 2020 election.”

Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for Michigan State Police, confirmed Friday that they are “investigating the allegation.” A spokesperson for Nessel said the attorney general’s office has “received the referral and have no additional information to share at this time.”

An individual who answered the phone at the Roscommon County Clerk’s office said that “due to pending investigation, there is no comment.” The Richfield Township Clerk’s office is not open on Fridays and did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to requesting the investigation from law enforcement, Benson, a Democrat, sent a letter to all of Michigan’s 1,603 county, city and township clerks on Thursday regarding the possible security breach and what to do if they become aware of an incident in which an unauthorized third party has attempted to gain, or been given improper access, to voting equipment.

I write to remind you of your responsibility under the law to work with the Bureau [of Elections] to prevent future risks and address any that are outstanding,” Benson wrote in that letter. “If you are aware of any incidents in which an unauthorized  third party has attempted to gain or has been given improper access to voting equipment, you have a  duty to report this immediately.”

In that letter, Benson also thanked clerks for their work.

“As we work to prepare for safe and secure 2022 elections, I know that, as the local and county officials running Michigan’s elections on the front line, you are aware of the importance of safeguarding voting  equipment, and protecting the integrity of our election systems,” Benson wrote. “I also know that pressure has mounted on all of you in recent years, and yet you continue to demonstrate your dedication to the security and integrity of Michigan elections.”

Roscommon County, a Republican area that voted for former President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election, is located about 65 miles south of Antrim County — where a quickly corrected mistake on Election Night paved the way for national conspiracy theories that Trump won the election. 

President Donald Trump at a Battle Creek rally, Dec. 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

The 2020 election was not close, and Biden defeated Trump by more than seven million votes and won the Electoral College 306-232. In Michigan, Biden beat Trump by 154,000 votes.

While Republicans, including Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, have continued to promote the false idea that Trump won, numerous investigations have proved otherwise. An investigation by the Republican-controlled Senate Oversight Committee, court rulings and audits have upheld the results of Michigan’s 2020 election.

Benson’s office noted the Antrim County incident in its Thursday statement. Following the uproar around Antrim in the 2020 election, a judge in northern Michigan allowed Trump supporters to access tabulators and data in the county. That was used to create a report that made false allegations of election fraud. 

The report was thoroughly debunked by multiple election experts, but not before it was cited as the reason for the federal government to seize tabulation machines in a draft executive order of former president Donald Trump,” Benson’s press release said. “Another submission in the same case in Antrim County claimed to include an image from an Elections System and Software tabulator, the vendor that provides tabulators to all Roscommon County jurisdictions.”


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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is a former assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats included economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.