The office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has requested the appointment of a special prosecutor to consider criminal charges against nine people it alleges were involved in a conspiracy to improperly obtain access to voting machines used in the 2020 election — including the presumptive Republican nominee for attorney general, who is set to run against Nessel in November.
Nessel’s office asked the state’s Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council for the appointment of a special prosecuting attorney in a petition filed Friday, in part to avoid a conflict of interest given that “one of the prime instigators of the conspiracy” is now Trump-backed Republican candidate Matthew DePerno. DePerno is accused of “orchestrating a coordinated plan” with others, including state Rep. Daire Rendon and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, to gain access to voting machines used in several Michigan counties in the 2020 election.
The petition claims that five voting tabulators were taken to hotels or Airbnbs, where several people “broke into the tabulators and performed ‘tests’ on the equipment.” “During the investigation, it was discovered that DePerno was present in a hotel room during such ‘testing.'”
According to the petition, the alleged conspiracy also included the “printing of fake ballots to be run through the tabulators” and the recruitment of “volunteers.”
Tyson Shepard, DePerno’s campaign manager, said in a statement Sunday that Nessel “has a history of targeting and persecuting her political enemies,” and that her “actions are unethical and will further demonstrate to voters that she is unfit for office.” However, the statement did not say whether DePerno was involved in the alleged plot to gain unauthorized access to the machines.
On Friday, Nessel’s office also notified Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of the investigation, which was carried out in collaboration with state police. According to the letter, the investigation “uncovered that, following the 2020 election, a group of individuals gained unauthorized access and compromised tabulators” from several county clerks.
The letter stated that a state representative, who was not named, informed some of these clerks that the representative was investigating election fraud and wanted them to hand over their vote tabulators to investigators. Person 1, identified in the letter as “acting on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department,” went to various county clerks’ offices in March 2021 to obtain the voting machines as well as a laptop used as an electronic poll book.
Person 1 “assured each separate clerk that they would be returned in just a few days,” according to the letter, but the machines were not returned until early April in some cases, and June or September in others.
According to the attorney general’s office, the voting machines were “accessed improperly and damaged,” and they were decommissioned before this year’s primary election. The office also stated that the Bureau of Elections issued a notice in February 2021, a month before the alleged conspiracy occurred, stating that “only election officials, licensed vendors, or accredited voting system test laboratories should be granted access to voting equipment.”
“Election clerks should be informed that any individual claiming to be a law enforcement officer and seeking to inspect or seize election equipment should always request to see identification,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “Additionally, even law enforcement officers should have a search warrant in order to inspect or seize equipment.”
The office also stated that taking undue possession of a voting machine used in an election is a felony punishable by five years in prison.
On Sunday, Benson tweeted, “Those who break the law to undermine our elections and further political goals must face consequences.”
“The election clerks in this state do their jobs with professionalism and integrity, and we will continue to ensure they are fully aware of the legal safeguards in place to prevent bad actors from pressuring them to gain access to secure election systems,” she wrote.