- Michigan has rules to ensure that voting equipment isn’t misused
- But the rules are only good if clerks follow them — and Michigan has more than 1,600
- Breaches after the 2020 election caused embarrassment and could lead to charges
As the midterms approach, the Michigan secretary of state’s office has found itself repeatedly defending the state’s election system against local clerks. Experts say the clearest vulnerability facing Michigan are such insider threats, which the secretary of state has little ability to proactively prevent. The problem became most evident after a handful of local clerks last year allegedly gave people unauthorized access to election equipment, forcing the secretary of state’s staff to manage the fallout.
Now at least one of those clerks is making false claims about the state’s voting machines and hinting she may conduct the election without them.
Michigan is among the closest watched midterm battlegrounds, and the allegations that clerks in Barry County’s Irving Township, Missaukee County’s Lake Township, and Roscommon County, and a supervisor in Roscommon’s Richfield Township, allowed pro-Trump actors to have unauthorized access to tabulators last year sent shockwaves through the state.
Experts and state officials agree that there has been no lasting damage to the state’s voting systems, because the protective measures in place worked. But Michigan’s decentralized election administration means the first line of defense in election security are the 1,609 county, municipal, and township clerks, who are responsible for overseeing and protecting equipment and following the law — or not.
The widely disseminated responsibilities make it difficult for the state to ensure that the rules are consistently followed. While there is no indication that other clerks have allowed unauthorized access and several interviewed for this story vowed to keep the machines secure, elections security consultant Ryan Macias said insiders willingly providing access remains “the biggest risk to security.”
One of the powers the secretary of state can exercise to ultimately hold defiant clerks accountable is to restrict their duties, according to John Pirich, an election law attorney and adjunct law professor at Michigan State University.
“The secretary of state can revoke a local clerk’s authority and take over their elections responsibility,” Pirich said. The State Department’s Bureau of Elections has done so at least twice in unrelated cases in the past year.
A recent round of warnings to clerks in the four places that experienced breaches showed that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is ready to use that power to protect tabulators. In letters dated Aug. 26, 2022, state elections director Jonathan Brater warned clerks not to allow more unauthorized access to …….