The story of raped voting crews in one of the nation’s top political battleground states involves a bail bondsman, a prominent attorney linked to former President Donald Trump’s attempts to nullify the 2020 presidential election, and a cast of characters from a rural county that rarely attracts attention. of strangers
How they all came together and what it might mean for the safety of voting in the upcoming midterm elections are questions tangled in a lawsuit and state investigations that have sparked calls to ditch the machines altogether.
Details of the unauthorized access to sensitive voting equipment in Coffee County, Georgia, became public last month when documents and emails revealed the involvement of prominent Trump supporters. That’s when he also caught the attention of an Atlanta-based prosecutor leading a separate investigation into Trump’s efforts to undo his loss in the state.
Since then, revelations about what happened in the county of 43,000 people have raised questions about whether Dominion Voting Systems machines used in Georgia have been compromised.
Public disclosure of the violation began with an incoherent phone call from an Atlanta-area bail bondsman to the head of an election security advocacy group involved in a long-running lawsuit against the state’s voting machines.
According to a recording filed in court earlier this year, the bail bondsman said he had rented a plane and was with a computer forensics team at the Coffee County elections office when “they took pictures of every hard drive on every piece of equipment.” “.
That was on January 7, 2021, one day after the violent insurrection at the US Capitol and two days after a runoff election in which Democrats swept both US Senate seats. .for Georgia.
The trip to Coffee County, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, to copy election equipment data and software was led by attorney Sidney Powell and other Trump allies, according to deposition testimony and documents produced in response to subpoenas.
Later that month, security camera footage shows two men involved in efforts to challenge the 2020 election results in multiple states spent days in and out of the Coffee County election office.
Footage also shows local and GOP election officials welcoming visitors and allowing them access to election equipment. The video appears to contradict statements made by some of the officials about his apparent involvement.
The new information has turned Coffee County, where Trump won nearly 70% of the vote two years ago, into a hotbed of concern about the security of voting machines. While there is no evidence of widespread problems with voting equipment in 2020, some Trump supporters have spread misinformation about the machines and the election result.
Election security experts and activists fear that state election officials have not acted quickly enough in the face of what they see as a real threat.
The copy of the software and its availability for download means that would-be criminals could create exact copies of the Dominion system to test different types of attacks, said Philip Stark, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, an expert witness for the plaintiffs on the machines. voting. lawsuit.
“This is like bank robbers have an exact replica of the vault they’re trying to break into,” he said.
Stark said the risks could be minimized through the use of hand-marked paper ballots and rigorous auditing. Dominion says that his team remains safe.
Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, the group that sued over the state’s voting machines, said the state has been slow to investigate. She was on the receiving end of the bail bondsman’s phone call.
The state, he said, has been “repeatedly looking the other way when faced with flashing red lights of serious security issues in the voting system.”
State officials say they are confident the electoral system is secure. All Coffee County election equipment that has not yet been replaced will be changed out before early voting begins next month, the secretary of state’s office said Friday.
State officials also noted that they were inundated with false claims after the 2020 election.
“In hindsight, you can say, well, what about this, this and this,” said Gabriel Sterling, a senior official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office. “In real time, no, there was no reason to think that.”
In late January 2021, a few weeks after the computer forensics team’s visit, security video shows an investigator from the secretary of state’s office arriving at the Coffee County elections office. He and the election supervisor enter the room that houses the election management system server. Seconds later, Jeff Lenberg, who has been identified by Michigan authorities as part of an effort to gain access to voting machines there, is seen walking out of that room.
Asked if Lenberg’s presence in the room with sensitive election equipment raised concerns for the investigator, Secretary of State’s office spokesman Mike Hassinger said the investigator was investigating an unrelated matter and did not know who. it was Lenberg.
Security video also showed another man, Doug Logan, in the office in mid-January. Logan founded a company called Cyber Ninjas, which led a discredited review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona. In May 2021, Coffee County’s new supervisor of elections raised his concern with the secretary of state’s office after finding Logan’s business card on a computer. The election supervisor’s concerns were referred to an investigator, but he testified that no one contacted him.
Hassinger said the secretary of state’s office responds to allegations when they are raised, but that local officials and others have kept “information about unauthorized access to Coffee County election equipment” hidden.
Much of what is known was discovered through documents, security camera video and statements produced in response to subpoenas in the lawsuit filed by individual voters and the election security advocacy group. The lawsuit alleges that Georgia’s touchscreen voting machines are unsafe and seeks to force the state to use hand-marked paper ballots instead.
The newly produced evidence of a breach wasn’t the first sign of trouble in Coffee County, giving state election officials headaches in the hectic weeks after the 2020 election. The turmoil likely helped open the door to Trump allies.
In early December 2020, the county board of elections refused to certify the results of an automatic recount requested by Trump, saying the election system had produced inaccurate results. A video posted online days later showed the former county election supervisor saying election software could be tampered with; As he spoke, the server password for the county election management system was visible on a note taped to his computer.
In late December, Cathy Latham, the chair of the Coffee County GOP, who was also a fake Trump voter, appeared at a state legislative committee hearing and made further claims that the voting machines were unreliable.
Within days of that hearing, Latham said, she was contacted by Scott Hall, the bail bondsman, who had been a Republican observer during an election recount. Latham testified in a deposition that Hall asked him to connect him to the Coffee County Supervisor of Elections (who was later charged with falsifying time sheets and forced to resign).
A few days later, on Jan. 7, Hall met with a computer forensics team from data solutions firm SullivanStrickler at the Coffee County elections office. The team copied the data and software to the election management system server and other voting system components, a company executive said in a statement. The company said it believed its customers had the necessary permission.
The invoices show that the data firm billed Powell $26,000 for the day’s work.
“Everything went well yesterday with the Coffee County collection,” the firm’s COO wrote Powell in an email. “Everyone involved was extremely helpful.”