Fears of insider threats to elections are heightened by rogue county officials

Colorado Democrats will unveil legislation Monday to give the secretary-general new powers and punish corrupt officials at local elections.

Fears of insider threats to elections are heightened by rogue county officials

Dallas Schroeder, a Colorado resident, entered a secure location in Elbert County last August and copied election and voter data from hard drives and computers.

Schroeder made the call while he was talking to two election denial activists. They guided him through the use of a "forensic imaging" device that retails at approximately $4,100. According to a copy provided by Griswold to NBC News, Schroeder later informed Secretary of State Jena Griswold through an attorney.

Schroeder, who is the Republican clerk and recorder and oversees the elections in the county, did not need any assistance to gain access to the facility. He simply used his key card.

"The vast majority of Republican and Democratic county election officials do a fantastic job, but there are these bad actors," stated Griswold, a Democrat, who in January launched an investigation on the Schroeder incident and then filed a lawsuit alleging that he had given sensitive election data to an unauthorized person.

Schroeder didn't respond to any requests for comment on this article.

At least six election officials from Ohio, Michigan, and Colorado have been under investigation by either state or local law enforcement officials. Some were accused of improper access to election materials or sharing sensitive information with unauthorized persons, such as Schroeder. At least one Colorado county has had to decertify its election machines because of a breach, which cost taxpayers.

Although the number of accused is small of the thousands of county-level chief election officers nationwide, experts worry that this could be the beginning of a worrying trend. Trump backers, who doubt the integrity of 2020's election, mount campaigns for office to supervise the vote while far-right activists call on others to follow their lead.

"You can see how much damage could be done by looking at the cases that we have seen," Ben Berwick (counsel at Protect Democracy), a non-profit democracy advocacy group said in an interview. "Bad actors in such positions can cause chaos."

Indictments, investigations, and passwords leaked

Schroeder brought his actions up to Griswold when he signed onto a lawsuit against her that was brought to her attention by Republicans . They sought an Arizona-style third-party review Colorado's presidential election results. While citing a variety of conspiracies and other allegations, Griswold stated her lawsuit.

Schroeder stated in a signed affidavit that he had copied the hard drives and computers because he was afraid of routine software installation by Dominion Voting Systems. This company supplies electronic voting machines and software to hundreds across the country.

It is an argument that echos election conspiracy theories about hacked or manipulated electronic voting machines, promoted by former President Donald Trump, his associates, including right-wing activists such as Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO who has become one the most vocal voices advocating baseless and debunked claims regarding voter fraud.

Schroeder seems to have been inspired by a neighboring county 300 miles west of Elbert.

Schroeder also stated in the same affidavit that he was told election materials had been deleted by a Dominion Software installation in Mesa County (Colorado), which election officials call a trusted building -- which is what Trump carried in 2020 by 28 points.

Griswold's Office, federal investigators and local authorities are investigating Mesa County's elections chief Tina Peters . She is accused of allowing an unauthorized individual to attend a trusted building installation last May and copying data from the county's voting machines.

Soon thereafter, the data including passwords for county voting machines was posted online. These machines had to be replaced, and it is believed that they will cost many thousands more each year than the previous set. She was charged with 10 felonies and misdemeanors.

Peters, a Republican was removed from her duties last year by a judge. Griswold is fighting to stop her administering the 2022 elections.

The state has certified that the election in Colorado, won by President Joe Biden by almost 14 points, was free from evidence of wrongdoing. It has also audited and found no evidence. Peters spoke at the voter fraud conference held by Lindell in South Dakota last august and announced that he was running for secretary of state via Steve Bannon's podcast.

Federal and state officials are investigating an attempted breach of the county's election network last year in Lake County, Ohio. Trump won that area by almost 14 points. The Washington Post reported a private laptop had been connected to the county election network in the office of the chairman of the board of commissioners. Although the Post did not report that any sensitive information was obtained from the computer, the network traffic was captured and circulated by Lindell at the August conference.

John Hamercheck (the president of the board) denied knowing about the breach. He stated that he did not know if the case was being investigated, and added that he had "never been contacted by authorities." While the FBI declined to comment, a spokesperson for Ohio's attorney general's said that its investigation was still open.

Jocelyn Benson Secretary of State in Michigan asked the state attorney general and state police to investigate reports that a third party was granted access to Roscommon County's voting systems. Michelle Stevenson (the Roscommon County clerk) declined to comment.

In connection with these incidents, Lindell's name kept coming up. He has been on an 18-month crusade against fraud to validate claims and achieve the stated goal of eliminating all voting machines in the country. (Mark Cook and Shawn Smith were the election denial activists Schroeder claimed were involved in the Elbert County accident. Smith claims that Lindell funds his new group.

Lindell, when asked by NBC News whether he was working with county officials, said that he didn't know what NBC News was talking about.

"What we're doing is, we're going all over the country, and the grassroots are asking them for the machines to be removed," he stated, adding that Tina Peters was a hero in this country because she did her work as well as many other county clerks. No, I won't give their names."

Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan analysts have investigated Lindell's claims and dismantled them. After an investigation that concluded Lindell's fraud claims were meritless, Republican officials sent Lindell a cease and desist letter requesting that he cease spreading false claims about the state's election results.

NBC News' Chad Houck, Idaho’s deputy secretary-of-state, said that he hasn't come across a single clerk in Idaho who participated in Lindell’s conspiracy theories.

He said, "We haven't met a single county clerk who was not more interested seeing us shut down Lindell narratives. And thankful that we were doing this."

Griswold is still on alert in Colorado. Schroeder sued her after he admitted to her, through his attorney, that he had copied his first unauthorized copy election data and sent it to an unnamed private lawyer.

She investigated the Mesa and Elbert counties investigations. A whistleblower claimed that an election clerk braggingly copied election servers online. There was no evidence of wrongdoing.

A new set of temporary rules was also implemented by her, which limits the access to servers and secure areas for county officials.

Colorado Democrats will unveil new legislation Monday that gives the secretary of state additional powers, including the ability to certify an electoral election if local officials refuse. It also exposes local election officials and officials to new restrictions, limits, and penalties for wrongdoing.

Additional certification courses would be required for local election officials, including one on election security as well as how to combat misinformation. New restrictions would be placed on them that will make it easier for courts to remove local officials from their duties of running elections. Unauthorized access to or sharing of confidential information regarding voting systems would be a felony offense. Individuals convicted of electoral offenses would be prohibited from supervising elections.

Officials in elections would also be prohibited from making or spreading false statements "intentionally or recklessly" for the purpose of spreading misinformation or disinformation about elections.

"We have systems in place to detect and prevent fraud from voters or anyone who wishes to undermine our elections from outside," stated Steve Fenberg, a Colorado senator who is the sponsor of the legislation. "We must do more to protect our systems from inside threats."

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