Macomb County clerk pursues forensic audit of county election server

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Macomb County Clerk Anthony Forlini said Tuesday he plans to hire a cyber security firm to conduct a forensic audit of the county's election server to "restore the confidence of our election processes in Macomb County."

"I cannot say with certainty whether or not we will find something from the past, but I can say that Macomb will lead the state in election integrity in the future," Forlini said in a statement. "We are in the process of establishing best election practices that we will continually look at and modify as laws and technology change."

Former President Donald Trump beat Democrat Joe Biden 53%-45% in Macomb County last year, the second consecutive time the Republican won the county. But Biden won the state by about 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points, and Trump has made unsubstantiated claims fraud cost him the election.

Nonpartisan poll election challenger Richard Saad, center right, observes election inspectors as they begin to count ballots on Election Day at City Hall in Warren on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Macomb County Clerk Anthony Forlini is doing a forensic audit of the county's election server.

Forlini said he has no reason to doubt the results in Macomb County. The audit will build public confidence in the local election system and assuage some residents' fears about outsiders' ability to interfere in the results, he said.

"I'm trying to establish all the best practices for good, clean elections," Forlini told The Detroit News. "Not to say they weren't clean before; I'm not trying to allude to that. I'm trying to say that I want to be able to answer in the affirmative that, from a technology standpoint, we have clean elections."

Some Trump allies have sought an election audit in Michigan, a proposal that hasn't been embraced by the state House speaker and Senate majority leader. But the Republican-led House and Senate have pursued election reform legislation in a bid to restore confidence among voters in the election system and make improvements. There is also a GOP-backed initiative petition seeking to tighten voter identification requirements for in-person and absentee voting.

Democrats, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have balked at many GOP proposals, arguing they are an attempt to "perpetuate the 'big lie'" of unproven claims of 2020 election fraud.

Forlini said he hired Alabama-based Pro V&V to ensure the hardware and software Macomb County uses to administer elections is sound. The work will involve inventorying the systems, taking pictures, recording serial numbers, examining tamper evident seals, and disassembling the server to create a forensic image of the server and workstation hard drives.

The company also will conduct "an in-depth review" for malicious software and analyze internet connectivity, the clerk's release said. The audit will cost the clerk's office about $16,000.

Forlini said he expects the audit to take place within the next few weeks. Results should be available before the November election.

Republican attorney general hopeful Matthew DePerno led a lawsuit in Antrim County claiming election fraud. It was dismissed by 13th Circuit Judge Kevin Elsenheimer in May on the grounds that an audit of the election was already performed there.

Biden won the county in preliminary results, but Trump won the county when errors were found and corrected for the certified results. An audit confirmed the final result.

A Republican-led Senate committee that reviewed Michigan's 2020 election for potential fraud labeled DePerno's Antrim County claims "demonstrably false and based on misleading information and illogical conclusions" in a June report.

DePerno's insistence that Dominion voting machines in Antrim could have been "hacked" because they had modems or wireless chips installed was "indisputably false," the Senate committee found.

In July, Nessel's office agreed to a request from the Senate committee to investigate individuals who've pushed false claims about the 2020 election for money or publicity for themselves. Nessel has indicated that DePerno is one of the individuals.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.