Northern Michigan judge gives Benson OK to intervene in Antrim County election case

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Northern Michigan judge granted Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson permission to intervene in a case questioning results in Antrim County and the security of tabulators used there on Nov. 3. 

Judge Kevin Elsenheimer ruled Thursday that Attorney General Dana Nessel's office could intervene on behalf of Benson, who had argued she had supervisory control over the Antrim County clerk, had an interest in any audit discussions the case may raise and was party to the county's contract with Dominion Voting Systems. 

The Secretary of State's office is concerned particularly with forensic imaging performed on Antrim County's 22 Dominion tabulators earlier this week by a Village of Central Lake resident and Allied Security Operations Group, said Assistant Attorney General Heather Meingast. 

"We’d like to know more about what was obtained, what the intent is for the use of the images obtained," Meingast said, noting the disclosure of some elements of the tabulators could compromise their security in future elections. 

Antrim County Judge Kevin Elsenheimer granted Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson permission to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the county's election results on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

Elsenheimer, a Republican former lawmaker and member of former Gov. Rick Snyder's administration, granted Meingast's request but warned the case would proceed in haste. 

"I intend to move this matter quickly, aggressively," Elsenheimer said. 

Benson shouldn't be allowed to intervene because she had missed the opportunity to do so earlier and did not have direct involvement in local elections, said Matthew DePerno, a lawyer for Antrim County resident William Bailey. 

In fact, a state Court of Claims judge earlier this month dismissed a case against Benson on those grounds, DePerno said. 

"The court concluded there was no relief to be granted because elections are local and run by local officials," he said. 

DePerno said the investigation is ongoing and data are being reviewed. But based on what had been reviewed so far, Bailey would move to decertify the Antrim County certification and push the issue to the GOP-led Legislature, he said.  

"We think there are serious issues, and we’re preparing right now a motion to seek relief from the court from the protective order," DePerno said. 

Elsenheimer last week granted Bailey's request to take take forensic images of 22 tabulators and review those along with flash drives, software and a "master tabulator" that the county said does not exist. Bailey and members of the Allied Securities Operation Group spent about eight hours on Sunday at county offices obtaining the material. 

Allied Security Operations Group's Russell Ramsland, Jr. was listed in a lawsuit filed by lawyer Sidney Powell last month in Michigan seeking to overturn Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's 154,000-vote win in Michigan over Republican President Donald Trump. Ramsland raised concerns about spikes in votes tallied for Biden after 2 a.m. the day after the election.

The spike was expected since more Republicans tended to vote on Election Day than Democrats, in part due to warnings about mail-in voting from Trump. Absentee ballots generally took longer to process and often showed up in vote tallies late on Nov. 3 or the day after.

In an affidavit filed in a Georgia case, Ramsland also appeared to make a mistake by confusing townships in Minnesota with townships in Michigan, according to national media reports.

In his lawsuit, Bailey said he was one of the first people to notice a vote reporting error in Antrim County that put Biden thousands of votes ahead of Trump in the Republican-leaning county.

Bailey alerted a local election official and the votes were pulled down to fix the error. Trump later was shown to have a more than 5,000 vote lead in a county where about 16,000 votes were cast. 

In his initial complaint, Bailey alleged that the Antrim County presidential election "lacked all accuracy and integrity." But Elsenheimer in last week's order focused on a proposed marijuana retailer ordinance in the Village of Central Lake, where a 262-262 tie was overturned by one vote after a Nov. 6 retabulation.

Three ballots were alleged to have been damaged, then reproduced to allow for retabulation. Bailey argued those ballots don't show up in the final count.

The issue with Antrim County's presidential results occurred after county Clerk Sheryl Guy failed to update Election Source software on all tabulators after performing an update to two of them. The failure caused the machines to transpose results as they were sent to the county's main software. 

The issue pushed Dominion Voting Systems into the national spotlight and made it subject to several unproven claims of fraud. 

Guy told lawmakers the county would have caught the issue during canvassing if it hadn't been brought to their attention earlier by comparing tabulator tapes to the unofficial results on the main software. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com