'Suspicious activity' at poll prompts charges for Kent Co. election worker

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A west Michigan election worker has been charged after facing accusations of appearing to seek access to voter information during the August primary, officials announced Wednesday.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said his office filed charges against James Donald Holkeboer for election law-falsifying returns/records, a felony punishable by up to five years and/or $1,000; and using a computer to commit a crime, a felony punishable by five years and/or $5,000.“At this time, these are merely allegations,” Becker said in a statement. “Mr. Holkeboer is presumed innocent of the charges until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The worker was expected to be arraigned in 63rd District Court in Grand Rapids, according to the release. No date was given.

In a statement Wednesday, Kent County Clerk/Register of Deeds Lisa Posthumus Lyons said the charges stemmed from a complaint she received Aug. 18 involving “suspicious activity” at a precinct in Gaines Township.

After the polls closed during the Aug. 2 primary more than two weeks earlier, “an individual witnessed the worker insert a personal USB drive into the electronic poll book,” Lyons said.

The computer is used to administer the election and contains voter registration data, including confidential identifying information about all voters in a precinct, according to the release. It was not connected to any tabulation equipment or the internet, Lyons said.

“Immediately upon learning of the incident, I contacted Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young, where an investigation into the matter began,” she wrote. “Since then, I have worked with the Sheriff’s detectives in a manner to maintain the integrity of their investigation.”

Lyons added the suspect was an election worker, not an employee of Kent County or Gaines Township.

“Election workers are everyday citizens trained and certified by clerks to work the precincts and absentee counting boards on Election Day,” she wrote. “The Gaines Township Clerk has cooperated with the Sheriff’s detectives, and I have notified the State Bureau of Elections.”

Lyons called the incident “extremely egregious and incredibly alarming. Not only is it a violation of Michigan law, but it is a violation of public trust and of the oath all election workers are required to take.”

The alleged poll book breach was not expected to affect the election, she said, and “did not allow any access to voting machines, ballots, or election results, and it could not have affected the outcome of the election itself. The willful violation occurred after the files in the Electronic Poll Book were saved to the precinct’s authorized, encrypted system device, and that system device was placed in a certified, sealed container, per standard procedure.”

Lyons said her office plans to conduct a post-election audit of the precinct, including a tally of the paper ballots to reaffirm the results and reassure the voters. The breached electronic poll book is slated to be replaced with a new one before the November election.

The charges come amid a high-profile investigation into an alleged conspiracy to access voting machines elsewhere in Michigan.

Last month, state Attorney General Dana Nessel's office formally sought a special prosecutor to consider potential criminal charges against nine individuals accused of working to improperly obtain tabulators in a bid to investigate the 2020 presidential election as supporters of former President Donald Trump have demanded.

The case followed a lengthy probe by Michigan State Police and Nessel's office. The group cited included Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno, who seeks to unseat Nessel this fall, as well as state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf.