Michigan election officials were ordered to turn over a wide variety of records related to the 2020 election cycle, including any communications with Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple as part of a recent lawsuit.
Antrim County Circuit Judge Kevin A. Elsenheimer also ordered Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her Bureau of Elections to turn over election-related communications between the offices and Antrim Township, Antrim County, state and federal legislators, as well as Dominion Voting System and Election Source, companies that supply voting machines and software used in Antrim County and much of Michigan.
The records were requested by Portage-based Attorney Matthew S. DePerno on behalf of his client, William Bailey, an Antrim County voter who sued Antrim County over claims the election results were fraudulent and voting machines rigged.
A short-lived, nearly 6,000-vote error in Michigan’s Republican-dominated Antrim County initially benefited President-Elect Joe Biden following the Nov. 3 election. The error was quickly identified and corrected, determined to be a human error caused by the county clerk’s failure to properly update some software in the counting machines, not due to any inherent flaws with the voting machine or software.
Nevertheless, the incident gave rise to much broader conspiracies related to Dominion voting machines that are used heavily in Michigan and other states across the nation.
The claims come in part from a disputed report produced by Allied Security Operations Group, which is led by Russell James Ramsland Jr., a former Republican congressional candidate and former President Donald Trump ally. The company was hired by Bailey and DePerno to “audit” the Dominion machines and election results in Antrim County.
The eventual report claimed Dominion voting machines were “intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud.”
The unsupported claims were spread publicly by Trump attorneys. This led Dominion lawyers to file billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against Trump allies Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, and to issue cease-and-desist letters to media companies and others, including DePerno from the Antrim County Lawsuit, asking them to halt their “misinformation campaign.”
While DePerno spoke with MLive via email and phone following a Jan. 11 hearing in the lawsuit that resulted in the Elsenheimer’s order for the SOS to turn over records, he’s since stopped responding to MLive phone calls and emails.
Elsenheimer’s written order was filed on Friday, Jan. 29, with a Feb. 2 deadline for the records to be turned over; however, the judge has since issued an extension allowing the SOS until Feb. 8 to submit the documents.
The SOS initially refused to supply the requested records, calling most of the demands “vague, overbroad and unduly burdensome” in a court filing responding to the request.
The potential significance of the communications with big tech companies isn’t entirely clear. While there is a link between the Michigan election and Facebook, there’s no known connection to Apple, Google or Amazon.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative charitable foundation and by way of a Chicago-based nonprofit named the Center for Technology and Civic Life, contributed $400 million for election operations nationwide in 2020 with the stated goal of promoting “safe and reliable voting.”
There were 474 grants cumulatively worth millions of dollars issued to county and local election clerks across Michigan, but none were awarded to Antrim County, according to the Tech and Civic Life website.
Google and Facebook are among companies and foundations listed as “key funders” to the Center for Tech and Civic Life.
The total amount of the Zuckerberg-affiliated grants is unknown, since they aren’t tracked by the SOS. MLive has requested and is awaiting comment from SOS representatives related to any link between the state and the tech companies.
The SOS “has refused to produce any information regarding money spent by the state of Michigan or money spent on ballot drop-boxes (i.e. Zucker-boxes),” said a Jan. 4 motion asking the judge to force the SOS to hand over records. “(Benson) had funds available to her to spend on training counties on how to use Dominion Voting System.
“It is plaintiff’s understanding that (Benson) chose to spend zero dollars on training. Instead, she spent money and resources installing so-called Zucker-boxes throughout Michigan, including Wayne County, Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, Muskegon, Pontiac and Saginaw, in conjunction with Facebook, Dominion, Center for Tech and Civic Life, Google, Amazon and Apple.”
Multiple Michigan clerks told MLive they spent some of the Tech and Civic Life grant funds to purchase absentee ballot drop-boxes with the intent of reducing in-person social interactions and increasing safe access to voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Several clerks also received ballot drop-boxes through the SOS Office.
The Tech and Civic Life grants have given rise to at least two lawsuits that are still pending in the state Court of Claims and U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan alleging the injection private funds violate state or federal election laws. Several similar lawsuits, some that have been dismissed in Michigan and other states, claimed the money disproportionately benefited communities with large Democrat voting bases.
The Antrim County lawsuit is scheduled for a settlement conference on May 11 and a two-day bench trial is scheduled to begin June 8.
Read full motion to compel discovery from Michigan SOS:
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