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Michigan election worker charged with tampering with voting equipment

The election worker in Kent County is accused of inserting a USB drive into a computer containing confidential voter registration data in the Aug. 2 primary, local officials say.
A voter arrives at a polling location
A voter arrives at a polling location to cast his ballot in the Michigan primary election in Lansing on Aug. 2.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file

An election worker in a western Michigan town has been charged with two felonies after allegedly inserting a flash drive into a computer containing confidential voter registration data during an election in August, local officials said on Wednesday.

At the Aug. 2 primary, an election worker was seen inserting a USB drive into the computer used to administer the election at a precinct in Gaines Township in Kent County, according to a statement by county clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons.

The incident highlights the so-called “insider threat” risk that has increasingly worried election officials, especially in battleground states like Michigan where falsehoods about systemic voter fraud in the 2020 election have spread most widely.

“This incident is 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,” Lyons said in the statement.

Chris Becker, the county’s prosecuting attorney, said he had charged the election worker, James Donald Holkeboer, with falsifying election records and using a computer to commit a crime. If convicted, he could face up to nine years in prison.

Holkeboer could not be immediately reached for comment.

While Lyons did not name Holkeboer, she said the incident involved one of the “everyday citizens trained and certified by clerks to work the precincts and absentee county boards” and was not an employee of the county or Gaines Township.

The election worker was seen by a witness at a precinct in Gaines Township inserting a USB drive into the Electronic Poll Book, the computer used to administer the election. The poll book contains voter registration data, including confidential information barred from release under Michigan laws.

Lyons said the breach did not impact the outcome of the August primary as it occurred after the files had already been saved to the precinct’s encrypted system. She said the poll book is not connected to any tabulation equipment or the internet.

There have been a series of security breaches related to voting equipment in Michigan following the 2020 presidential election, with supporters of former President Donald Trump and his baseless claims about widespread voter fraud seeking access to tabulators in various locations in the state.

Last month, Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the criminal investigation her office had kicked off into the security breaches. She sought to step back from the probe because her Republican challenger in November’s election, Matt DePerno, was among the nine individuals facing possible charges.

A spokesperson for Michigan’s secretary of state said the breached equipment in Gaines Township has been decommissioned and will not be used in the November general election.

“While our elections remain secure and safe, we take seriously all violations of election law and will continue to work with the relevant authorities to assure there are consequences for those who break the law,” Angela Benander said in an emailed statement.