POLITICS Livonia clerk was pressured to hand over election equipment, documents show

Supporters of Donald Trump pressured Livonia city Clerk Susan Nash in January 2021 to hand over hard drives and voting machine data for "analysis," according to documents that shine new light on the push to obtain equipment used in Michigan's 2020 presidential election.

Already, a special prosecutor is considering criminal charges against nine individuals who successfully got three Michigan clerks in rural areas of the state to supply tabulators, which they allegedly took to hotel rooms, broke into and examined. The attempt to access election hard drives and data in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit with 94,000 residents, suggests the campaign for equipment could include other political figures and could be broader than previously known.

Patrick Colbeck, a Republican and former Michigan state senator, sent an email to Nash on Jan. 4, 2021, according to records obtained by The Detroit News through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Colbeck said he wanted "a team of cyber forensic experts" to review the hard drives of Livonia city machines used to administer the election, which were also sought by committees of the Michigan Legislature, before Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress would meet to officially count electoral votes.

In his email, Colbeck included a letter written by someone else, but with Nash's name on the bottom of it, that was addressed to Mark Meadows, Trump's chief of staff. The letter, which Colbeck said ultimately wasn't sent to Meadows, asked for "the assistance of federal resources to undertake a cyber forensics review of the technology of the machines."

"I have a team on standby ready to perform this task, but I am unable to fly them in without confirmation that they will have access to the aforementioned data," Colbeck wrote in his message to Nash. "Timing is of the essence."

Colbeck sought hard drives contained in laptops used during the absentee ballot counting process, hard drives contained in laptops in voting precincts and "any and all data" from voting machines.

Providing such data to an outside group would have presented "large risks," including cybersecurity and legal dangers because it would have been a violation of the licensing agreement with the voting system's vendor, said Kevin Skoglund, an election technology expert and the chief technologist at Citizens for Better Elections, a nonprofit group based in Pennsylvania.

"It makes it easy for the guy in the basement to have access as well," Skoglund said. "Access may be as easy as clicking a link and downloading the software. Simplifying that access to it decreases the barrier to entry for someone who wants to get in and cause havoc.”

Clerks should never allow access to election equipment to entities other than election officials and staff, licensed vendors and accredited voting system test laboratories, according to an August 2021 memo from Jonathan Brater, Michigan's elections director.

Nash didn't agree to Colbeck's request. And over the summer, she filed a statement on the failed push to examine Livonia's equipment with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office. Nash's statement was referred to the Michigan State Police, said Amber McCann, Nessel's spokeswoman.

Asked about Colbeck in August, Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said the agency doesn't confirm or deny the presence of ongoing investigations.

The statement from Nash, McCann said, came after Nessel's office had petitioned for a special prosecutor in August to consider charges against nine individuals who allegedly engaged in a "conspiracy" to gain improper access to voting machines in other areas of the state.

On Thursday, Colbeck said he hadn't been contacted by law enforcement about his communications with Nash. Colbeck also wouldn't identify the individuals who would have examined the Livonia equipment, saying they were "a team of out of state forensic experts."

Colbeck said he was interested in the Livonia data for his arguments to lawmakers in "support of 2020 election certification discussions."

'Hung up on me'

Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan's 2020 presidential election by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points. But Trump, the Republican former president, has maintained false claims that the election was "stolen" from him, and his supporters attempted to overturn the result.

In the weeks after the vote, GOP lawmakers who controlled the state Legislature began investigating and spotlighting allegations of wrongdoing. On Dec. 15, 2020, they issued subpoenas to Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey and Nash, requiring them to produce a trove of documents by Jan. 12, 2021. Both Detroit and Livonia had higher than average rates of out of balance precincts, places where the number of votes tallied and the number of voters tracked didn't match.

On Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, 2021, Nash received calls from Scott Bahr, a Livonia City Council member, and Colbeck about some of the subpoenaed items, according to the clerk's statement to the Attorney General's office.

"He asked to gain access to the election equipment, even telling me that there was a team of experts waiting on a tarmac for approval and they could be here in a few hours," Nash wrote in her statement.

A day later, Colbeck told Nash he had received permission from the state House and Senate oversight committees, which had subpoenaed the Livonia records and hard drives, to "access the machines," the Nash statement said.

Colbeck also sent Nash the written message to Meadows with her name on the bottom of it.

"I am the clerk of Livonia in Wayne County, Michigan," the letter to Meadows said. "Due to the controversy surrounding the recent elections, and the concerns that have been raised by citizens of Michigan about the accuracy of the voting machines that were utilized in counting the votes, I am contacting you to request the assistance of the federal government.

"We are interested in requesting the assistance of federal resources to undertake a cyber forensics review of the technology of the machines under our control."

Nash then told Colbeck she would not be allowing access to the machines.

"Mr. Colbeck was very upset and agitated with me," Nash said in the statement to the Attorney General's office. "Even going so far as to tell me I was overreacting by being upset with the letter that was addressed to Mr. Meadows. Mr. Colbeck then hung up on me."

Permission slip?

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee, and Rep. Matt Hall, R-Comstock Township, then-chairman of the House Oversight Committee, signed a letter to Nash on Jan. 4, 2021.

The letter said they were not opposed to Livonia sharing the information subpoenaed with "other persons or groups." McBroom said he signed on to the letter because he believed the data sought was public information.

Colbeck used the letter to pressure Nash. On Jan. 4, 2021, he wrote her an email with the letter attached from McBroom and Hall, saying, "How could this be any clearer that you are allowed to share information with our agents?"

Nash told Colbeck that the "permission slip" allowing information to be shared was different than allowing a third party to access voting equipment, according to her statement to the Attorney General's office.

In an interview with The News, Nash said she believed it would have been illegal for her to hand over equipment. The Senate Oversight Committee issued a report in June 2021 that upheld the results of the presidential election.

'I would not break the law'

Bahr, the Livonia City Council member, contacted Nash on the evening of Jan. 4, 2021, according to Nash's statement. Bahr told her Colbeck was upset and someone could contact Fox News to let the network know that she was "not cooperating."

"Could I be the next person President Trumps (sic) mentions?" Nash asked, according to her statement.