What happened to voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia?

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After the 2020 election, allies of President Donald Trump launched a cross-state effort to gain access to voting machines to find alleged evidence the results had been rigged. Parts of that effort played out in public as Trump allies attempted to access machines with court orders or subpoenas. But other aspects were classified and did not involve court orders, leading to multiple criminal investigations.

In rural Coffee County, Georgia, forensic experts paid by a nonprofit organization headed by pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell copied virtually every component of the electoral system. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now investigating.

Read the full story: Inside Trump allies’ secret efforts to gain access to voting machines

What happened to the voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia?

On Jan. 7, 2021 — the day after Trump supporters staged a deadly riot in the US Capitol — forensic scientists visited the Coffee County election office. Trump had won the South Georgia district in a landslide in the 2020 election, but suspicions lingered among some district leaders that fraud was responsible for Trump’s state and country-wide defeat of Joe Biden.

The forensic scientists were employees of an Atlanta-based company called SullivanStrickler. They were greeted by the district returning officer, a member of the district election committee and the chair of the district GOP, who suspected the 2020 election results had been rigged.

The experts continued to copy voting system components, including software and data, which the federal government considers “critical infrastructure” to national security. Then they posted it on a password-protected site, where it was downloaded by election deniers across the country.

Copied from Coffee County, Dominion Voting Systems software is used statewide in Georgia. State and federal officials say security protocols make it very difficult for anyone to manipulate votes. But some security analysts say the data — which is being disseminated beyond a limited number of authorized officials — could give hackers a powerful tool to simulate voting machines and scan for vulnerabilities. They also fear bad actors could use the copied software to gather evidence of fraud rather than manipulate future vote counts, thereby undermining confidence in election results.

What did the forensic scientists find out?

No analysis of the Coffee County data has been published. However, the copying of that data is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and a special Atlanta-area grand jury is investigating the incident as part of its investigation into whether Trump and his allies broke any laws in their pursuit of the 2020 election results tilt.

How did the copy come to light?

A long-running civil case over electoral security is ongoing in Georgia. Several voters and the nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance sued Georgia election officials in 2017, alleging that the state’s voting system was unsafe. Information about the Coffee County copying — as well as CCTV footage showing who was at the polling station on January 7, 2021 — emerged during this lawsuit in response to subpoenas from plaintiffs.

A plaintiff recorded part of a phone conversation with Scott Hall, an Atlanta businessman, who said he helped arrange the copying. That call was played back in February during the removal of a senior official from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s (R) office.

Georgia officials said they immediately began investigating but had been skeptical for months that the copying had taken place, with one recently telling The Washington Post he initially believed the allegation bore “the hallmarks of misinformation.” Raffensperger’s office now acknowledges that the copying took place and has said anyone who broke the law should be prosecuted.

How does this episode relate to other efforts to gain access to voting machines?

Records verified by The Post show SullivanStrickler also worked in Las Vegas and northern Michigan after the 2020 election. Accounting records reviewed by The Post show that Jesse Binnall, a Trump campaign attorney, signed an agreement on December 2, 2020 to pay SullivanStrickler $19,500 to investigate Dominion machines in Nevada. However, a court order allowed the team to examine only materials used in testing the machines ahead of the election.

On December 6, 2020, Powell signed an agreement to pay SullivanStrickler $26,000 to work in Antrim County, Michigan, where an employee failed to properly update machines after last-minute ballot changes, briefly resulting in Biden appearing to have won deep red county. After the clerical error, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani urged a local prosecutor to give voting machines to the Trump team. The prosecutor refused. A local man sued and obtained a court order allowing an inspection of the machines. This investigation led to a report by a little-known Texas company claiming that the Antrim machines had shown that Dominion systems were “deliberately and purposefully” designed to manipulate election results. Independent experts disputed the report’s key claims, as did officials in Trump’s administration and Republicans in Michigan, and a hand count confirmed the election result was accurate.

Other attempts to access machines were classified affairs.

State officials in other counties in Michigan and Colorado have accused outsiders of accessing or copying data from machines without a court order. According to evidence made public, SullivanStrickler was not involved in these incidents.

Following an alleged violation in Mesa County, Colorado, three county officials have been charged with state crimes, including the county clerk-elect, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. A Michigan special attorney is investigating the activities of nine people related to alleged violations in that state, five of whom have ties to the Coffee County copying operations.