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Voters oust Michigan clerk who doubts election results

Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
Updated: May 3, 2023 at 11:32 AM EDT
Voters in one of Michigan’s most conservative counties have ousted a small-town clerk who was accused of improperly handling voting equipment after casting doubt on President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Unofficial results from the Hillsdale County's clerk's office show Stephanie Scott lost Tuesday’s recall election in Adams Township to Suzy Roberts. Scott had won election in 2020 as a first-time Republican candidate to handle the township's voting. But she joined GOP elections officials around the nation who questioned the accuracy of voting systems. Scott was stripped of her election duties in 2021 after allegedly refusing to allow a contractor to perform preventive voting-system maintenance.

Original post: May 2, 2023

A small-town clerk accused of improperly handling voting equipment after casting doubt on President Joe Biden's election victory faces a recall election Tuesday in one of Michigan's most conservative counties.

Stephanie Scott ran unopposed as a Republican first-time candidate when she was chosen in the same November 2020 election to handle the voting in Hillsdale County’s Adams Township, where about 2,200 people live along rural roads dotted with signs supporting Donald Trump.

The ticket of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence received nearly 76% of the vote in the reliably Republican community, but Scott joined a crew of GOP elections officials around the nation who have questioned the accuracy of U.S. voting systems. Some of those now running afoul of state election laws and rules continue to make unsupported claims of voting machine tampering and voter fraud as the reason for Trump's defeat.

When it came time to prepare for her township's November 2021 election, Scott said she had accuracy concerns and had considered paper ballots and a hand count before settling on using the same system. “Quite frankly, I was coming to a moral quandary of even running this election,” Scott told The Detroit News.

The state intervened after Scott allegedly refused to allow a contractor to perform preventive maintenance and failed to conduct accuracy tests, among other issues. She was stripped of her duties in October 2021.

And when the Hillsdale County clerk's office took custody of an election tabulator and a voter assist terminal from township offices to prepare for a public accuracy test, they discovered the tabulator's tablet had been removed. It was later seized by Michigan State Police after Scott allegedly refused to turn it over.

The tablet “is the computer that contains software, an operating system, and some mirrored election data from previous elections,” said Abe Dane, Hillsdale County’s chief deputy clerk.

Scott told The Detroit News that she didn't trust other officials to maintain custody of the data. Michigan State Police started an investigation to determine if any tampering had been done, but no criminal charges were filed. A group of voters then circulated petitions, prompting the recall election.

Despite several attempts by The Associated Press, she and her attorney did not answer questions or provide comment for this story.

Scott is among a number of elections officials around the country accused of mishandling voting equipment in their zeal to uncover fraud.

“There’s a bunch of true believers out there who have taken it upon themselves to tamper with counting machines,” said Jonathan Hanson, an elections expert at the Gerald R. Ford School of Policy at the University of Michigan. “Somehow you can't convince people that this is not the big problem they've been led to believe.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month held its Republican-majority Fulton County in contempt over commissioners allowing a third party to copy voting-machine data in a failed effort to find fraud that could reverse Trump's defeat in the state.

Former Mesa County, Colorado, clerk Tina Peters faces seven felony charges for allegedly allowing a copy of a hard drive to be made while searching for fraud during a 2021 update of election equipment. She has pleaded not guilty and contends the charges are politically motivated.

In Georgia, the county elections director and a member of the board of elections were present when a computer forensics team hired by Trump allies traveled to the elections office in rural Coffee County on Jan. 7, 2021, and copied software and data from election equipment. The Georgia secretary of state’s office asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the “alleged unauthorized access.” The breach also caught the attention of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta, who’s been investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his narrow election loss in the state.

In Michigan, a special prosecutor is reviewing whether to criminally charge failed state attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno who has been accused of being one of the “prime instigators” of a plan to improperly access voting machines and use them to dispute the 2020 results.

In Scott's case, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the preventive maintenance she didn't allow is necessary to ensure tabulators and voter assist terminals are functioning properly. Benson also said the required certifications of Public Accuracy Testing of voting machines — that Scott was “unwilling to complete” — confirms vote counting machines are accurate and is done transparently.

“The big picture is that we are at a moment in our political history where polarization of politics has become really severe,” Hanson said. “It’s made people very distrustful of the outcome of elections. It’s gotten to the point where, I think, a lot of people genuinely don’t understand when their political views on subjects are in the minority and don’t really believe it when their candidates lose in an election.”

The Hillsdale County clerk’s office is running Tuesday's recall, in which Scott and one of her supporters, Township Supervisor Mark Nichols, face opposing candidates.

Suzy Roberts, running against Scott, said “the lying has to stop.”

“Somehow, nationwide, we have to make lying wrong,” said Roberts, 69, who identifies as an independent. “If you got caught in the lie there was a feeling of shame. It has to be wrong again.”

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.