Poll Workers Heard Noises in a Voting Booth. Now, an Arrest

Colorado man registered as a Dem is accused of trying to tamper with voting machine in June
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 5, 2022 9:00 AM CDT
Poll Workers Heard Noises in a Voting Booth. Now, an Arrest
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/lisafx)

A Colorado man who's a registered Democratic voter has been arrested on suspicion of tampering with voting equipment by allegedly inserting a USB thumb drive into a voting machine at a polling station during the primary election in June, authorities said. No elections data were accessed, and the June 28 incident didn't cause any major disruption to voting, authorities said. But it heightened concerns among election officials and security experts that conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election could inspire some voters to meddle with—or even attempt to sabotage—election equipment, per the AP. Experts say even unsuccessful breaches could become major problems in the days leading up to and on Tuesday's midterm election, causing delays at polling places or sowing the seeds of misinformation campaigns.

Richard Patton, 31, of Pueblo was arrested on Thursday by members of the Pueblo Police Department's High-Tech Crime Unit for investigation of tampering with voting equipment, a felony, and cybercrime-unauthorized access, a misdemeanor, the department said in a statement. Gilbert Ortiz, Pueblo County's clerk and recorder, confirmed Friday that Patton has been a registered Democratic voter since 2019, when he switched his affiliation from the Green Party. Election officials in Colorado use locks and tamper-evident seals on voting equipment, so it becomes apparent if someone has tried to access it. Trigger alerts make machines inoperable if someone tries to tamper with them, which is what happened in Pueblo, according to Ortiz and the Colorado Secretary of State's office.

On the afternoon of June 28, poll workers heard noises coming from a voting booth. When a poll worker went to investigate and clean the machine, they saw an error message and notified a supervisor. Tamper-evident seals on the machine appeared to be disturbed, the secretary's office said. The machine was immediately taken out of service for investigation. Ortiz said Patton was identified as a suspect because he presented a driver's license to poll workers as proof he was eligible to vote—and that he did vote, before the alleged tampering was discovered. Secretary of State Jena Griswold said Friday this is the first arrest and potential prosecution under a new law broadening the definition of tampering with election equipment and strengthening the penalty for it.

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It's now a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. "The continued spread of election conspiracies and the 'Big Lie' is fueling threats to American elections, including efforts to interfere with election equipment," Griswold, a Democrat seeking reelection Tuesday, said in a statement. "It is vital that anyone who breaks the law in attempts of subverting the will of the people or undermining elections be held responsible.” Court records indicate Patton was being held without bond at the Pueblo County Judicial Center pending an advisement hearing that had been set for later Friday, in which he'll hear the pending charges against him.

(More voting machines stories.)

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