EXCLUSIVE Former Colorado top Republican legislature received leak of voting data

May 16 (Reuters) – A former Republican minority leader in the Colorado legislature is among the recipients of a wealth of sensitive election data leaked by a county official working with activists to corroborate President Donald Trump‘s false claims about stolen elections, according to court documents prove verified by Reuters.

The revelation suggests the ballot data breach in Elbert County was more widespread than previously thought. The case, now under investigation by the Colorado Secretary of State, is one of at least nine unauthorized attempts to access data from electoral systems in the United States, at least eight of which have involved Republican officials or activists looking for evidence to corrupt Democratic President Joe Biden to delegitimize election victory.

Elbert County clerk Dallas Schroeder previously testified that he copied election data from the county’s election server onto two hard drives and gave it to two attorneys. Schroeder responded to the inquiry and a related complaint from the Secretary of State that one of the recipients was his own attorney, John Case, and refused to name the other attorney.

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However, according to affidavits by the lawyers involved, a third lawyer also processed the data. Documents verified by Reuters show that Schroeder’s attorney Case hired his own attorney, who also took possession of one of the hard drives.

That third attorney was Joseph Stengel, a former state legislature who served as leader of the Republican minority. Stengel, based in Denver, is a former legal partner of Case.

Stengel’s law firm website says he won the 1999 election to the Colorado House of Representatives. In March 2006, he resigned his Republican leadership post amid allegations of charging taxpayers excessive hours worked while the legislature was not in session, according to local media reports. Stengel left the legislature entirely later that year, citing unrelated reasons.

Lawmakers at the time denied the allegations, telling reporters, “I work 24/7.” Reached by Reuters, Stengel declined to comment.

Schroeder, the clerk, has testified that he received instructions to copy the system data from Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force colonel and political activist, a Trump supporter eager to prove election fraud in 2020.

Smith’s organization, the US Election Integrity Plan (USEIP), has pressured local county officials in Colorado to investigate baseless allegations of 2020 election fraud and to allow USEIP unauthorized access to election data to conduct forensic reviews, according to interviews with officials and the Colorado Association the district officials.

Schröder did not respond to requests for comment. He has stated in legal filings that he believed he had a “legal duty” to keep records of the 2020 election.

Foreign Minister Jena Griswold, a Democrat, sued Schröder in February to have the hard drives returned. Schroeder initially refused, but handed them over on May 4 following a court order.

BROKEN LATCH ON SEALED BOX

Elbert County District Court Judge Gary Kramer also directed Schroeder to describe the chain of custody for the hard drives. That information was initially kept out of the public record by the court, but the judge ordered its release on Monday after requests from both sides of the case that it be made public.

The attorneys’ affidavits detail how they handled the two drives containing voting data, assuring the court that the Chain of Custody was carefully managed. However, the case’s affidavit reveals that a latch designed to ensure that one of the containers was not accessed was defective.

Case said Schroeder gave him the hard drive in a red metal box with a yellow plastic clasp on Jan. 22.

Case said he noticed the broken latch on May 4 when he picked up the box from Stengel and returned it to Schroeder. But Case suspected he broke the latch himself on Jan. 25 when he drove the hard drive to Stengel.

“I tried to force the box under the driver’s seat, but it didn’t fit,” Case said in the affidavit.

Schroeder, the clerk, said in a separate court filing that when Case returned the box, a bag remained sealed inside, with another “plastic tag” on it, giving him reassurance that the hard drive had not been accessed.

The foreign minister did not immediately respond to questions about how the lawyers were handling the drives. The office has previously claimed that the attorneys had no authority at all to possess the copied files.

The attorney who took possession of the second hard drive is Elbert County attorney Ric Morgan, who is also listed as the county’s Veteran Services Officer. He said in a filing that a sealed bag he received from Schroeder containing the drive was never in his possession and was never opened.

Morgan did not respond to multiple calls and emails.

Fall was not immediately available to answer questions about his handling of the hard drive, the broken latch, or why he needed an attorney to represent him.

In a statement to Reuters last week, Case said the employee acted legally and argued that the information on the hard drives should be publicly available. The copied footage includes ballot images, Case said, but “no voter information.” He said the information could have “immense historical value”.

“Dallas Schroeder did not violate any law or voting rule,” he said in the statement.

The case repeated what state officials are calling the false claim that a pending software update would have wiped all 2020 county system election data. In fact, such upgrades will not affect the retention of past election data, state officials say. However, this disproved belief has inspired many nationwide attempts to gain unauthorized access to voting systems.

Asked for a response to Case’s statement, the Colorado secretary of state’s office told Reuters that Schroeder violated rules prohibiting “unqualified persons” from accessing voting system equipment. He also broke rules prohibiting the use of certain “removable storage devices,” Griswold’s office said, referring to the device Schroeder used to image the systems.

The office said it is still examining the data on the hard drives.

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Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Adaptation by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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