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What happened with voting machines in Coffee County, Ga.?

HANDOUT PHOTO: SullivanStrickler photographed the devices it copied in Coffee County on Jan. 7, 2021, including these flash cards. The images were turned over in response to a subpoena from plaintiffs in a long-running federal lawsuit over election security in Georgia. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

After the 2020 election, allies of President Donald Trump mounted a multistate effort to access voting machines in a quest to find purported evidence that the results had been rigged. Parts of that effort played out in public as Trump allies sought to access machines with court orders or subpoenas. But other aspects were secret and did not involve court orders, giving rise to multiple criminal investigations.

In rural Coffee County, Ga., forensics experts paid by a nonprofit run by pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell copied virtually every component of the voting system. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now investigating.

Read the full story: Inside the secretive effort by Trump allies to access voting machines

What happened with the voting machines in Coffee County, Ga.?

On Jan. 7, 2021 — the day after Trump supporters mounted a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol — forensics experts visited the elections office in Coffee County. Trump had won the south Georgia county in a landslide in the 2020 election, yet suspicions persisted among some county leaders that fraud was to blame for Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the state and nationwide.

The forensics experts were employees of an Atlanta-based firm called SullivanStrickler. They were welcomed by the county elections supervisor, a member of the county elections board and the chair of the county GOP, who suspected that the 2020 election results had been rigged.

The experts proceeded to copy voting system components, including software and data that the federal government considers “critical infrastructure” vital to national security. They then posted it to a password-protected site, where it was downloaded by election deniers across the country.

The Dominion Voting Systems software copied from Coffee County is used statewide in Georgia. State and federal officials say that security protocols make it very difficult for anyone to manipulate votes. But some security analysts say the data — circulated beyond a limited number of authorized officials — could give hackers a powerful tool to simulate voting machines and probe for weaknesses. They also fear that, short of manipulating future vote counts, bad actors could use the copied software to claim evidence of fraud, undermining trust in election outcomes.

What did the forensics experts learn?

No analysis of the Coffee County data has been made public. But the copying of that data is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and a special grand jury in the Atlanta area is probing the episode as part of its investigation into whether Trump and his allies violated laws in their quest to overturn the 2020 election results.

How did the copying come to light?

There is a long-running civil lawsuit over election security in Georgia. Several voters and the nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance sued Georgia elections officials in 2017 claiming that the state’s voting system is insecure. Information about the copying in Coffee County — as well as video surveillance footage showing who was at the elections office on Jan. 7, 2021 — surfaced during that lawsuit in response to subpoenas from the plaintiffs.

One plaintiff recorded part of a phone call with Scott Hall, an Atlanta businessman, who said he had helped arrange for the copying. That phone call was played in February during the deposition of a senior employee in the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R).

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

How is this episode related to other efforts to access voting machines?

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

On Dec. 6, 2020, Powell signed an agreement to pay SullivanStrickler $26,000 to work in Antrim County, Mich., where a clerk had failed to properly update machines following last-minute ballot changes, briefly causing Biden to appear to have won in the deep-red county. After the clerical blunder, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pressed a local prosecutor to give voting machines to the Trump team. The prosecutor refused. A local man sued and secured a court order allowing for an examination of the machines. That examination gave rise to a report by a little-known Texas company claiming that the Antrim machines demonstrated that Dominion systems were “intentionally and purposefully designed” to manipulate election results. Independent experts disputed the report’s central claims, as did officials in Trump’s administration and Republicans in Michigan, and a hand count confirmed that the election result was accurate.

Other efforts to access machines were clandestine affairs.

In other Michigan counties and in Colorado, outsiders are alleged by state officials to have accessed or copied data from machines without court orders. SullivanStrickler was not involved in those incidents, according to evidence that has been made public.

After an alleged breach in Mesa County, Colo., three county officials were charged with state felony offenses, including the elected county clerk, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. A Michigan special prosecutor is probing the activities of nine people in relation to alleged breaches in that state, five of whom have links to the copying in Coffee County.