Man arrested on suspicion of tampering with Pueblo County voting machine in primary election
By James Anderson, The Associated Press
A Colorado man who is a registered Democratic voter has been arrested on suspicion of tampering with voting materials by inserting a USB drive into a voting machine at a polling place during the June primary election, authorities said.
No election data was accessed and the June 28 incident caused no major disruption to voting, authorities said. But it has heightened concerns among election officials and security experts about conspiracy theories linked to the 2020 presidential election. could inspire some voters to meddle with — or even attempt to sabotage — election materials.
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Experts say even unsuccessful violations could become major issues in the days leading up to and during Tuesday’s midterm elections, causing delays at polling stations or sowing the seeds for disinformation campaigns.
Richard Patton, 31, of Pueblo, was arrested Thursday by members of the Pueblo Police Department’s High Tech Crime Unit investigating felony tampering with voting materials and unauthorized access to the cybercrime, a misdemeanor, the department said in a statement.
Court records show Patton was being held without bail at the Pueblo County Judiciary Center pending a reserved hearing later Friday at which he will hear the charges pending against him. Patton was represented by an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, who does not comment on ongoing cases.
Gilbert Ortiz, Pueblo County Clerk and Clerk, confirmed Friday that Patton has been a registered Democratic voter since 2019, when he changed his affiliation to the Green Party.
Colorado election officials use tamper-evident locks and seals on voting materials, so it becomes apparent if someone has attempted to access them. Trigger alerts render machines inoperable if someone tries to tamper with them, which happened in Pueblo, according to Ortiz and the Colorado secretary of state’s office.
On the afternoon of June 28, election officials heard noises coming from a polling booth. When a poll worker went to inspect and clean the machine, he saw an error message and notified a supervisor. The 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.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold said Friday it was the first arrest and potential prosecution under a new law expanding the definition of tampering with election materials and toughening the penalty for it. It is now a crime punishable by three years in prison.
“The continued spread of election conspiracies and the Big Lie fuels threats to the U.S. election, including efforts to interfere with election materials,” Griswold, a Democrat seeking reelection on Tuesday, said in a statement. “It is vital that anyone who breaks the law with the aim of subverting the will of the people or undermining elections is held accountable.”
Citing an ongoing investigation, Pueblo Police spokeswoman Officer Meagan Chapman said the department could not release further information, including an arrest warrant for Patton that could potentially suggest a possible reason for the alleged tampering.
Ortiz said Patton was identified as a suspect because he presented a driver’s license to poll workers as proof that he was eligible to vote — and had voted — before the alleged forgery was discovered.
“The atmosphere we have around elections is so rumored these days, and I feel like a lot of people feel like we are the enemy when our staff and our judges are those who protect democracy,” Ortiz said. “It just proves to me that the Colorado system has so many checks and balances that it’s just impossible for anyone to tamper with our elections.”