(Headline USA) A Colorado man who is a registered Democrat 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 about the need for enhanced election integrity rules favored by Republicans.
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, leaving doors open for potential vote fraud.
Richard Patton, 31, of Pueblo was arrested on Thursday by members of the Pueblo Police Department 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.
Court records indicate Patton was being held without bond at the Pueblo County Judicial Center pending an advisement hearing later Friday in which he will hear the pending charges against him. Patton was being represented by an attorney from the public defender’s office, which does not comment on pending cases.
Gilbert Ortiz, Pueblo County’s clerk and recorder, confirmed Friday that Patton has been a registered Democrat 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.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold said Friday that 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. It is now a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Pueblo police spokesperson Officer Meagan Chapman said the department could not release further information, including a warrant for Patton’s arrest that could potentially suggest a possible motive for the alleged tampering.
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.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press