Lawyer and Witness in FOIA Denial Case Indicted by Michigan’s Attorney General

When whistleblower Stephanie Scott questioned the accuracy of the 2020 election results, her findings were ridiculed.
Lawyer and Witness in FOIA Denial Case Indicted by Michigan’s Attorney General
Michigan attorney and election integrity activist Stefanie Lambert outside the courthouse in Hillsdale, Michigan, on May 13, 2024. (Steven Kovac/EpochTimes)
Steven Kovac

The legal battle over an election-related Freedom of Information Act request has ignited a political firestorm in Michigan.

Macomb County resident Michael Butz filed a brief in the circuit court on May 6 containing evidence of alleged inaccuracies on the state’s voter roll. Two days later, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, indicted Mr. Butz’s lawyer and a whistleblower supporting his case, alleging election misconduct dating back two to three years.

Six days later, on May 14, 2024, in Hillsdale County District Court, Mr. Butz’s attorney Stefanie Lambert, 42, was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to three counts of alleged election-related felonies.

At the same hearing, whistleblower Stephanie Scott, 52, pleaded not guilty to five felony counts and a misdemeanor.

Ms. Scott is a former clerk of Hillsdale County’s Adams Township. The alleged crimes are related to Ms. Scott’s refusal to delete election records, her procuring an independent forensics expert to analyze them, and her reluctance to turn over certain voting equipment under her care to county and state authorities.

Prosecutor Robert Cunningham of the Michigan attorney general’s office presented the charges in a courtroom packed with supporters of the two women.

Ms. Lambert’s attorney, Dan Hartman, told the court that his client is being prosecuted for her “transparency and truth-telling.” He said that the message was clear, “If you accuse the secretary of state and attorney general, they will come for you.”

In the case of Ms. Lambert, the prosecutor urged the court to impose a restrictive bond that would bar her from representing clients in cases involving restricted election information and from coming within 100 yards of any election clerks’ offices, except the precinct where she votes.

Judge Megan Stiverson said that Ms. Lambert has never been convicted of any crime and she seemed to agree with Mr. Hartman’s argument that the prosecutor’s bond terms would effectively deprive Ms. Lambert of the right to make a living and deprive her clients of their right to her ongoing representation. The judge decided to release both defendants on their own personal recognizance with no special restrictions.

After her arraignment, Ms. Lambert told reporters that she was “not surprised” by the charges and that she looks forward to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel being called to take the stand as witnesses in her case.

“I am an advocate that they are trying to silence,” Ms. Lambert said.

Following the proceedings, Mark Nichols, a former Adams Township supervisor, told The Epoch Times, “The accusations against Stephanie Scott are not true. She is an intelligent woman who is guilty only of asking questions the secretary of state does not like.”

Lori Boyd, a Hillsdale County resident, and Marine Corps veteran, said, “I’m here to support our clerk who was actually doing the clerk’s job. She compared the local and state records of who voted and the numbers didn’t correspond. The government has made FOIA more difficult and we are paying for all of this.”

Stephanie Scott (L), Dan Hartman (C), and Stefanie Lambert (R) in the Hillsdale County Courthouse in Hillsdale, Michigan on May 13, 2024. (Steven Kovac/Epoch Times)
Stephanie Scott (L), Dan Hartman (C), and Stefanie Lambert (R) in the Hillsdale County Courthouse in Hillsdale, Michigan on May 13, 2024. (Steven Kovac/Epoch Times)

How the Trouble Started

As part of his appeal of the FOIA denial, Mr. Butz presented documented instances of the Michigan Secretary of State’s office inflating voter rolls through policy directives, ordering the destruction of election records via memo, and encrypting election records.

The Michigan secretary of state’s office and the office of the attorney general do not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

Mr. Butz, a career computer expert, told The Epoch Times that the legal conflict began because he wanted to cross-check data from 15 Macomb County municipal clerks’ Electronic Poll Books (EPBs) with the state’s official Qualified Voter File (QVF).

When Mr. Butz requested the local clerks release files from their EPBs for all voting precincts for the elections of Nov. 8, 2022, and May 2, 2023, many of them turned to state election officials for guidance.

The secretary of state’s office and its subordinate, the state Board of Elections (BOE), immediately put forward justifications the municipal officials could choose to use in denying Mr. Butz’s FOIA request.

Mr. Butz told The Epoch Times that in preparing his FOIA request he anticipated likely government objections by acknowledging in advance that the complete birth dates and driver’s license numbers of registrants are exempt from public disclosure and could lawfully be redacted. He said he was also careful not to ask for any proprietary, system design, or security information.

In May 2023, at the direction of the state BOE, initially, 14 of the 15 municipal clerks from whom Mr. Butz requested EBP data denied all portions of his FOIA request. Ultimately, a second municipality decided to provide Mr. Butz with its data.

The BOE cited concerns over cybersecurity, disclosure of sensitive design information, and violations of voter roll privacy as reasons for the local clerks to deny Mr. Butz’s request.

Mr. Butz contends that the EPB data he requested is public information and that he has the right to inspect and copy the information after lawful redactions.

Essential Record

EPBs keep a record of who voted on election day, and other digital activities that are vital parts of an audit trail, according to Mr. Butz.

After examining the EPB data he received, Mr. Butz, who has 20 years of experience in digital systems analysis, found no proprietary or sensitive cybersecurity data that could compromise the system.

“The Secretary of State knows that. A beginner computer analyst could determine that. The state Bureau of Elections is trying to buffalo the local clerks and the court,” Mr. Butz told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Butz appealed the denial to local authorities who rejected his request again. He then took his complaint to the county circuit court.

Secretary of State Intervenes

Shortly after Mr. Butz filed his appeal with the Macomb County Circuit Court, the secretary of state’s office asked the presiding judge, Edward Servitto Jr., to allow Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, to enter the case as an intervening defendant.

Mr. Butz did not object to the intervention. Ms. Benson’s defense attorney of record is Heather Meingast, division chief of the Michigan attorney general’s office.

Since the 2020 election, state officials have sought to keep the local poll book data off limits to election integrity investigators. They first ordered local clerks to destroy the 2020 data and later encrypted data used in subsequent elections, according to state documents attached as exhibits in the Butz appeal.

Comparing the data he received from the two responsive municipalities with a copy of the state’s voter file, Mr. Butz discovered discrepancies affecting 1.5 to 4 percent of the registrations.

“In a close election, those numbers could make a difference in the outcome,” he told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Butz’s findings were similar to those of Ms. Scott, who found an 11.5 percent discrepancy rate between the state voter file and her township’s electronic poll book thumb drive, which contained records of the November 2020 presidential election.

Whistleblower Pays a Price

Ms. Scott, a Republican, became an affiant in support of Mr. Butz’s circuit court appeal. She swore in an affidavit that “the state final certified data had 11.5 percent unique voters recorded as voting in Adams Township that Adams Township, and Hillsdale County, did not have recorded. This was ONLY discovered by looking at the EPB data. The same data that the SOS ordered to be deleted.”

Ms. Scott said she worked with a credentialed digital forensic expert to assist in her research.

When Ms. Scott questioned the accuracy of the 2020 election results, her findings were ridiculed, and her competency was publicly impugned by top Board of Elections officials, eventually leading to her recall in 2023.

According to Ms. Scott’s then-attorney, Stefanie Lambert, in 2021, Ms. Scott encountered more trouble with the secretary of state due to her reluctance to hand over custody of the election equipment in her care to a contractor who intended to remove it from the premises for maintenance and testing.

“Ms. Scott feared the election records she is required by law to preserve for at least 22 months would be lost in the process,” Ms. Lambert told The Epoch Times.

Ms. Scott also refused a state directive to delete the Nov. 2020 election data from her electronic poll book. After several warnings, the secretary of state barred Ms. Scott from administering the upcoming 2021 election in her community.

Relevant portions of Adams Township’s election equipment were seized by the Michigan State Police.

In a statement announcing the charges, Ms. Nessel said, “When election officials and their proxies use their positions to promote baseless conspiracies, show blatant disregard for voter privacy, and break the law in the process, it undermines the very essence of the democratic process.”

Benjamin Cotton, a computer forensics and digital systems analyst with 25 years of experience, examined the Adams Township EPB. In an affidavit included in the Butz appeal, Mr. Cotton said he found that the data contained in the electronic poll book thumb drives are unique to each. The data are not part of any other report generated locally or available from the state and are considered original evidence in investigations.

“I have analyzed reports produced by the Secretary of State for the preservation of voting data and materials under the Federal Statute and have determined that those reports do not capture and preserve all the data contained on the EPB USB,” stated Mr. Cotton, using the acronym for electronic poll book thumb drives.

Mr. Cotton’s finding is the basis for Mr. Butz’s refusal to accept the secretary of state’s claim that all the data he is requesting is readily available to him from printouts kept by the local clerks or from the state’s database.

Some of the data elements only to be found on the EPBs include information on same-day registration and voting, as well as a record of internet connection type and status.

Steven Kovac reports for The Epoch Times from Michigan. He is a general news reporter who has covered topics related to rising consumer prices to election security issues. He can be reached at [email protected]