GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A poll worker charged with violating election law admitted he used a personal flash drive to export the electronic poll book at a Gaines Township precinct, according to testimony Monday.
James Donald Holkeboer, 68 of Caledonia, appeared in 63rd District Court Monday for a hearing to determine if there’s probable cause to bind the case over to circuit court for further proceedings.
District Court Judge Sara Smolenski heard testimony from Gaines Township Clerk Michael Brew and Kent County Sheriff’s Detective Christopher Goehring.
Goehring, who interviewed the defendant during the investigation, reported that he’d asked Holkeboer how he would have reacted if he’d witnessed another poll worker insert a personal flash drive into the laptop.
“He said if he saw someone from his party do it, he wouldn’t have questioned it,” testified Goehring. “If he saw someone from the opposing party doing it, he would question what they were doing.”
On the Kent County GOP’s website, Holkeboer is listed as an alternate delegate for the 3rd Congressional District for the Michigan Republican Party State Endorsement Convention.
Holkeboer is facing two criminal charges, which are listed on the felony complaint as election law – falsifying returns/records and computers – using to commit a crime.
Detective Goehring testified Holkeboer told him he’d acted as a poll watcher previously and applied for a poll worker position with Gaines Township a couple days before the August primary.
Gaines Township Clerk Michael Brew testified Holkeboer underwent the required election training through Kent County.
Detective Goehring reported Holkeboer told him he’d extracted the electronic poll book because he wanted to compare it against documents he would acquire after the primary through the Freedom of Information Act.
Holkeboer said he planned to look for discrepancies, according to Goehring’s testimony.
“He said he got the idea of trying to obtain records from the computer either the night before or the morning of, and before he left for the poll station the morning of the election, he placed a personal flash drive in his pocket,” Goehring quoted Holkeboer as telling him.
“If he had the opportunity to get the files and reports, he would take that opportunity to get them that day,” testified Goehring.
Holkeboer worked at Gaines Township’s 8th Precinct, which was located at Ada Bible Church on 68th Street Southeast.
He was assigned to the station where workers swiped voter IDs and assigned ballot numbers.
Gaines Township Clerk Michael Brew testified at Monday’s hearing that he did not learn Holkeboer had placed the poll book on a personal flash drive until two weeks after primary day.
Brew said it was at that point that another election worker reported she had witnessed Holkeboer insert a flash drive into the USB port on the laptop or electronic poll book.
The book contains detailed voter information and is used to verify voters’ registration prior to issuing their ballot.
Brew said the worker who witnessed Holkeboer inserting the flash drive said she’d gone on vacation after the primary and had been feeling “guilty” about not reporting what she had seen.
Holkeboer’s attorney, Chip Chamberlain, argued the simple act of copying an electronic poll book is not spelled out as one of the criminal violations in the election law statute.
“These allegations necessarily involve an interpretation of the statute,” argued Chamberlain in court. “What happened the prosecutor might not like, but it’s not a crime. What the statute specifically says is that an election inspector shall not do certain things, and those things include … willfully destroy, mutilate, deface, falsify, or fraudulently remove or secrete any or all of those items, meaning poll book information in whole or in part … or fraudulently make any entry, erasure or alteration on any or all of those items. … What’s noticeably missing from the statue, your honor, is the verb ‘copy.’ It’s not an offense to copy. Now, it may be some other wrong, maybe he should be fired or civilly penalized, but it’s not a violation of this statute.”
Holkeboer’s actions did not impact the outcome of the election in any way.
Smolenski ultimately ruled there’s enough probable cause to bind the case over to circuit court for potential trial.
“We take classes at the court on something as basic as who can look up someone’s license plate,” noted Smolenski.
“You were trained in exactly what the rules were. It’s unique if you ask me that (the witness) went on vacation for two weeks, worried about it, thought about it, then decided to report it, knowing the whole time it was completely inappropriate. … You have absolutely no right to take that (electronic poll book),” Smolenski told Holkeboer. “It’s a complete violation.”
Felix Tarango, assistant prosecutor with Kent County, said the fact that Holkeboer’s actions had no impact on the election’s outcome is not relevant to the criminal case.
“The crime is not, ‘Did he impact the election?’… The problem is whether he had a right to access that laptop. You and I don’t have that right. We can’t go into an election and say, ‘Here’s my own flash drive. Let me get whatever information you have on that laptop,'” Tarango said. “He is actually held to a higher standard than you and I because he goes through the training. He knows the process of how the system is supposed to work. Yet, he, on that morning, decides to show up to work with his own flash drive?”
If convicted on the election law violation, Holkeboer could face a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.
The other charge, using a computer to commit a crime, is punishable by up to four years in prison upon conviction.