Conservative sheriff insists Michigan clerks are authorized to hand over voting machines — but experts say that's 'absurd'
Dar Leaf. (Barry County sheriff's office)

A right-wing Michigan sheriff claims that local clerks have the "authority" to turn over voting equipment to outside groups, but legal experts say that's not the case.

Barry County sheriff Dar Leaf was among nine persons of interest state attorney general Dana Nessel's office identified in a petition for a special prosecutor to investigate an alleged conspiracy by Donald Trump supporters to improperly gain access to voting tabulators after the 2020 election, which the sheriff insists was justified, reported The Detroit News.

"You understand that the clerk has that authority, right?" Leaf said at an event this week, moments after denying that he had encouraged Irving County clerk Sharon Olson to hand over a tabulator to a third party. "Yeah, even to a third party. That's in the
election law."

Leaf's department had been investigating unsubstantiated fraud claims in his county, where Trump won 65 percent of the vote, and the Irving Township tabulator was among five taken to rental properties in Oakland County for examination by self-described cybersecurity experts, but state officials say local clerks may only turn over voting equipment to authorized vendors, contractors and system test laboratories.

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"Granting access to election equipment to unauthorized personnel may result in the decertification of election equipment or require additional procedures be followed prior to the use of such equipment," Michigan elections director Jonathan Brater told the state's clerks in an August 2021 memo.

Muskegon County prosecutor D.J. Hillson, a Democrat, was selected last week as special prosecutor for the tabulator case, which could result in charges for Leaf, Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno, GOP state Rep. Daire Rendon and lawyer Stefanie Lambert, who has worked with Leaf -- who insists he did nothing wrong.

"When the AG (attorney general) was targeting the clerks that were bold enough to start looking into this fraud, I am going, 'Hey, they have a duty to do that,'" Leaf said last month during a presentation in Jackson County. "You can't take that away from them. You can't go out and beat on their doors and give these search warrants and all of this stuff."

However, that argument is "absurd," according to Michigan's former longtime elections director.

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"If Sheriff Leaf wants to take voting equipment, he knows the proper way to do that is to get a subpoena," said Chris Thomas, who served in that role for three decades. "He has, so far, not produced a subpoena to anybody's knowledge, which questions the stability of the grounds on which he stands."