Mental health evaluation ordered in election tampering case

DENVER (AP) — A judge on Wednesday ordered a mental health evaluation for a Colorado man accused of inserting a USB thumb drive into a voting machine during the primary election in June.

Richard Patton's public defender, Jonah Wexler, requested the evaluation to determine whether Patton, 31, is mentally competent to continue with legal proceedings. Wexler did not disclose the reasoning behind the request during a court hearing in Pueblo.

Judge William Alexander said he did not have enough information to determine if Patton was competent and ordered state experts to evaluate Patton, explaining that an arrest warrant would be issued for him if he did not show up for the appointment.

To be considered legally competent to proceed, people accused of crimes must be deemed able to understand proceedings and help in their defense by being able to communicate with their lawyers.

Patton was arrested Nov. 3 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.

During the last day of primary voting on June 28, poll workers heard noises coming from a voting booth, according to the the office of Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. When a poll worker went to investigate and clean the machine, as they do after each voter, they saw an error message and notified a supervisor. Tamper-evident seals on the machine appeared to be disturbed, it said.

Patton, a registered Democrat, denied any wrongdoing in an interview with The Pueblo Chieftain on Monday. When he voted in June, he said he requested help from an election worker because he is dyslexic and accused the worker of inserting something into the machine. He said did not know there was any problem until SWAT officers entered his apartment accusing him of being a “computer hacker.”

“This is demonstrably false because I’m a jock. I’m basic. I like to weightlift. I don’t know anything about coding and I don’t intend to because, frankly, it’s pretty boring,” he told the newspaper.

Patton's arrest was the first under a new law broadening the definition of tampering with election equipment and making it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, according to the secretary of state's office.