Secretary of state begins inspecting Mesa County voting equipment

Office of Clerk Tina Peters, who participated in election conspiracy event Tuesday, also under investigation by district attorney

By: - August 11, 2021 2:33 pm
Jena Griswold

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks outside a polling center at Swansea Recreation Center the morning of Colorado’s primary election on June 30, 2020. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Representatives from the Colorado secretary of state’s office began inspecting election equipment Tuesday in Mesa County as the county clerk, whose office is alleged to have allowed a “serious breach” of election security, left town to participate in an event hosted by Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, in South Dakota.

The local district attorney’s office is conducting its own investigation into potential criminal activity at the office of Republican Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters.

According to a Tuesday statement from Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office, the security breach involved a leak of user accounts and passwords for the county voting system. Images posted online included Mesa County election system passwords, the release said.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Civil servants with the secretary of state’s office, accompanied by Mesa County officials, began their inspection Tuesday while 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and his representatives conducted a separate investigation, according to a statement from Griswold’s office. Griswold’s staff were in contact with people from Rubinstein’s office during their inspection, the statement said.

The alleged security breach did not create an “imminent direct security risk to Colorado’s elections,” the statement said, and it did not occur during an election. The secretary of state’s office believes the information was collected during a voting system update May 25.

Rubinstein’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported that passwords of the county’s Dominion Voting Systems election machines were posted on various social media sites. The passwords were first posted on an online blog known as Gateway Pundit, “which allegedly got it from Ron Watkins, a conspiracy theorist who was the subject of an HBO documentary earlier this year that suggested he could be the original Q in the QAnon conspiracy theories,” the Sentinel reported.

According to the statement from her office, Griswold, a Democrat, ordered Peters to comply with requests for inspection of election equipment, video footage, and documents from her office. The secretary of state’s office said it had not received a response to the order or any requests for information as of Tuesday.

“The Clerk’s Office must prove that chain of custody remains intact and that there has been no unauthorized access to voting equipment in the county,” Griswold was quoted as saying in the statement. “Colorado has the best election system in the nation, with built in security redundancies. As Secretary of State, my number one priority is to ensure all election security protocols are followed and to safeguard Coloradans’ right to vote.”

Following its preliminary investigation, the secretary of state’s office will determine whether it is necessary to prohibit the use of or decertify specific voting equipment in Mesa County.

Griswold in June passed emergency rules specifying that anyone accessing components of a county’s voting system “must have passed a comprehensive criminal background check and be either an employee of the county clerk, an employee of the voting system provider, an employee of the Secretary of State’s Office, or an appointed election judge.”

Part of the rationale for those rules was to prevent high-cost replacement of election equipment — necessary once that equipment has been accessed by unauthorized firms or individuals, Griswold claimed.

“Allowing open access to voting equipment can cost a state millions of dollars to replace it once it can no longer be verified as secure,” Griswold said in an emailed statement Aug. 4.

Griswold’s office did not immediately respond to a question about the potential costs of replacing Mesa County’s elections equipment.

Peters appears at symposium

On Tuesday, Peters appeared at a South Dakota “cyber symposium” funded by Lindell, a fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump who has repeatedly questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, though there is no substantial evidence the election was compromised or fraudulent. Symposium speakers, including Peters, made dubious claims about election security and suggested that voting machines could have been hacked — despite the widespread consensus among state and local U.S. election officials and experts that voting equipment is not connected to the internet.

Peters, who was described in media reports as a keynote speaker at the symposium, on Tuesday accused the secretary of state of “raiding her office.

Peters tweeted earlier this year from a personal account alleging vulnerabilities with Dominion Voting Systems machines, the Sentinel reported. Dominion has been a frequent target for Trump supporters spreading false and unsubstantiated information about the 2020 election.

Peters’ office did not immediately return a request for comment from Newsline. Lindell said Peters is scheduled to remain at the symposium through Thursday.

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

MORE FROM AUTHOR