Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters speaks to a reporter in February 2020 about the presidential primary election. (Courtesy of Mesa County)
Days after her office began investigating an alleged breach of election security protocols, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said the Mesa County clerk appears to have allowed an unauthorized person to attend a software upgrade for the county’s election system.
After that person allegedly leaked system passwords, Mesa County voting equipment is no longer considered secure, Griswold said.
The equipment must be replaced — or else the Mesa County clerk and recorder’s office will have to conduct a hand count of ballots for the November election, Griswold, a Democrat, said at a news conference Thursday.
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According to Griswold’s office, which on Tuesday began inspecting voting equipment and other evidence from Mesa County, the alleged security breach occurred during a “trusted build” upgrade to Dominion Voting Systems software on May 25.
The secretary of state’s office believes Tina Peters, Mesa County’s Republican clerk and recorder, allowed an unauthorized person who was not an employee to attend the trusted build. The individual, identified as Gerald Wood, took photos of election system passwords, which were later posted on the website of a conspiracy theorist, Griswold said.
Griswold also said video surveillance cameras at the clerk’s office appear to have been turned off before the build, and they were not turned back on until this month.
“The Colorado County Clerks Association supports the actions taken today by the secretary of state,” Matt Crane, the association’s executive director, said at Thursday’s news conference.
Crane, a Republican who formerly served as Arapahoe County clerk, called the security breach a “selfish” act by Peters that violated the public trust.
As of Thursday afternoon, Peters had not returned requests from Newsline seeking comment.
“The county clerk has not communicated at all with us,” despite an order to comply with inspection and requests for information, Griswold said Thursday. Instead, Peters appeared Tuesday at a “cyber symposium” hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, where she accused the secretary of state of “raiding” her office.
Griswold, meanwhile, accused Peters of “actively working to undermine confidence and spread disinformation.”
Investigator obtained warrant to search clerk’s office
An investigator with 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein’s office is also looking into related potential criminal conduct, Rubinstein confirmed in an email to Newsline. That investigation is separate from the secretary of state’s probe.
Deputy Secretary of State Chris Beall contacted the district attorney for the first time Monday to advise him that the secretary of state’s office was conducting an investigation into a security breach, Rubinstein said.
“I was told that they believed that there were potential criminal matters which would be referred to my office for prosecution,” Rubinstein said in the email. “Per state law, the District Attorney’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting election related criminal activity. … Prior to that, I had no knowledge of anything related to this issue.”
The person Rubinstein assigned to the case “is the investigator that handles all of my election related investigations,” Rubinstein wrote. “He obtained a search warrant for the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, and was present to conduct our investigation into criminal matters at the time that the Secretary of State’s team was looking into their security/policy/protocol matters.”
Rubinstein said he could not comment further on the pending investigation.
“I can confirm that we have not entered into this investigation with any person or criminal act in mind and will reserve judgment on that until the investigation is complete,” he wrote.
Peters has history of controversy as Mesa County clerk
Peters’ appearance at Lindell’s cyber symposium — where speakers suggested without evidence that the 2020 presidential election was rigged by China — was not the first time the Mesa County clerk acted unconventionally.
Earlier this year, Peters tweeted from her personal account about what she claimed were vulnerabilities with Dominion Voting Systems machines, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported. Those tweets appear to have since been deleted.
In February of 2020, election workers discovered 574 uncounted Mesa County ballots from the previous election. Peters reportedly attributed the issue to “human error” and called the discovery “disappointing” and “sad.”
Peters later survived a recall attempt when a group seeking her ouster did not collect enough petition signatures by the deadline.
A person appointed by the Mesa County Board of Commissioners to oversee the recall, and make sure the county’s June 2020 election did not experience problems, described Peters as “distrusting, frequently rude and antagonistic” in a 2020 report to the secretary of state. The commissioners’ appointee, Eagle County Treasurer Teak Simonton, also praised Peters’ staff as “organized, hard-working and committed to the integrity of their tasks.”
A report in July from the Sentinel found that Peters had altered job titles to get more personnel in the positions she wanted — even though three Republican Mesa County commissioners had rejected her request for more elections staff.
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