Colorado secretary of state files lawsuit to strip Tina Peters of election authority
Wayne Williams, former secretary of state, would be named new head of elections in Mesa County
Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters speaks during Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium.” (screenshot of livestream)
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has filed a lawsuit as part of an effort to prevent the Mesa County clerk and recorder from maintaining her authority over elections.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in state district court in Mesa County. The lawsuit seeks to remove Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters as the designated election official.
“My priority is ensuring that the voters of Mesa County have accessible and secure elections. With the quickly approaching election, I am taking action to ensure that the county’s election office can provide great elections for Mesa voters,” Griswold said in a statement. Peters “is not fit to serve” as the designated election official, she said.
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Peters is accused by Griswold of participating in activity that led to the release of election-system hard drive images and passwords to election-fraud conspiracy theorists, including Ron Watkins, a leading QAnon figure.
The reported breach is the subject of an investigation by the secretary of state, as well as separate criminal probes by 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and the FBI. No criminal charges have yet been filed against Peters in connection with the incident.
Peters, a Republican adherent of debunked claims that the November election was fraudulent, has not cooperated with investigators from the secretary of state’s office, and she’s reportedly out of the state “in hiding” and under the protection of MyPillow CEO and election conspiracist Mike Lindell. She was a featured speaker at an election fraud “Cyber Symposium” in South Dakota hosted by Lindell from Aug. 10 through Aug. 12, when state investigators traveled to her office in Grand Junction to inspect election equipment, which Griswold determined was compromised and ordered decertified.
Peters is the subject of at least two ethics complaints related to her participation in the Lindell event and his subsequent patronage, The Daily Sentinel reported. The complaints accuse Peters of violating the state’s ban on gifts for government employees and elected officials.
On Aug. 17, Griswold designated a new supervisor, Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, as well as a three-person advisory committee, to oversee elections in Peters’ place. The advisory committee includes state Rep. Janice Rich, Ouray County Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer, and former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher. In opposition to Griswold’s order, Mesa County commissioners voted to reject Reiner and appoint former Secretary of State Wayne Williams to oversee Mesa County elections. Williams and Reiner had agreed to work as a team to supervise elections.Griswold v Peters Mesa County
But as part of Griswold’s court filing, she asks that Williams be appointed as the designated election official and Reiner be appointed as the director of elections. That would mean Reiner would answer to Williams.
The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Griswold and Heidi Jeanne Hess, a registered elector in Mesa County. The suit asks the court to determine that Peters, along with Mesa County’s chief deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, are unable to perform their duties. Williams would instead serve as chief designated election official and Reiner as the elections supervisor for the county’s Nov. 2 coordinated election. Griswold accuses Knisley of participating in the alleged election system security breach.
The suit says that the Colorado attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Unit is assisting with the 21st judicial district attorney and FBI investigations.
It also notes that Griswold’s Aug. 17 order, while it assigned an election supervisor to whom Peters would have to answer, did not remove Peters as the chief designated election official for Nov. 2 election. The lawsuit would do that, saying, “Peters has breached her duties and committed wrongful acts as the chief designated election official for Mesa County’s coordinated election.”
While the lawsuit would not remove Peters as clerk and recorder, Williams, as the new chief designated election official, would have the power to determine all aspects of election management, such as who has access to election equipment.
In her Aug. 17 order, Griswold also prohibited a clerk’s office staff member accused of involvement in the election-system breach — elections manager Sandra Brown — from any role in elections.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:12 p.m., Aug. 31, 2021, to include new information about the lawsuit and a copy of Secretary Jena Griswold’s petition to the court.
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