Tina Peters was barred from overseeing the November election. What happens next?
Lawsuit covers November election activities, but doesn’t extend to next year’s contests
Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters speaks to a reporter in February 2020 about the presidential primary election. (Courtesy of Mesa County)
A lawsuit filed by the Colorado secretary of state successfully blocked Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from overseeing the 2021 coordinated election, but — at least for now — the controversial Republican could still hold office for next year’s primary and midterm races.
In a ruling issued last month, a district court granted Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s petition to bar Peters from overseeing the Nov. 2 coordinated election because of a security breach Peters allegedly allowed to take place during a voting system software update. The lawsuit removed Peters as the Designated Election Official for Mesa County and gave that responsibility to former GOP secretary of state Wayne Williams.
That lawsuit and the subsequent ruling, however, only apply until the completion of the November election, which includes the post-Election Day processes such as retabulation of ballots, risk limiting and a hand count. All election activities should be wrapped up by the end of the year.
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That leaves the question of whether Peters will oversee next year’s primary and general elections, given that she will still hold elected office and the scope of the current lawsuit removing her as DEO will be complete. The secretary of state’s official 2022 election calendar begins with several deadlines relating to party affiliation on Jan. 3.
The secretary of state’s office declined to comment about what steps it may take in the near future.
“Secretary Griswold is pleased with the success of Mesa County’s elections team in running the November election and will continue to monitor their performance,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.
People involved in the matter, however, don’t see how the facts of the case against Peters could change in her favor.
“It’s a decision for the secretary and the courts, but I don’t see what would be different about next year from this year,” Williams told Colorado Newsline. “There’s an investigation taking place and if the investigation were to reveal a different scenario, that would be different. But given the very clear court findings that a number of things did happen, that would be surprising.”
It’s a decision for the secretary and the courts, but I don’t see what would be different about next year from this year. – former GOP Secretary of State Wayne Williams
It’s a decision for the secretary and the courts, but I don’t see what would be different about next year from this year.
– former GOP Secretary of State Wayne Williams
“Given those court findings, it does not appear to me that she is qualified to do so,” Williams said of whether Peters should run elections again. “Given her apparent lack of knowledge, when she said she’d have final results out at 7:10 on election night, I think she doesn’t really understand how the election process works and that is unfortunate.”
Others don’t believe that Peters will remain in office long enough for the question of her role as DEO to become relevant again.
“I don’t think anyone is addressing that question right now because we fully anticipate that Tina Peters is going to be charged with felonies within the next 30 days,” Scott Beilfuss, co-chair of the Mesa County Democratic Party, said in an interview. “I think we’ll remove her from any public service.”
Federal and state investigations into the voting systems security breach, and possible criminal charges for Peters and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley, are ongoing. Agents from the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the FBI searched Peters’ home on Nov. 16 for its investigation, as first reported by Colorado Politics.
“Things are coming together. It took longer than expected, but things are coming together and she definitely violated some laws,” Beilfuss said.
In addition to the security breach investigations and related DEO lawsuit, Peters is facing other legal challenges.
A second lawsuit from the secretary of state’s office, stemming from complaints filed by Beilfuss, is over alleged campaign violations. That suit accuses Peters of acting like a candidate for re-election for 2022, including soliciting and accepting donations, without filing a candidate affidavit.
A separate ethics complaint alleges Peters accepted gifts above the legal limit, including from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. That complaint was cleared to move forward this week by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
Beilfuss said that a bipartisan group of Mesa County activists were considering launching a recall effort, but “they’ve backed away from that because there are so many things going against her right now.”
Neither Peters nor her attorney, former secretary of state Scott Gessler, returned a request for comment.
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