Mesa County DA finds no criminal evidence following investigation into Tina Peters’ fraud claims

Duplicate databases caused by “nuclear” troubleshooting option, not external bad actors

By: - May 19, 2022 2:08 pm

Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein (left) and investigator Michael Struwe (right) speak to the Mesa County commissioners during a special hearing on May 19, 2022. (Screenshot from livestream)

There was no criminal conduct that led to anomalies in election logs in two Mesa County elections, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein told county commissioners during a special hearing Thursday morning.

Rubinstein’s office conducted an investigation into claims of fraud made in a report commissioned by Republican Clerk Tina Peters, the third report she has released to try and prove election fraud in the state. That report claims errant databases were created through a criminal act during the November 2020 and April 2021 elections during the ballot adjudication process.

The author of the report, who “refused” to speak with investigators, wrote that such duplicate adjudication databases could have been created through an external trigger from a bad actor.

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That is not what happened, Rubinstein said. Instead, former election manager Sandra Brown inadvertently caused the mishap.

“No evidence exists that would indicate that Ms. Brown had any nefarious or criminal motive in those actions, but rather appears to have been troubleshooting problems in the flow of the adjudication problems during the election process,” Rubinstein wrote in his findings.

Adjudication review refers to the process when a bipartisan set of election judges determine how a person intended to vote if it is not clear enough for a computer to determine — if, for example, choices are not perfectly bubbled in, or there is handwriting on the ballot.

Rubinstein and district attorney investigator Michael Struwe reviewed video footage from the election office that show Brown attempting to troubleshoot a technical problem during the adjudication process for the November 2020 election. When a simple refresh in progress procedure did not fix the problem, Brown turned to a “nuclear” option to stop and reset the adjudication. That should not happen during an election, the investigators said, because there should be one continuous adjudication process for a single election.

A similar series of events in the election office happened during the April 2021 municipal election, though that time Brown contacted the Dominion Voting Services support line and a support technician walked her through a middle-ground “reject and delete” process, but only after Brown once again employed the nuclear option.

Brown’s actions caused the creation of duplicate files that the report claimed were evidence of fraud.

It wasn’t fraud, however, and none of this jeopardized the election results.

“All of the ballots were ultimately adjudicated, sometimes more than once. And that means that a set of election judges looked at it again to verify voter intent,” Rubinstein said. “All of them were adjudicated. All of them were ultimately counted — we verified (that they were) counted once, even if they were adjudicated twice. Out of a random sampling, it did not appear to affect the election at all.”

Rubinstein closed the investigation without finding probable cause for a crime. His office looked at the claims made in this report but not the first two, since those only presented hypothetical situations of outside interference and did not allege actual criminal activity.

Neither Peters nor Brown would speak to Rubinstein’s office. The investigators instead reviewed the video footage, looked at forensic data, interviewed Dominion Voting Systems staff and spoke with 11 staff and election judges who had a relevant role during the elections in question.

The investigation was unrelated to a grand jury indictment Peters is facing related to a security breach in the election office. She is facing felony charges including official misconduct and tampering with election equipment. The three reports, however, are all based on images Peters and others created during the trusted build when the breach took place.

Peters, a candidate for Secretary of State, is also facing contempt of court charges and misdemeanor obstruction charges in another case.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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