Meet the two Republicans vying to replace Tina Peters in Mesa County
The 2020 election and Jan. 6 attack are prominent topics of discussion in the June primary
Bobbie Gross, left, and Julie Fisher, right, are running for Mesa County clerk and recorder in the June 2022 Republican primary. (Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)
Bobbie Gross and Julie Fisher are competing for the Republican nomination for Mesa County clerk and recorder — a position currently held by Tina Peters, who was indicted in March by a Mesa County grand jury.
Peters faces 10 counts related to ongoing investigations into alleged election equipment tampering and other misconduct. She faces seven felony charges and four misdemeanors.
Although Peters has been barred from overseeing 2022 elections, and from having contact with any staff member at the clerk and recorder office, she continues to receive her $92,000 salary until her term ends in January. Peters has perpetuated the debunked notion that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election and that former President Donald Trump won.
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Peters decided not to run for reelection,. Instead she is competing with Mike O’Donnell, executive director of a nonprofit lender Prairie Rose Development Corp., and former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson to be the Republican nominee for Colorado secretary of state.
A Colorado Newsline reporter met individually with Gross and Fisher to talk about their campaigns while also touching on other issues, like the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — topics that have loomed prominent in Republican primaries. The two will face off in the June 28 Republican primary, with the winner challenging Democratic candidate Jeff Waldon and Libertarian candidate Robert Ballard in November.
The clerk’s office is in charge of elections, the department of motor vehicles, clerk services for the board of county commissioners, and county recording. Gross worked 10 years in the clerk’s office, leaving shortly after Peters took office in 2018. Gross started as a frontline clerk, worked part-time in elections, rose to a manager position, and in 2016 began working in elections full time where she became co-director of elections.
Within a month she became certified as a Colorado elections official and kept that certification current until she left in 2019. In 2020, she completed her national certification as an elections administrator.
Gross now works for former Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner, who was elected Mesa County Treasurer in 2018. Gross is currently deputy public trustee and treasurer technician.
Fisher was hired by Peters to work in the clerk’s office in 2020. She works primarily in the motor vehicles department and describes her election experience as “minimal,” although she has volunteered as an election judge, has verified signatures, and has done election registrations, she said. She worked previously for the Adams County clerk. Fisher said she would obtain the required Colorado elections official certification if she is elected.
In December 2021, Peters appointed Fisher as second deputy chief after Deputy Clerk and Recorder Belinda Knisley was also suspended from the office and prohibited from contacting staff members for alleged wrongdoing in connection with the elections security breach.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold also banned Fisher from the elections division for allowing Knisley access to a restricted badge access area after Knisley’s suspension. Fisher said she didn’t know at the time that Knisley had been banned from the office. She also said she was only included in an election security-related lawsuit brought by Griswold because of her “second deputy chief” title — a position the county does not recognize. She said the ban would go away if she is elected.
The ‘big lie’ and Jan. 6 attack
When asked about the U.S. presidential election, Fisher appears to be somewhat aligned with Peters, a staunch Trump supporter and proponent of the notion there was widespread fraud.
“There are more states doing more investigations the further we get from 2020,” Fisher responded. “If you watch lots of national news you see more discussions about this.”
However, Fisher said she doesn’t watch TV news, nor does she read the local newspaper. She said she gets her news from National Public Radio and conservative talk radio.
“So, a lot is what people tell me,” she said.
“I don’t have enough facts to make a decision (about the election). I have seen enough information to question what’s going on. The fact our government has come out and said it’s the cleanest election ever, I say ‘liar, liar.’ They turned January 6 into a huge media circus. People talked about how horrific it was but nobody died of that. What about the riots where people’s actual properties were destroyed?”
While the causes of death varied, five people died in connection to the Jan. 6 attack, when a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election. More than 100 police were injured while defending the Capitol and legislators who were meeting to certify the election.
Gross said she has seen no evidence that would overturn the results of the 2020 election, and views the Jan. 6 attack differently than Fisher.
“I believe the actions of the mob that stormed into the Capitol have no place in a democracy,” she said. “It is the right of every citizen to protest if they do not believe what lawmakers are doing is right, but they must do it peacefully and respectfully. Violence is not the answer.”
Understanding how elections work
Fisher said her biggest priority when it comes to elections is minimizing possibilities for fraud.
She said she would allow constituents to count ballots themselves and intends to put every ballot online so people can see how they were voted. She said she would also set up a policy that allows a bipartisan group willing to donate time to recount ballots. Plus, she said she would move toward requiring voter IDs.
“I think it’s elitist and racist to assume people can’t get IDs,” Fisher said. “My primary responsibility is motor vehicle and you can’t do anything without an ID. My background is motor vehicle for 16 years.”
Gross said if elected she would make sure cameras are on all the time and would discuss livestreaming the election so people can watch elections in real time. She said she would also look at cleaning up voter rolls.
And when things go wrong said she would get to the bottom of it, as opposed to pointing fingers, as she said happened in 2021, when her sister did not receive a mailed ballot. The ballot went to an address where she had lived 20 years earlier. The Elections division blamed it on the DMV while the motor vehicles department said it never had that address, Gross said.
“If it happened to her it’s happened to other people,” Gross said. “Being accountable to people is huge for me. If there’s a problem I’m going to look at getting to the bottom of it to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
She also said the DMV needs to be more responsive to constituents’ emails and phone calls, to save them time-consuming visits to the office to get answers to their questions.
Additionally, Gross said she would address the high staff turnover rate in the office — 150% — since 2019.
“I’d make sure we retain staff,” Gross said. “Staff will stay if they feel supported and have good leadership that is present.”
Fisher said high turnover is common when new leadership comes in. She said she and Peters did things differently than past leadership, and personalities clashed. There was misinterpretation or disagreement regarding statutes and what is considered legal, Fisher said. Plus, since Peter’s legal troubles have made national headlines, the office has received hate mail from around the country, and that has taken its toll on employees, Fisher said.
Fisher contends no significant fraud occurred in Mesa County in 2021, due to Peters’ actions in 2020. She said those who would have committed fraud knew Mesa County was watching.
While Gross agrees that election fraud occurs, she said it often involves cases like a parent voting a child’s ballot (while they’re away at college) where ignorance of the law is more of a factor than ill intent. Those cases are caught, she said.
Gross recalled another Mesa County case where an ex-mother-in-law intentionally voted her ex-daughter-in-law’s ballot. When the ballot was kicked back because of signature disparities a bipartisan pair of judges decided there were enough similarities in the signatures to count the ballot. However, when the daughter-in-law tried to vote the fraud was discovered, the case was turned over to the district attorney, and the ex-mother-in-law was prosecuted.
Gross said she spends a lot of time explaining to people about safeguards in place to preserve and show that elections in Mesa County are fair.
“We all want secure and accurate elections,” Gross said. “If someone doesn’t know the process, or understand it, I tell people ‘come watch the process.’ Go and have a conversation with people who run the elections. A lot of people I’ve talked to don’t understand the checks and balances.”
Fisher agrees that voter education is important so that people understand the process. She said fraud will always occur and that she would work to minimize it. She said she would make the clerk and recorder office the most transparent in the country.
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