Briefline

Outside supervision of Mesa County elections ordered amid investigations of clerk

By: - August 18, 2021 5:19 pm
Tina Peters

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, a Republican, stands outside the Clifton satellite office for motor vehicles June 17, 2019. (Courtesy of Mesa County)

Amid a state investigation of the Mesa County clerk’s office, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold appointed a supervisor and advisory committee to oversee elections in the county.

“As Secretary of State, my top priority is to ensure all election security protocols are followed and to safeguard Coloradans’ right to vote and we will continue to conduct the business required of our office to provide oversight, to ensure the integrity of the state’s elections,” Griswold, a Democrat, said in a Tuesday statement announcing the move.

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Griswold said she had appointed Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner to “supervise all conduct of the Mesa County elections” and established a three-person advisory committee that includes state Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction; Ouray County Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer; and former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher to “advise and assist Reiner in her duties.”

However, the Mesa County Board of County Commissioners voted later on Tuesday to reject Reiner as supervisor, saying Griswold was acting outside her authority. The commissioners instead appointed former Secretary of State Wayne Williams to supervise elections in Mesa County. It remains unclear if Williams or Reiner will ultimately act as supervisor.

The necessity for a county elections supervisor stems from a May incident that Griswold has labeled a “serious breach” of election security protocols.

Griswold said Monday that Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, a Republican, and two other people had entered a secure room containing county election equipment after normal work hours on May 23. That same date, Griswold believes an image of the election system hard drive was taken and later shared online.

That copy and one other Mesa County hard drive image were posted online by election conspiracy theorists, Griswold said in a Monday statement. The images were later discussed by speakers at an August “Cyber Symposium” hosted by Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, who suggested without legitimate evidence the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Trump, a Republican, won Mesa County by 28 percentage points — though President Joe Biden won Colorado by a margin of 13.5 percentage points.

Griswold alleged that the second hard drive image posted online was taken after a May 25 software upgrade to the county’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment.

Further, Griswold said Peters’ office authorized a non-employee, identified as Gerald Wood, to attend the software upgrade, known as a “trusted build.” This allegedly violated state election rules.

The supervision will not be the first time Peters’ office has required outside oversight. Following the February 2020 discovery of more than 500 uncounted Mesa County ballots from the previous election, county commissioners appointed Eagle County Treasurer Teak Simonton to oversee an attempted recall of Peters that ultimately failed. Simonton was also appointed to supervise Mesa County’s June 2020 election run by Peters.

Peters protested commissioners’ appointment of Simonton, a Democrat, to oversee the recall attempt, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported at the time. Peters told commissioners she would have preferred for Williams to fill that role.

Peters did not return multiple requests for comment from Newsline.

The office of 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein is conducting a separate investigation into potential criminal conduct related to the secretary of state’s investigation.

“The investigation is ongoing and in the early stages,” Mesa County spokesperson Stephanie Reecy said in an Aug. 18 email. “The DA’s Office obtained and executed search warrants and is now processing and analyzing evidence. They are also in the process of identifying and interviewing potential witnesses.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also investigating potential criminal activity related to the alleged security breach, the Denver Post reported Tuesday.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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