In the wake of hundreds of uncounted ballots for the 2019 general election that were discovered just last month, and Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters blaming one unnamed worker for it, four more people have since announced they are soon departing Peters’ office.
All of them work in the office’s elections division in some capacity.
That makes more than two dozen people who have left the 32-person office since Peters took the job more than 15 months ago, the bulk of whom did not work in the office when former Clerk Shiela Reiner, now county treasurer, held that job.
Two of those people, David Jacoby and Adriana Barcelo, submitted their letters of resignation nearly a week ago, but the reasons why are unknown because the Mesa County Attorney’s Office has declined to release these letters.
The Daily Sentinel learned that two other staffers put in their two-week notices on Friday.
All four are slated to leave the office on March 13.
Meanwhile, Peters said Friday that she has hired an interim elections manager, Patti Inscho, who worked in the office when Reiner was clerk.
That hiring was part of a “collaboration” with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, which provided Peters with a list of local people who are qualified for the job, said spokesman Steve Hurlbert.
Peters confirmed hiring Inscho, who has been active in the Mesa County Democratic Party for years, saying she’s only an interim hire, but declined to say how long that would last.
“I have a real good relationship with Patti, and I’m happy to have her aboard,” said Peters, a Republican. “I don’t know the (party) affiliation of any of my employees. I don’t ask them when I’m interviewing them, and it makes no difference as long as they do a good job.”
While picking up presidential primary ballots Feb. 18 from a drop-off box located in front of the Mesa County Services Building, where Peters’ office is located, elections workers discovered 574 ballots that hadn’t been retrieved on Election Day back in November.
In an interview last week, Peters blamed a single elections worker for that failure, without naming that person.
But according to the 2019 Policy and Procedure Manual for conducting elections by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, no single person is allowed to pick up ballots by themselves. The procedure for picking up ballots at 24-hour drop-off boxes, which must be monitored by surveillance camera at all times, dictates that “the county clerk must arrange for the collection of drop-off ballots by bipartisan teams of election judges.”
Peters did immediately inform Secretary of State Jena Griswold of the found ballots the day they were discovered.
In her response the following day, obtained by the Sentinel through a Colorado Open Records Act request, Griswold ordered Peters to re-evaluate her procedures and file a written report “for the review and approval of my staff” of what new procedures Peters planned to put in place to make sure such a thing didn’t happen again.
Griswold’s office has the legal authority to take direct charge of a county’s election process, something former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, did in Teller County in 2012 when similar snafus were occurring.
While the Mesa County Republican Party called the entire incident about the uncounted ballots “trivial,” Griswold said it is anything but.
“The failure to collect all ballots timely submitted for the 2019 Coordinated Election is unacceptable, disenfranchised Coloradans and must not recur,” Griswold, a Democrat, wrote in her Feb. 19 response to Peters. “I may order you to take other measures to ensure Mesa County elections are conducted in accordance with all applicable laws and administrative rules.”
Last weekend, Griswold’s office sent Dwight Shellman, her county regulation support manager, to Grand Junction to help conduct that review. The results of his trip here are unknown, but Griswold did order that Peters’ office must reimburse her office for all expenses Shellman incurred while in town, including travel, lodging and per diem costs.
In an email, Peters said there was no point in counting the newly found ballots. By law, only she can request a court order to do so.
“The SOS Office is still completing its review, and I remain confident that, mathematically, the ballots would not make a difference in any election contest on November’s ballot,” Peters wrote. “The deadline for changing the election results has long since passed and if a decision is made to open the ballots, it would be for Mesa County information only, and could not be entered into the election results.”
Peters has made a second request to add four more people to her office, but county officials said the commissioners are not apt to do so, especially while she still has open positions, some of which have been unfilled for months.
In the county’s response to the Sentinel’s CORA request, the attorney’s office withheld four documents, one for reasons of attorney-client privilege and three as “work products,” which can only be released with the permission of the elected official in question.
The Sentinel has made that request, but has not yet heard back.