Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters is alleging that a report earlier this month that ballots were flying out of a new drive-up drop box may have been staged by private voters, though she offers no evidence to support that charge.

In a press release issued Friday, Peters alleged that local business owners Ann Brach and her husband, David, may have staged the whole thing. The Brachs, meanwhile, were surprised at the accusation, saying they have no reason to do such a thing.

Peters said she and a state elections official “immediately” viewed surveillance footage of the box — all drop boxes are required to be video monitored at all times — saying she wanted to notify the person who didn’t properly drop ballots into the box.

She said the video shows a man in a pickup truck driving up to the box who “laid the ballots on the edge of the lip without inserting it into the box” before driving away. She does not indicate if the video shows the license plate of the vehicle, which would identify its owner. The clerk’s office also oversees the Division of Motor Vehicles, where license plates are issued.

In a press release issued 10 days after Brach, who said her and her husband don’t own a pickup, reported the loose ballots, Peters blamed the incident on a major wind storm.

“After the review, it appears that the event may have been staged,” Peters says in the second release. “More seriously, Ms. Brach apparently used this event to potentially interfere with the election as she was heard telling voters that ‘they should not deposit their ballots in the drop box.’”

Ann Brach said that Peters is correct when she says it was a very windy day, but was taken aback at Peters’ accusation that she and her husband staged it, questioning why the clerk would make such an unfounded claim.

“It was extremely gusty that day,” Ann Brach said. “But why would we stage this thing? I don’t know what to think. What I should have done is taken a video. I’m old-style. I use my phone as a phone.”

Dave Brach said he believes the real problem with all this is that the new drive-up drop box is too high for motorists seated in their cars to reach fully.

“The approach to the box is awkward,” Dave Brach said, adding that when he used that same box days ago to cast his primary ballot he almost took out his side-view mirror. “The turning radius right there is not easy. I guess Tina could take a field trip over to the Post Office where we drop off mail and study those boxes. They have kind of a rather long snout to accept your mail. If I was going to build a drive-up ballot box, I’d build it like that.”

Brach wasn’t the only person to report loose ballots in the parking lot where the drop box is located, which is at the Mesa County Central Services Building.

The Saturday before Brach says she found ballots in the parking lot, the group that is circulating a petition to recall Peters, RecallClerkTina.com, said they also found a loose ballot that they turned over to elections officials.

And when a Daily Sentinel photographer went to the box on June 18 to take pictures of it as part of a story on the flying ballots — two days after Brach said she discovered them — a ballot clearly can be seen not dropped all the way inside.

Peters also claims that Brach lied about her ballot being among the 574 uncounted ballots that were found in the same drop box after last fall’s general election, something else the Brachs said was not true. Those ballots were discovered months later when election officials were pulling ballots during the February presidential primary. Peters never asked to have them counted, saying at the time that it wasn’t necessary because they wouldn’t have altered the results of that election.

This spring, Peters moved that drop box to the parking lot, making it the first drive-up box in the county. Other counties have similar drive-up drop boxes, but there are no reported cases of similar incidents elsewhere in the years the hundreds of boxes have been in use statewide.

Peters said she has “consulted” with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office and contacted the Grand Junction Police Department about the matter.

“I can confirm that she came over to my office and told me she believes that that happened. She also showed me a still shot and a video,” District Attorney Dan Rubinstein told the Sentinel. “I did not form any conclusions as to whether or not her belief was correct. I told her that the DA’s Office is charged with investigation of voter fraud, and this would be some sort of tampering or unspecified crime. I do not handle that type of investigation. I referred her to the Grand Junction Police Department.”

Callie Berkson, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said late Friday that the matter is under investigation.

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