Don't eliminate the county administrator

Special to the Sentinel

Mesa County’s deal with Dominion Voting Systems for new election equipment includes a promise that the Denver-based company won’t file a civil lawsuit against the county over what Clerk Tina Peters has been saying about that company.

Before signing it, a special clause was added to the contract the commissioners approved 3-0 earlier this week that provides indemnity to the county over any legal action the company might have a claim to pursue. The commisioners did that despite numerous objections from area voter-fraud conspiracy theorists.

That means Dominion is agreeing not to file a civil defamation lawsuit against Mesa County like it has against others who have questioned the reliability of its products, such as My Pillow guy Mike Lindell, who continuously has claimed, without evidence, that Dominion equipment can be and has been manipulated to alter the outcome of past elections, including that of former President Donald Trump.

Commissioner Janet Rowland said that clause was added at the suggestion of Commissioner Scott McInnis and newly minted County Attorney Todd Starr.

“It is retroactive, up to the point of signing the contract,” said Rowland, chairwoman of the commission. “So you can see, this agreement saved the county far more than the $300,000 for replacement of machines.”

The new contract offers the county protection against a possible civil lawsuit, but not Peters personally.

In January, Peters claimed that a top Dominion executive helped alter election outcomes, and has helped Lindell try to prove Dominion equipment can be compromised, failing to do so in the process. She now is the subject of criminal investigations by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI.

Dominion has filed numerous such lawsuits across the nation, including a $1.3 billion suit against Lindell, who is helping to keep Peters in hiding outside of Colorado. The company also has filed billion-dollar suits against several attorneys and conservative media outlets that support Trump and have similarly claimed the election was stolen from him, pointing a finger at Dominion in the process.

The new contract, which is valid through 2029, was needed when Secretary of State Jena Griswold decertified all Dominion equipment the county was using because her office determined that Peters played a major role in the possible violation of numerous security breaches, leaving the equipment tainted and unusable.

Peters was temporarily barred from conducting future elections as a consequence.

As a result, the county was facing a potential cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace that equipment, which had to happen by the end of this month in order for them to be used in this fall’s general election.

Had Dominion and the county not come to an agreement on extending its contract for five more years — the current one was due to expire in 2023 — the county would have had to buy brand-new equipment.

Instead, Dominion offered to give them that equipment for free in exchange for extending that contract.

Under it, the county is to pay $96,153 next year in maintenance and software licensing fees, with a guaranteed 2% annual increase over the life of the contract, an increase that was in the original contract.

Had the county decided instead to go with the only other approved election equipment vendor in the state, Clear Ballot, it would have cost $277,863 just to purchase new machines.

Doing so also would have required the county to pay Dominion more than $192,000 to buy out of its contract, and another $100,000 in an annual service contract and licensing fees with Clear Ballot. And that would have only gotten the county through the next two years.

By extending the county’s contract with Dominion, it will cost slightly more than $825,000 total through 2029, compared with nearly $867,000 to go with Clear Ballot. It also would prevent the county’s Election Division from having to retrain on a new system.

“We are proud Mesa County will have what is arguably the most secure and transparent election system in the United States,” Rowland said. “Our approach includes using both software systems approved by the state, which we will use to tabulate the vote and then validate that vote.”

Rowland added that the county also will do a hand count to verify those results, and, for an extra $3,300 per election that the county is spending, to post ballots online “for anyone to view and further validate the vote tabulation on their own,” Rowland said.

Currently, Dominion equipment is used in 62 of the state’s 64 counties, not to mention numerous counties across the nation.

The remaining two Colorado counties — Garfield and Douglas — use Clear Ballot.