The group working to oust Tina Peters as Mesa County clerk fell short of the 12,192 signatures they needed by their 5 p.m. deadline Monday to force a recall vote. It was a steep challenge since the group only had 60 days to collect thousands of signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group, RecallClerkTina, said it needed another 1,300 signatures to reach that high goal, collecting 10,892.
“Despite not successfully getting the recall question to the ballot, we still feel we accomplished some tremendous success in the process,” the group said in a letter to the Mesa County Board of Commissioners, informing it of the shortfall. “In the course of the recall process, we encountered several allegations of misconduct by Clerk Peters that, although we were not comfortable using in the recall, we believe deserve attention.”
That includes such allegations as Peters not getting a building permit to remodel her home, releasing personal information about some members of her staff, including health-related matters in violation of federal privacy laws, registering her own vehicles at an out-of-town address to avoid paying higher taxes and fees, and using the county’s credit card for improper purchases.
“These allegations are serious, and we believe rise to the level of malfeasance of office,” the group wrote. “We encourage you to take a close look at these claims and into the possibility that Peters is criminally responsible for her actions while in office.”
The attempt led to the county hiring Eagle County Treasurer Teak Simonton two months ago to oversee the recall effort in accordance with state law, which says a county clerk facing a recall attempt can’t oversee that process.
The group said it had about 200 volunteers helping with the effort, nearly split one-third between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, saying that proves it wasn’t political.
“We always knew it was going to be hard,” recall organizer Amanda Polson said. “I’m extremely proud of the work we put in and the support we gathered during this unprecedented time. We were significantly hampered by the lack of large groups of people.”
If the group had turned in a sufficient number of valid signatures, a recall vote would have been included on the Nov. 3 ballot because the petitions would have been turned in within 90 days of a general election. State law calls for such elections to be held between 30 and 60 days after petitions are submitted, except when it happens within three months of a general election.
That vote would have had two questions: One, whether to recall Peters; and two, to choose her replacement. Replacement candidates would have needed to gather at least 1,000 signatures to get onto that list, and would have had a month to do so.
Simonton said she and volunteers from other counties’ election divisions lined up to help officials in the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office review the petitions.
The petition gatherers said their reasons for initiating the recall stems from a series of numerous missteps by Peters since the Republican took office in 2018, including not finding, and later not counting, 574 ballots from the 2019 fall coordinated elections that were discovered in a drop box months later just steps away from her office, a matter the Mesa County Republican Party called “trivial.”
Peters also has been criticized for an unusually high staff turnover rate in her office. Since taking the job, about 80% of her staff have come and gone, including several top election managers.
The clerk also has blamed others for the errors, such as elderly election volunteers, the Republican candidate she defeated in the 2018 primary race, former staff workers, the media and even her immediate predecessor, now Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner.
She also accused some private citizens during the June primary for staging ballots flying out of a new drive-up box she had installed at the Mesa County Central Services Building, where her office is located.
Despite her finger pointing, it was Peters’ decision not to petition a judge to have the uncollected ballots counted, an authority only she has as the designated election official for the county. When they were discovered by elections workers during the February presidential primary, Peters said doing so would be meaningless because counting them would not have altered the results of the 2019 election.
Under Peters’ direction, her top deputy, Belinda Knisley, filed a criminal complaint with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office against a former elections manager who was helping with the recall effort, which investigators quickly determined to be a personnel matter. That person, Patti Inscho, said the complaint, which she didn’t learn of until 10 days after the case was closed, was clearly an attempt at intimidation and retaliation. It was filed months after she left her job in the clerk’s office.
Peters was elected in June 2018 and has since followed through on her campaign promise to reopen the Clifton and Fruita motor vehicle offices.