Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters is not a hero for helping to destroy confidence in the state’s election system, nor should she be praised for actively helping to breach security protocols that makes that system secure, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and others said Thursday.
Those comments were made when the secretary ordered the immediate decertification of 41 individual pieces of election equipment because Peters didn’t bother to respond to Griswold’s order to show they are safe and secure, Griswold said.
Instead, Peters flew to South Dakota to speak at an event that is attempting to show that the nation’s elections aren’t reliable, and that former President Donald Trump’s loss last November was the result of a rigged election system.
“This is troubling for the entire state of Colorado to have someone in a trusted position, literally trusted to protect democracy, allow this type of situation to occur,” Griswold said. “To be very clear, the Mesa County clerk and recorder allowed a security breach, and by all evidence at this point, assisted it.”
The initial investigation into the goings-on in the clerk’s office by investigators in Griswold’s office showed that Peters allowed an unauthorized person into sensitive areas of her office — confirming earlier Daily Sentinel reports that identified him as Gerald Wood — had ordered that surveillance cameras be turned off, and failed to properly seal election machines to prevent them from being tampered with.
Griswold said as a result, she had no choice but to decertify all of the county’s machines, which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those machines cannot be used anywhere in Colorado elections, and are not salvageable.
She said Wood’s name had been entered into logs as being present at the May 25 “trusted build” session, and that he appeared to have his own swipe card to unlock the secure door into that part of Peters’ office where the machines are kept.
“There were only seven people at the trust-and-build, and for multiple reasons it looks like he was that extra person who was added, which was in breach of rules,” Griswold said. “He was not an employee. You have to be an employee to attend these, and have to be background checked.”
At the South Dakota conference, hosted by My Pillow guy Mike Lindell, a fervent Trump supporter who has made repeated false claims that the election was stolen, Peters identified Wood as an employee of Dominion Voting Systems, the manufacturer of the machines that Mesa and nearly all other Colorado counties use in their elections, but there is no evidence he actually works for that company.
Speakers at that event have claimed to have shown that the equipment isn’t reliable. The Denver-based Dominion has filed several multi-billion-dollar suits against Trump attorneys, conservative media outlets and Lindell.
But Griswold and Matt Crane, a former Republican clerk in Arapahoe County and now executive director of the Colorado County Clerk’s Association, said there has been nothing to show that at all.
Crane said no other county is impacted by all this, calling Peters’ actions a solo act that was selfish and irresponsible.
“To be clear, there was nothing heroic or laudable about what happened in Mesa County,” Crane said. “If you want to know who the true heroes are in Colorado elections, it’s the other 63 county clerk and recorders. These men and women go to work everyday to ensure accessible, fair and secure elections.”
Griswold said Mesa County has until the end of this month to replace all of its equipment in order for them to be available for use in the November election, and is working with other county officials to help in that effort, which includes seeing if other counties have extra equipment they can send here.
She said if the county doesn’t, it will be required to hand count each ballot.
Griswold said no previous election results are in question, but wouldn’t say whether she trusts Peters to run another election. Her office doesn’t have the authority to remove Peters, but it does have the power to take over a county’s elections.
“We look forward to assisting Mesa County to ensure that there are safe and secure and accessible elections that comply with both Colorado law and election rules,” Griswold said.
Griswold’s order to decertify Mesa County’s’ equipment said that not only did Peters allow an unauthorized person access to sensitive equipment, but that she or someone in her office had ordered surveillance cameras to be turned off before that May 25 event, and didn’t turn them back on until earlier this month.
That, Griswold said, is contrary to normal practices, which require those cameras to be on when worked on our when in use during an election to verify they are not tampered with.
The order also says that Peters’ office didn’t place tamper-resistant seals on her machines as is required until one or two days after the May 25 session, when Wood still had access to them.
Griswold said there is no indication that Wood was in the secure area before the May 25 session.
Still, she said Wood took videos and pictures of the equipment during the May 25 event, and turned them over to a voter-fraud conspiracy theorist, who later put them on social media last week.
It was those posts that first alerted the Secretary of State’s Office to the security breach.
“The county clerk’s office specifically misled my office in saying that (Wood) did comply with the rules,” Griswold said. “The date of the footage is the same date of the trust-and-build.”
The equipment that has been decertified are one server, four computer towers, four computer screens, four ballot scanners and 28 voting booth tablets.
The Mesa County Board of Commissioners are planning to meet today behind closed doors to get legal advice about this entire matter, something they’ve done for the past two days.
Today’s meeting, however, was amended shortly after Griswold announced her decertification order, calling for the need to “determine positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations, developing strategy for negotiations and/or instructing negotiators concerning the elections office.”
Those negotiations are with Dominion Voting Systems, county officials said.