Now that an audit of ballots in Arizona’s Maricopa County has failed to show any election irregularities there, believers in Q-Anon conspiracies have turned their attention to a report that Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters says she commissioned about copies of hard drives taken from county election equipment here as proof the election was stolen nonetheless.
That report, written by a member of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s so-called cyber investigation team, Doug Gould, is being shared on conspiracy theory social media sites nationwide, and getting hundreds of thousands of views.
The report, which Peters’ attorney, Scott Gessler, also included as part of defending her and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley to block the two from overseeing the fall elections, alleges that nearly 29,000 election files were deleted during a routine upgrade of the county’s now-decertified election equipment in May.
Those files, however, were common log files that were part of the computer’s operating system, and not actual election files, state officials said.
The files that were deleted when Secretary of State and Dominion Voting System technicians upgraded the equipment last spring are a part of a routine procedure of election operating systems across the state, when older files that are no longer needed are routinely deleted and replaced with new files, the Secretary of State’s Office says.
The same thing happens when any computer software is updated, the office said.
“Prior to the routine upgrade to voting systems called the ‘trusted build,’ counties are directed to save to external media all data necessary to completely audit and verify a prior election,” the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said in response to questions about the report.
“This data may be restored to the EMS (election management system) after the trusted build,” the office added. “No court has ever held that voting system event logs are election records within the meaning of (the law).”
Those trusted build sessions, which have been happening in Colorado since 2005, don’t impact election files that county clerks are required to maintain. Saving those files in a separate media, such as a thumb drive, is designed to make sure that if something goes awry during a software upgrade, those files are still available.
All that is part of several criminal investigations into allegations that Peters and others violated election security protocols, and a lawsuit from the Secretary of State’s Office to temporarily prohibit Peters and Knisley from overseeing this year’s elections.
It all started when state officials discovered that someone had made images of secure pass codes for Mesa County’s election equipment that later appeared on several online and social media sites for voter-fraud conspiracy theorists.
They did so after Knisley ordered security cameras to be turned off, and after Peters and others, including an alleged unauthorized person whom Peters said was a county worker but later admitted wasn’t, entered the clerk’s office late on a Sunday to make those copies, according to documents filed in the lawsuit.
When that occurred, Secretary of State Jena Griswold ordered Peters to show whether the county’s election equipment had been compromised, and prove that they still could be used.
But instead of following that directive, Peters flew off to a voter-fraud conspiracy theory event in South Dakota, bringing with her copies of the hard drive that had been taken just before and just after that trusted build procedure.
As a result, Griswold decertified 41 individual pieces of election equipment, forcing the county to replace it all, and file a lawsuit to temporarily suspend her and Knisley from overseeing elections.
Q-ANON AND DOMINION
Regardless of what amounts to a basic upgrade of a computer’s operating system, allegations from Peters and others that something is amiss with Dominion machines the county and 61 other Colorado counties have been using is becoming increasingly entrenched in the Q-Anon world.
Several people nationwide who subscribe to that wide-ranging and oft-disputed conspiracy theory are now circulating Peters’ report on the county’s hard drive on Q-Anon blogs and far right social media platforms, repeating Peters’ contention that they prove Dominion election machines were behind an alleged fraud that cost former President Donald Trump his re-election bid last fall.
All this is exactly what Griswold was trying to avoid when she took action more than a month ago against Peters and some of her employees.
“The Mesa County election security breach is serious, as it compromised election equipment and spread election misinformation,” Griswold told The Daily Sentinel. “Clerk Peters and Deputy Clerk Knisley jeopardized Mesa County elections, and their actions were not consistent with the required practice for the preservation of election records. That is why my office had to quickly act to ensure Mesa County residents have a great election this fall.”
When the 79-page report was released a week ago, it was unsigned. Since then, an 80th page was added that cited Gould as its author.
Despite its disputed findings, Peters’ report has gained traction among conspiracy theorists at a time when numerous national media are reporting on an internal memo done by members of Trump’s campaign two weeks after the November 2020 election, which said there was no evidence Dominion voting machines had anything to do with the president’s loss.
That memo, first reported by the New York Times, was entered as part of a defamation lawsuit by former Dominion executive Eric Coomer against the Trump campaign and other supporters of the president. Essentially, it reads that the Denver-based Dominion wasn’t in any way connected with such wild contentions that long-deceased Venezuela dictator Hugo Chavez, philanthropist and Democratic donor George Soros, or other election equipment makers around the globe were part of a conspiracy to steal the election.
Coomer, who said he had to go into hiding because of death threats over those unfounded allegations, was one of the first people to be cited by conspiracy theorists after the “stop the steal” movement began, a lie that Peters herself showed that she had bought into earlier this year.
That’s when Peters, a fervent Trump supporter, first revealed she was in that camp.
As the Sentinel reported at the time, in responding to a series of tweets from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., in early January denouncing his Senate colleagues for their planned attempts to challenge the Electoral College certification of President Joe Biden on Jan. 6, Peters responded that ballots can be counted more than once and that software used in voting machines can be manipulated.
Peters repeated, without evidence, claims that Dominion and Coomer had admitted to doing just that, which has proven to be untrue.
“Shame on you! As one that administers elections in my county, you apparently have no idea how it is possible to 1) tabulate more than once ballots favoring a candidate 2) change algorithm in a voting machine (see Eric Coomer from Dominion’s Facebook ranks) UR Dirty or ignorant,” Peters tweeted from her private Twitter account, @Bhealthynow, the Sunday before the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol Building.
“You would be wise to learn the Constitution that you swore to uphold and to protect us from enemies ‘foreign and domestic,’ ” she added.
After that story was published, Peters blocked a Sentinel reporter from her private Twitter account.
All this has led to criminal investigations by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It also has played into criminal charges being filed against Knisely, who is the subject of an internal county investigation regarding harassment of her own employees, ethics complaints against Peters, and the state lawsuit to remove Peters and Knisley from overseeing the fall elections.
In court filings on that lawsuit, the Secretary of State, Dominion and county workers cite several actions that Peters and Knisley took, including providing a non-county worker, Gerald Wood, unfettered access to sensitive election areas, even giving him a special swipe card to get into secure areas.
Security logs show that Wood, who has never been listed as an employee of the county, used his swipe card six times Sunday evening on May 23, court documents show. Those same documents also show that Peters was with him at the same time.
Wood’s Fruita home also was the subject to a search warrant in August by investigators, who removed a number of computer items, according to records. That occurred at about the same time investigators executed a search warrant of Peters’ offices.
Wood is the husband of Wendi Wood, who was one of several Mesa County residents who has called for the county to declare itself a “constitutional sanctuary.”
In those employee depositions, Wood is also accused of clandestinely making video and photographic images of special passwords needed to access parts of the election computers during that trusted build procedure even though everyone present was told to keep their cell phones turned off.
Those passwords later appeared on Q-Anon and conspiracy theory social media sites, which is what first alerted Griswold to security issues in Peters’ office.