What began as a press conference Monday, to which no member of the press was actually invited, turned into a brief melee between supporters of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and those who, well, don’t.
At the morning press conference on the steps of the Old Mesa County Courthouse, Peters and Sherronna Bishop, a Garfield County resident who has been side-by-side with the embattled clerk, supporting her in claiming there was election fraud, again presented nothing new to prove their claims.
Instead, they repeated the same “evidence” of problems with Dominion Voting System tabulation machines, repeating claims that computer files were erased, but failing to say whether any of the files had anything to do with previous elections.
In the middle of it all, Mesa County resident Matt Crowe, one of the people in attendance who questioned Peters and Bishop for their actions, got into a confrontation with others in the mostly peaceful 100-person crowd.
Several of Peters’ supporters surrounded him, held signs in his face and tried to shout him down.
In the confusion of that incident, a Peters’ supporter fell over, saying she hit her head on the pavement.
Earlier in the event, that same woman, who later was identified as Roxanne Lewis, had accosted another person, former Mesa County sheriff candidate Benita Phillips, who repeatedly told Lewis, “do not touch me.”
Lewis later was taken away in an ambulance, but not before Mesa County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Sorenson and one of his deputies, both of whom were monitoring the event, called the Grand Junction Police Department to talk with Crowe, who had already left the area.
Sorenson later told a reporter for The Colorado Sun, who also attended the press conference and learned about it through a Facebook post, as did The Daily Sentinel, that Lewis was a known aggressor at similar rallies.
Lewis pleaded guilty in 2016 to stealing money over several months from vending machines at the Canyon View car wash at the corner of Broadway and Redlands Parkway, a business she had sold months earlier to John Pugliese, the then-husband of former Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese.
It was reported by law enforcement that Lewis is a member of the local Stand for the Constitution group that has called on local governments to declare the city and county “constitutional sanctuaries.” Organizers for that group, however, said Lewis is not a member.
“They got right up in my face and I was trying to get out of the way, and that woman took a dive,” a visibly shaken Crowe said before he departed, still shouting at Peters’ supporters. “Sherronna Bishop keeps coming, she leads these things in Mesa County. She’s from Garfield County.”
Police gathered video images of the incident to determine what actually happened. The department later determined that no assault took place.
During the event, which eventually turned into more of a rally in support of the clerk, Peters and Bishop repeated many of the same accusations the two have said for months, that so-called forensic images taken of the voting equipment before and after a software upgrade earlier this year proved the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Both repeatedly attacked former Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, who both have been named to oversee this fall’s election while criminal investigations into possible breaches in election security by Peters and others are ongoing.
Reiner observed the event but did not speak.
Peters and Bishop repeated long-debunked claims that Reiner had led an attempted recall of Peters last year, which she didn’t, and that Williams, Mesa County Elections Manager Brandi Bantz and the Sentinel were all somehow in cahoots to cover up election fraud.
Peters, a Republican, also falsely claimed that the Mesa County Board of Commissioners, all Republicans — Janet Rowland, Cody Davis and Scott McInnis — didn’t have the authority to appoint someone else to oversee elections, and called out Rowland numerous times for releasing public documents to the public, and ignoring their pleas.
Peters said she is prepared to do away with vote-tabulation machines and hand-count each ballot, but then criticized Secretary of State Jena Griswold for decertifying the county’s ballot tabulating machines, which Griswold did because they had been compromised by Peters and her staff.
Local, state and federal authorities are investigating Peters and others for possible criminal violations.
Peters also questioned why Griswold’s office had special passwords to county election equipment, something that’s been the case for years, including since Peters took office in late 2018 shortly after getting elected.
QUESTIONING PASSWORDS“Why would the secretary of state have passwords to your elections machines?” Peters shouted to jeers and cheers from the crowd. “Why are they secret? Why? Why? Why are they secret passwords? I didn’t know they were there.”
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, both that office and each county clerk have specific passwords to their election equipment as part of a double-security system to ensure no single person can access or alter election computers, which are not accessible remotely despite Peters’ and Bishops’ claims to the contrary.
“To keep you accountable, to make sure that you don’t defraud the people of Mesa County,” Crowe shouted back. “You invited people who didn’t even work there (in the Elections Division) to come in and mess with our machines.”
The state was first alerted to problems with Peters and her office when those passwords appeared on a voter-fraud conspiracy theory social media post.
Additionally, records show that Peters and all 63 other county clerks were told to back up their election files before a routine annual software upgrade in May, and given step-by-step instructions on how to do that, prompting Rowland to say they wouldn’t do that if they meant to alter election files.
By law, clerks are required to maintain election files for 25 months, something Peters’ election workers did without problems or complaints in 2019 and 2020.
Last week, before ballots for the fall election were mailed to voters, Peters praised the county’s new voting machines for testing 100% accurate, saying that was also true with the eight previous elections she’s overseen since taking office, all using the same Dominion election equipment she’s now questioning.
Peters and Bishop said all this is so important to this fall’s elections because of three candidates running for the Mesa County Valley School District 51 Board of Education who are running as a conservative block.
The trio — Angela Lima, Andrea Haitz and Will Jones — has been endorsed by the Mesa County Republican Party. Bishop said they should be elected over Austin DeWitt, Trish Mahre, Nick Allan and David Combs.
Peters, who is not supposed to take sides when it comes to the election of candidates or ballot measures, has previously questioned the loss of three far right-leaning candidates in April’s Grand Junction City Council race, saying it was further evidence something is wrong with voting equipment.