Dueling Election Appointments In Mesa County Clerk Controversy

Tina Peters' Campaign Website
Mesa County Clark Tina Peters.

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters may not administer the local election this fall.

But if not her, it is still not clear who will.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced Peters will be barred from overseeing the election, due to evidence that she facilitated a major security breach in her office. Peters is accused of helping unauthorized people copy the hard drives of sensitive election equipment and release that information on the internet. 

Griswold named Mesa County's former clerk Sheila Reiner — who is now the county treasurer — to step in for the next election. To assist Reiner, Griswold named an advisory panel that includes state Rep. Janice Rich, who is also a past Mesa County Clerk, former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, and Ouray Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer.

Reiner and Rich are Republicans, Buescher is a Democrat, Nauer ran as a Republican but the Grand Junction Sentinel reports she recently switched to unaffiliated.

“The people of Mesa County deserve safe and secure elections. I am confident that with these appointments, voters in Mesa will be able to exercise their constitutional right to have their voices heard in our democracy,” said Griswold in a release announcing the appointment.

The release notes the County Clerks Association supports the Secretary in naming Reiner to oversee the election.

However the Grand Junction Sentinel reports Mesa county commissioners believe they should make the choice, not the secretary of state. At a special meeting Tuesday evening, the three members voted unanimously to select former Secretary of State Wayne Williams to take on the role. 

Williams, a Republican, lost to Griswold in 2018. He currently serves on the Colorado Springs City Council and is in private practice offering election consulting services.

It's unknown how the conflict will be resolved.

Even as state and local officials wrangle over who will oversee the upcoming election, new information continues to emerge about the alleged security breach in the clerk’s office.

The Secretary of State said investigations have uncovered evidence that Peters took an unauthorized person into the secure area where election equipment is stored at the clerk’s office, days before a software update this spring. The same man was allowed to be present for the secure update by claiming to be a staff member.

Investigators say someone in the clerk’s office ordered cameras in the election equipment storage room shut off sometime before the security breach. They were only turned back on recently.

Last week, it appears copies of election hard drives made before and after the software update may have been presented at a ‘cyber symposium’ put on by election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

Griswold’s office said two other staffers in Peters’ office, Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley and Sandra Brown, played a role in the data breach; Griswold’s order bans both of them from participating in the upcoming election.

In addition to the Secretary of State’s investigation, the local district attorney and the FBI are investigating potentially criminal violations.

Peters’ only public comments on the investigation came during her appearance at the symposium in South Dakota; she has accused Griswold of being on a political witch hunt against her because she is a conservative Republican.