Amid a clerk controversy, Mesa County voters this election wondered: Should I even cast a ballot?

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Election Specialist Becky White gets ballots ready to be processed at Mesa County Central Services in Grand Junction Nov. 1, 2021

In addition to his choices for candidates and ballot measures, Melvin Brady was certain about two things in Mesa County’s election Tuesday: He was going to cast a ballot, and he was not going to use a Dominion voting machine to do it.

“I would not trust them, you know, very much,” said the 71-year-old, as he walked out of Mesa County’s election office. 

Brady had filled out his ballot at home, then put it in a drop box, “whereas, I used the machine last time,” he said. 

The difference between this year and last, he explained, are allegations he’s heard about voter fraud linked to Dominion machines in the 2020 presidential election.

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Ballots spirit through a sorting machine at Mesa County Central Services in Grand Junction Nov. 1, 2021

Tuesday’s election in Mesa County was notable for a few reasons: The county was voting on funding a new high school — a measure that appears likely headed for victory — there raged a battle for the future of the school board, and the county’s clerk was barred from overseeing the election, partly due to her theories, and actions, around the Dominion voting machines.

It is the latter controversy that has some voters in Mesa County questioning how — and even if — they should cast a ballot.

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters has widely shared claims of voting impropriety by Dominion, as has My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, of whom Brady is a huge fan. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has denied these claims and earlier this year barred Peters from overseeing the 2021 election after Peters was accused of allowing a non-employee access to the machines.

But for his part, Brady stands by Peters. While he said he doesn’t know if his ballot was actually counted in the 2020 election, he feels confident it will be this time “since there's so much controversy over it,” he said.

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Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters has faced controversy since she questioned the legitimacy of Dominion voting machines and alleged allowed a nonemployee access to the voting machines. She was later barred from overseeing the 2021 election.

Brady’s one of many conservative voters in the county who say they don’t trust voting machines but still chose to participate in the voting process this election, either by filling out their mail-in ballot or using a pen to mark their ballot in-person at a polling place. What a lot of people don’t understand, however, is that every ballot — regardless of how it’s cast — is actually a paper ballot, explained Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner. Voters can use a pen or a machine to mark it.

Reiner, a previous Mesa County clerk who was appointed to run this election, had “a handful” of people show up to the election office throughout the election worried about the integrity of the vote-counting system. Some told her they believed they had to vote in person, or use some other voting strategy, to ensure their vote was actually counted.

“Our staff has taken extra time to work with them, talk them through the process, show them if they're available to come back and look at the back rooms and see what we’re doing,” Reiner explained.

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Arie De Groot watches as ballots are sorted at Mesa County Central Services in Grand Junction Nov. 1, 2021

She also made sure to tell skeptical voters about new security measures now in place to prevent an “internal threat,” she said, including a new rule that election staff and officials cannot be alone in sensitive areas. The office has made sure that its cameras never be turned off (which they were when the alleged security breach took place).

Once Reiner walks skeptical voters through these changes, “overall, they’re leaving with a sense of reassurance, and they feel good about it,” she said.

Still, Peters feels more needs to be done to restore public trust in voting, especially when it comes to Dominion voting machines.

“There needs to be transparency,” she said Tuesday. “You have every right to know what's in those machines and how they operate.”

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Becky White, election specialist, runs a ballot sorting machine at Mesa County Central Services in Grand Junction Nov. 1, 2021

Peters questioned why voting machines contain “so much sophisticated programming.” She also insisted she’s not just speaking for herself, but on behalf of her constituents who are worried about elections in this county and beyond.

“They just want to get their questions answered, you know?” she said. “So my opinion doesn't matter here.”

For other voters in Mesa County, however, this off-year election was business as usual. While Rick Brackon, a conservative, applauded Peters for speaking out, he also said he didn’t want to dwell on the past, including the 2020 election. He thinks citizens should keep looking forward — and voting, no matter what.

“I'm still an American,” he said, “Yeah. I mean, yeah. It's all we got, right?”