State, Mesa Clerk going to court over whether she can oversee 2022 election

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A ballot drop box outside the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s offices in Grand Junction on Thursday, August 26, 2021.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has filed a lawsuit to bar Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from overseeing the 2022 elections, after Peters refused to agree to close state monitoring of her work. 

Peters is under a federal and state investigation for a security breach of the county’s election equipment last year during an annual upgrade to its voting machines. Last year, a Mesa county district court judge banned Peters from having any role in administering the 2021 election, but that order will soon expire.  

“I am taking action to ensure that Mesa County voters have the elections they deserve,” said Secretary Jena Griswold in a written statement announcing the lawsuit. “I will continue to provide the support and oversight needed to ensure the integrity of Colorado’s elections.”

Griswold had asked Peters to sign an agreement allowing significant state supervision in order for her to manage the upcoming midterm election. It would have required Peters to submit all of her written communication related to elections to the state, as well as providing logs of everyone who entered secured areas in the elections division. Peters would also only have been allowed near the voting machines with supervision, among other stipulations. 

Mesa County’s election equipment is made by Dominion Voting Systems. Supporters of President Trump have falsely accused the company of using its technology to subvert the 2020 presidential election. No evidence of that claim has been substantiated and Dominion is suing purveyors of that claim for defamation.

Peters declared there was no way she'd sign the order or agree to any of Griswold’s  terms, comparing the requirements to George Orwell’s 1984.

“Please name one time in the history of the world in which the side demanding you ‘repudiate’ your beliefs, especially beliefs for transparency, in exchange for return of your rights, have been the good guys?,” Peters said in a written statement responding to the lawsuit. “As [I] said before – I will not back down.  Not now, not ever.”

Peters was referring to a provision of the Secretary of State’s demands that would have required her to repudiate, in writing, her assertion in a Facebook Live post that “We’ve got to get those machines so . . . they’re not able to do what they’re designed to do,” and any other statements indicating “a willingness to compromise voting system equipment."

Griswold is requesting the court name Mesa's current director of elections, Brandi Bantz, to take on the clerk's election duties.

This lawsuit comes shortly after prosecutors announced they’re sending Peters’ case to a grand jury to weigh charges of election equipment tampering and official misconduct.

Mesa County Commissioners are also deliberating about next steps; on Tuesday, during an occasionally contentious hearing, they passed a resolution supporting Bantz to oversee the election.

Mesa County attorney Todd Starr told the commissioners he expects a judge to agree once again to remove Peters from any election oversight role.

“Based on that precedent, the convening grand jury and the ongoing investigation, I'm confident a judge will confirm that,” he said.

Commissioner Cody Davis noted that Bantz has more than 16 years of experience working in elections and said she’s the most obvious choice to oversee things. He and the other commissioners reiterated that they were not the ones “removing” Peters from one of her main roles as clerk and recorder, just preparing for the court to do so.

Many in the public who spoke at the meeting offered support for Peters and criticized the commissioners, warning their decision would come back to haunt them. 

“You are elected to represent your constituents, not to lead us. And right now you're attempting to lead yourself into your own nooses,” said conservative political activist Nova Tucker, with the group Stand For The Constitution.

Longtime Mesa County resident Mark Young said he believes in his heart that Peters is a good person and feels it hasn’t been shown that she did anything wrong. 

“She is still our elected Mesa County Clerk and Recorder. And I expect her to continue in that capacity from this point forward,” he told commissioners. 

Peters recently announced she will run for reelection in 2022. She already has one challenger — Bobbie Gross, who lost the Republican primary to Peters in 2018.