State: Elbert Clerk gave election equipment hard drives to outside attorneys, may face legal action

Primary Day Voting Ballot Drop Off Denver GRISWOLD
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Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold at the Denver Elections Division’s drive through ballot-drop-off station at Swansea Recreation Center on Primary Election Day June 30, 2020. In remarks, she praised the city’s mobile voting facility there.

Updated Jan. 28, 2022 at 12:13 p.m.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced today that clerk Dallas Schroeder told her office that he made hard drive copies with two county employees present and two outside people guiding them by phone.

Schroeder also informed the state that he later made a duplicate to his copy and gave it to an unnamed attorney in order to safeguard against damage to his office or "if the secretary of state or other third parties seized the first external hard drive, as happened to election equipment in Mesa County." On January 22nd, Schroeder removed the original copy of the hard drive from his office and gave it to a different attorney, John Case, who is representing Schroder and others in a lawsuit against Griswold.

The state says that unless Schroeder can provide evidence that the attorneys are allowed to access sensitive components of election equipment, giving them the hard drive copies violated state rules. Griswold has ordered Schroeder to reclaim those copies for more inspection. She also said she is consulting with lawyers in the Attorney General’s office about the situation.

Our original story follow below.

Colorado’s Secretary of State is demanding more information from the Elbert County clerk about a copy he made of the county’s election server, calling the situation “a potential breach of election security.”

The case has its roots in Mesa County, where clerk Tina Peters is under a long-running criminal investigation for allegedly allowing an unauthorized person to image the hard drives of her voting machines. Some of that data ended up being shared at a forum that claimed — and failed — to provide proof of widespread election fraud.

In a court affidavit, clerk Dallas Schroeder, a Republican, said that Peters’ concerns inspired him to make a copy of Elbert County’s election server before a software update last summer; the data is now on an external hard drive “under lock and key in the Elbert election office.” 

In a press release Monday, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said she has been seeking more information about Schroeder’s actions to ensure they didn’t compromise the security of the count’s equipment. So far, the clerk has not cooperated. Now her office has sent Schroeder a subpoena, ordering him to make a sworn deposition.

Schroeder’s office did not respond to CPR’s request for comment.

Incident revealed in election lawsuit

The Elbert clerk’s affidavit is included in a lawsuit that argues Colorado’s election equipment hasn’t been properly certified because the lab that evaluated its software had a lapsed federal accreditation at the time of testing. The suit asks the court to order an “independent forensic audit” of the state’s election equipment.

In addition to Schroeder, parties to the suite include the Douglas County clerk, Merlin Klotz, two Rio Blanco County commissioners, and Republican state Rep. Ron Hanks, who participated in the January 6th protest in D.C. and has repeated false claims about the 2020 presidential election.

In his affidavit, Schroeder said he is seeking state approval to hire a cybersecurity expert to make another copy of the election hard drive, to look for evidence that the software update “destroyed 2020 election records.” A rule issued last summer by Griswold bans third-party audits such as the one conducted in Arizona. Colorado does require county clerks to conduct their own audits after each election to check paper ballots against the computer tabulations.

Election conspiracy theorists have claimed that Colorado's election software update last year — a procedure known as a “trusted build” — was used by the equipment’s manufacturer, Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, to cover up evidence of election fraud. The state explained to the Grand Junction Sentinel that the files deleted were outdated elements of the operating system, not records of actual election data, which counties are required to back up.

Editor's note: This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that Elbert County clerk Dallas Schroeder responded to Secretary of State Jena Griswold and that he has been ordered to reclaim copies of election equipment hard drives he made.