Douglas County clerk questioned by state about allegedly copying election equipment hard drives

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A voter returns their ballot at a drop box in Douglas County in this file photo from 2021.

Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state Jena Griswold is requesting more information about a potential election security breach by Douglas County’s Republican clerk and recorder Merlin Klotz. 

This makes Klotz the third GOP election official in Colorado under investigation for their alleged handling of sensitive election technology.

Griswold said her office became aware of a social media post from last October in which Klotz wrote, “we, as always, took a full image backup of our server before a trusted build was done this year.” 

The trusted build is a regular process every county goes through after an election, in which the makers of its election equipment update the operating system. Douglas is one of two counties in the state whose equipment is supplied by a company called Clear Ballot. The rest of Colorado uses technology from Dominion Voting Systems, based in Denver. 

A false election conspiracy circulated by supporters of former president Trump claims that Dominion used their machines to subvert the 2020 election, and then hid the evidence during the routine software update. Klotz’s social media post did not suggest that he believes Clear Ballot was involved in election fraud but has concerns about Dominion's trusted builds.

The state said Klotz did not respond to a request for more information regarding the alleged incident.

“To ensure the security of Douglas County’s voting equipment, I am issuing an Election Order requiring the Douglas Clerk to disclose information regarding the imaging of the election equipment server,” said Griswold in a written statement announcing her decision Thursday.

Griswold said she is also ordering Douglas County to turn on video surveillance of voting machines and prevent individuals from accessing the equipment unaccompanied.

This incident comes on the heels of a similar situation in neighboring Elbert County in which Republican clerk Dallas Schroeder acknowledged he made a copy of the county’s election server.

Schroeder told investigators that he made hard drive copies with two county employees present and two outside people guiding them by phone. He also shared duplicate copies with two attorneys. Griswold has ordered him to turn over those copies to the state for inspection.

Both of the clerks under investigation, Schroeder and Klotz, are parties to a lawsuit alleging that Colorado’s election equipment wasn’t properly  certified before the 2020 election, because the lab that evaluated the software had a lapsed federal accreditation at the time of testing. It also claims Griswold exceeded her authority when she banned third party election audits, and that she destroyed election records that should have been preserved.

Griswold’s office filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit earlier this year, arguing the federal certification wasn’t lapsed and that the other allegations are unfounded.

“The plaintiffs’ allegations are patently false, and their legal justifications without merit. Nationwide, bad actors are abusing the judicial process to spread disinformation, undermine confidence in elections, and suppress the right to vote,” wrote Griswold. 

The latest incidents echo the ongoing situation in Mesa County, where Republican clerk Tina Peters is under a months-long criminal investigation for allegedly allowing an unauthorized person to capture images of the voting equipment hard drives and passwords. Some of that data ended up being shared online in a right wing forum that unsuccessfully tried to provide proof of widespread election fraud.

Peters has maintained that she has the right to investigate voter fraud. A grand jury is currently weighing allegations of election equipment tampering and official misconduct against her.

In his post noting his office made an image of the election hard drive, Klotz also expressed support for Peters’ actions in Mesa County.