Douglas County Clerk responds to state investigation: Says no copies made of election hard drives

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Ballot drop boxes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week ahead of the 2021 off-year elections in which the school board election has become unusually partisan and politicized.

Updated 10:30am, February 10, 2022: This story has been updated with the Secretary of State’s response saying the investigation is now concluded.

Douglas County's Republican Clerk and Recorder Merlin Klotz said he regrets using the “wrong terminology” in what he describes as an “informational private email” that ended up posted on social media.  

The email, in which Klotz wrote that he had made a “full image backup” of his county’s voting machine server prior to an annual system update, is under investigation by the Secretary of State’s office.

In a letter responding to the state’s questions, Klotz explained, “The email used inexact wording that was simply incorrect in a legal context. No one has made an illegal or unauthorized image of any Douglas County election data or hard drive information. Only a standard and required backup was created and the original email had intended to relay only that a data back-up was in place at the time of the SOS's "Trusted Build.”

Klotz added that he never meant for his email to be an  “exacting recitation of events” and acknowledges that his comments caused confusion and “concern that is ultimately unwarranted.” He also stated that he does not know who posted the message to the site Telegram.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Jena Griswold commented that, "After receiving responses from Douglas County, my office is satisfied that there is no current threat to the county’s election system. We have concluded our investigation."

The investigation into Douglas County started not long after that in Mesa County

After becoming aware of the social media post from October 2021, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office requested that Klotz provide information about how the hard drive was copied and who had access to it. Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold also ordered Douglas County to turn on video surveillance of voting machines and prevent individuals from accessing the equipment unaccompanied.

“I did not at any time directly or through County staff have or allow any unauthorized access to the voting equipment or data, and no full image back-up was ever created or allowed,” he asserted in the letter.

Klotz also stated that no one with authorized access imaged the hard drives either, and noted Douglas county has long maintained 24/7 video surveillance in secure election-related facilities.

All of this comes on the heels of the situation in Mesa County, where Republican Clerk and Recorder, Tina Peters, has been under a months-long criminal investigation for allegedly allowing an unauthorized person to capture images of the county’s voting equipment hard drives and passwords, which were ultimately leaked online.

The state has also launched an investigation into actions taken by the Republican clerk in Elbert County, Dallas Schroeder, who has acknowledged he had made a copy of his county’s voting machine server.

Schroeder told state 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 hard drives to the state for inspection.

Election hard drives become a flashpoint in false theories about 2020 election

Douglas is one of only two counties in the state whose equipment is supplied by a company called Clear Ballot. Everywhere else, elections are conducted using technology from Dominion Voting Systems, based in Denver. 

Dominion is at the heart of false election conspiracies that claim the company’s machines subverted the 2020 election by switching votes from Trump to Biden. People pushing that theory claim the company has used its software updates to erase evidence of wrongdoing from election hard drives.

In his original email, Klotz never suggested that he thought Clear Ballot was involved in election fraud. But he did express support for Peters’ alleged actions and said he believes Dominion’s trusted build breaks state law by deleting records that counties are required to hold onto for two years after an election.

The state argues that the files deleted during a trusted build don’t fall under Colorado’s definition of official election records.

Hand counts across the country, including several Colorado counties, have confirmed the accuracy of the 2020 and 2021 election results, as have Colorado’s risk-limiting audits. Colorado is a state that uses all paper ballots, so the voting machines are used to tally the paper ballot results. 

Former Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams said keeping election technology secure, such as hard drives and passwords, is critically important because it contains all of the election records including ballots.