Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters has pleaded not guilty to charges related to a security breach of her office’s election equipment.
Peters was in court Wednesday afternoon for her arraignment, after being charged earlier this year. A trial date is set for March 6, 2023.
Peters is accused of helping an unauthorized person make copies of sensitive voting machine hard drives and attend an annual software update. Information from the machines and photos of their passwords were later shared with election conspiracy theorists online.
Peters faces 10 counts in all: seven felony charges — including attempting to influence a public servant, identity theft, criminal impersonation and conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation — and three misdemeanors, first degree official misconduct, violation of duty and failure to comply with the requirements of the Secretary of State.
About 50 of her supporters turned out for the arraignment. After the proceedings, her supporters followed her out of the courthouse, and she greeted and hugged all of them. She also refused to talk to the media present, saying she would release a statement later.
Peters has long maintained everything she did was within her legal authority, and that she was simply trying to investigate concerns she and many of her constituents have about the machines. Mesa County’s election equipment is made by Dominion Voting Systems, which became the target of conspiracy theories after the 2020 election.
In a statement released after the hearing, Peters said, "From the very beginning, this persecution has been about nothing but silencing anyone who dares to question our elections systems. They’ve done everything they can to me – but I will not be silent, and truth will prevail.”
During her unsuccessful run for Secretary of State earlier this year, Peters was very vocal about the charges against her.
“A lot of light has been shone on me to demonize me for what I did, which was preserve election records, which is my job,” she said during a candidate forum in April. Republican Pam Anderson, who has strongly defended the integrity of Colorado’s elections, eventually won the GOP nomination for Secretary of State.
Peters’ campaign paid for a recount of the GOP primary results, which did not change the results. She then filed a suit objecting to how the recount was conducted. A judge dismissed that complaint Tuesday.
Recounts and audits of Colorado’s paper ballots have confirmed the accuracy of the state’s election results and county clerks in both parties have maintained that elections are safe, secure and accurate.
Peters continues to collect her salary as clerk but a judge has barred her from overseeing the midterm elections in Mesa County. Her term as clerk ends this year.
“The reason Clerk Peters was removed from elections is that a judge found that she had violated the law and lied,” said Wayne Williams, a former Republican Secretary of State and current Colorado Springs City Council member.
“It remains to be seen whether she's criminally liable for that conduct, but it's clear that she broke the trust of voters.”
Prosecutors looking to build their case against Peters recently gained a potentially important asset in their investigation — the cooperation of Peters’ former deputy clerk Belinda Knisley.
Knisley pled guilty recently to three misdemeanor charges relating to her role in the breach of Mesa County’s election machines. In return for dropping more significant charges against her, she agreed to assist prosecutors.
“There was some specific information she provided to us that was very valuable,” said Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein as part of his reasoning for the court to accept the plea deal.
The federal investigation into the Mesa county security breach is ongoing.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with Peters' statement.
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