Secretary of State appoints election supervisor in Elbert County, where Republican clerk copied voting machine hard drives

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Secretary of State incumbent Jena Griswold debates her opponent, Pam Anderson, at the University of Denver. Oct. 11, 2022.

Updated 2:55pm, October 20, 2022 -- This story has been updated to include a response from the Elbert County Clerk.

Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold has appointed a supervisor to help oversee elections in Elbert County, the second such order she’s issued this week.

On Monday, she appointed a supervisor in Pueblo County.

In each case, Griswold cited mistakes made by the clerks. Both will still be involved with running the upcoming midterm elections in their respective counties but with additional oversight.

Griswold said her decision to issue an order in Elbert County is due to the ongoing investigation into the actions taken by the Republican clerk Dallas Schroeder when he made copies of the county’s voting machine server.

While it’s not illegal to capture an image of the hard drive, Schroeder told state investigators that he made copies with two county employees present and two outside people guiding them by phone, and then gave the duplicates to two attorneys.

“The decision to appoint a Supervisor in Elbert County follows a 2021 election security protocol breach where Republican Clerk Dallas Schroeder violated Colorado Elections Rules by giving unauthorized individuals copies of images of the county’s voting system hard drives,” said a statement from Griswold’s office.

Schroeder defends his actions as within his authority as custodian of the county's election records. In a statement, the clerk accused Griswold of targeting his office because of his views on the security of Colorado's election equipment.

“It is obvious to anyone familiar with the situation that is a political move and retaliation to my questioning her in anything, whether it be rules, transparency or calling her out form being partisan in her official duties," Schroeder said in a statement released Thursday.

Griswold also appointed a monitor during this year's primary election in Elbert County

A false election conspiracy circulated by supporters of former president Trump claims that Dominion Voting Systems used their machines to subvert the 2020 election, and then hid the evidence during a routine software update. Schroeder is part of a lawsuit against Griswold alleging, among other things, that Dominion’s annual software updates destroy election records.  

Election experts have said the data shows that’s not the case.

Schroeder’s copying of the hard drives also led Griswold to appoint a monitor before the primary election in June.

In her announcement on Wednesday, Griswold noted that during a statewide recount after the primary, Elbert County discovered 37 unopened ballots that were not included in the original count. They had been mistakenly placed in a bin of undeliverable ballots that were returned from the United States Post Office.

Those ballots were added to the statewide total. 

“If not for the recount, those voters’ ballots could not legally have been counted, and those voters would have been disenfranchised due [to] the Clerk’s error,” stated Griswold’s office.

The statement from Schroeder's office said the county had worked with the state to get the overlooked ballots added to the final total, and asserted "Elbert County Elections will deliver an election that all our citizens can have confidence in, despite the Secretary injecting politics into the process."

Schroeder is the second Republican Colorado clerk known to have copied their hard drives over doubts about the 2020 election. Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters has been charged with election tampering and misconduct for violating the security of her machines. The information was later posted on election conspiracy websites. A judge has banned her from having any oversight or participation with her county’s elections this year.

Pueblo clerk calls supervisor appointment in his county ‘politics not governance’

In Pueblo County, outgoing clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz criticized Griswold’s decision to appoint a supervisor as unnecessary and politically motivated.

Ortiz, a Democrat who lost his primary race, accused Griswold of escalating a mistake his office made in order to score political points. He said she was trying to look “tough” on Democratic clerks to build bipartisan credibility ahead of her reelection bid.

Griswold’s office said it appointed the supervisor because Ortiz’s office made several errors on primary ballots and had misprinted a tear-off tab on its general election ballots.

“Secretary Griswold is responsible for ensuring voters in every county in Colorado have access to secure elections,” Griswold’s office said in a statement in response to Ortiz’s claim. “The decision to appoint a Supervisor follows multiple mistakes by the Pueblo Clerk and Recorder and his Office during the Primary and now the General. The Secretary has taken action in counties led by both Republican and Democrat county clerks to protect the vote.”

Griswold’s office did not respond directly to questions about why she had not appointed an outside supervisor in Denver county, where the clerk’s office admitted to making errors in both the English- and Spanish-language ballot guide that was mailed out to thousands of voters. 

Ortiz, who is currently the president of the Colorado County Clerk’s Association, said appointing a supervisor in Pueblo was heavy handed when a more collaborative approach could address any concerns. He’s worried that going forward clerks in Colorado will be more hesitant to communicate as openly with the state when issues arise. 

“She’s turned our system (from) one where we’re teammates, to, ‘if you make a mistake I’m going to appoint a supervisor and you’re going to have to pay for it,’” Ortiz said. 

He said Griswold is treating him like someone accused of breaking the law like the Mesa clerk Peters, not just an official who made an honest error.

“I don’t need an order. She wanted press for this. It’s politics, not governance. That’s the way I feel and it’s unfortunate.”

Ortiz also points to Griswold’s own mistake; earlier this month her office mistakenly mailed postcards to roughly 30,000 Colorado residents who are not U.S citizens with information on how to register to vote. The office said a data formatting issue led to the error and has subsequently sent a follow-up postcard to those residents. Griswold’s office said the state’s online voter registration system would block any non-citizen who tried to register to vote.