Mesa County Clerk who embraced conspiracy theories given 3 days to accept election security oversight

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold wants Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters to sign documents saying she will comply with election security protocols that place limits on what she can do before Peters can resume her duties as the county’s designated election official.

Griswold, a Democrat, issued the election order and “certification and attestation of compliance” on Monday, giving the Republican clerk three days to agree to the conditions, as reported first by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

The document states that if Peters fails or refuses to any part of the order, the secretary of state’s office could seek a court order to remove Peters as the designated election official and appoint a replacement.

Mesa County is expected to complete all of its work related to the 2021 election by the end of the month, including publishing results from a hand recount and posting ballot images online, which means Peters would be able to resume her elections duties further legal action is taken.

In October, a Mesa County judge barred Peters and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley from overseeing the 2021 election in response to a lawsuit that the secretary of state’s office filed in August. It alleged that Peters, with the help of Knisley and one of the county’s election managers, Sandra Brown, allowed an unauthorized man access to a secure area in the county elections office on May 25 during an update to the Dominion Voting Systems software, and that a QAnon conspiracy theory leader published passwords from the voting systems online in August.

Peters has been held up as a prominent figure among election conspiracy theorists who claim the 2020 election was stolen. Knisley is facing criminal charges related to allegedly entering the county offices after being placed on administrative leave over another workplace investigation. She has pleaded not guilty.

“Clerk Peters’ actions constituted one of the nation’s first insider threats where an official who was elected to uphold free, fair, and secure elections risked the integrity of the election system in an effort to prove unfounded conspiracy theories,” said Annie Orloff, spokesperson for Griswold’s office, in an email.

The order would require Peters or any deputy clerk to get approval for election-related decisions from the secretary of state’s office and allow the office access to video surveillance of voting equipment at all times. It also prohibits Peters from being near voting equipment without supervision, from using the state’s voter registration system until she has completed training and from granting access to the voting equipment rooms without written approval, among other restrictions. Additionally, Peters would be required to submit electronic logs daily for key swipes into the Elections Division to the secretary of state’s office as well as weekly progress reports on elections matters.

And it would require Peters to to “repudiate, retract and disavow” statements she made related to her “willingness to compromise Mesa County’s voting system equipment,” including on a Jan. 6 Facebook Live broadcast.

The Mesa County Board of County Commissioners is also asking for Peters to sign a separate attestation about complying with election protocols, ensuring employment protections of elections workers and complying with the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems.

Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis said he would be shocked if Peters signs the secretary of state’s attestation.

However, Davis said he’s concerned about comments Peters made online last week about getting rid of voting equipment, with Davis saying it could cost a quarter of a million dollars to have to replace the equipment again. He’s also worried about losing employees so close to an election.

Peters did not respond to a request for comment, but a release from her legal defense fund on Monday claimed that the county was “illegally” blocking Peters from rehiring Brown, who was no longer employed with the county as of Nov. 9, to another position. The secretary’s order prevents Brown and Knisley from involvement with the Elections Division.

In the legal defense fund statement, Peters blamed “the organized left and Lincoln Project Republicans” for trying to cancel her and scare those who support her.

“I will not rest until justice is obtained for those, like myself, who champion for transparent and fair elections,” the statement reads.

The clerk is still the subject of complaints in the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts, alleging violations of campaign finance law over allegations of soliciting money for a re-election campaign without an active campaign committee filing and accepting gifts over the limits allowed, including from Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of MyPillow and election conspiracy theorist.

Another ethics complaint related to the same allegations being reviewed by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission is pending. And the original lawsuit filed by the secretary of state’s office is awaiting further action after Peters’ attorneys filed counterclaims against Griswold over Peters’ removal as the designated election official and allegations that elections records were getting deleted during routine maintenance.

State and federal criminal investigations into Peters and the clerk’s office related to a possible security breach are also ongoing.

A lawsuit filed by the county commissioners in December against Peters for failing to attest to a document signed by the board for an election services contract extension was later withdrawn after she certified them.

“The best case scenario, given where we’re at with Clerk Peters, would be for her to resign and let us appoint a new clerk and recorder who does not have the legal trouble with the ethics commission, with potential charge coming from the DA, from the feds,” Davis said. “She has an incredible amount of baggage right now and it doesn’t bode well for the community to have her in there as clerk and recorder.”

Davis said he doesn’t anticipate her resignation or signature on the documents, so he expects another attempt will be made to get a judge to bar her from overseeing the next election until the investigations are complete.

But the commissioner said the focus for the board isn’t whether Peters is guilty or not, rather that Mesa voters can trust their elections. The board is reviewing options, and if a significant amount of the community still doesn’t trust the results of the 2020 election, Davis said commissioners may want to go back to that presidential election and apply some of the processes they took in 2021 such as the hand recounts and ballot imaging to prove votes weren’t changed.

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