DENVER – The Colorado secretary of state sued Monday to remove a rural county's election clerk who is accused of allowing a security breach of voting equipment that the FBI also is investigating.
An initial investigation shows images of election management software were obtained by conspiracy theorists and posted on far-right blogs, said Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. Griswold’s office also said it believes one of the images was taken on May 23 from a secure room where the equipment was stored and accessed by Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, who allowed a non-employee into the office.
The secretary of state’s office identified that person but refused to say anything more about who he is or why he was there. The Associated Press isn’t naming him until more information becomes available. He has not been charged with a crime.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Griswold said legal action was necessary because she cannot officially remove a sitting county clerk from acting as a designated election official.
The lawsuit also calls for the appointment of former Secretary of State Wayne Williams to replace Peters and for former Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner to serve as the elections supervisor for the county’s November elections.
Peters has not made any local appearances since the secretary of state announced the investigation in early August, but she has appeared on broadcasts hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump who has made unsubstantiated claims about fraud in the 2020 election.
On those broadcasts, Peters claimed that Griswold's investigation is an attempt to take over one of the few remaining conservative counties in Colorado. Peters also said Reiner has a history of liberalism and has tried to “derail” Peters’ position since she was elected in November 2018.
Griswold’s lawsuit says Peters has been “absent” and adds that “even if she returns to the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, she is unable to perform the required duties as a result of her above wrongful acts and breaches of duties.”
The secretary of state’s inquiry is one of two investigations into the security breach. The FBI and Mesa County’s district attorney also are conducting a criminal probe.
Griswold also has called for Mesa County to change its voting equipment following the security breach. Annie Orloff, a spokesperson for Griswold, said the county has agreed on the replacement.
The lawsuit to formally remove Peters comes after the Mesa County commissioners unanimously voted to replace her with Williams at an Aug. 17 meeting. As an elected official, Peters is still being paid.
The commissioners praised the changes in a statement Monday, saying that Mesa County will have “arguably the most secure and transparent election system in the United States."
“I appreciate the confidence the commissioners, the secretary, and the attorney general have shown,” Williams said in a statement. He also promised “transparent and fair election this fall for the citizens of Mesa County.”
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.