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Fight over Mesa County election oversight heats up after new allegations



Fight over Mesa County election oversight heats up after new allegations

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office asked a Mesa County District Court judge again this week to officially keep county Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters from overseeing the November election and instead appoint former Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

It’s the latest in a legal tangle over allegations that Peters let an unauthorized man access a secure area at the county election office on May 25 and that passwords from the voting equipment were published online in early August by a leader in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Mesa County resident Heidi Jeanne Hess filed a lawsuit Aug. 30 to keep Peters and Deputy Clerk and Recorder Belinda Knisley from handling the next election.

Last week, Peters — who had been out of the state for more than a month and has become popular among 2020 election conspiracy theorists — responded to the lawsuit by providing to commissioners and the court a report that alleges wrongdoing by the secretary of state’s office and says that a state upgrade wiped out election records that elections officials are required to keep.

The Mesa County Board of County Commissioners appointed Williams in August as the designated election official and asked the court to affirm that decision, but Peters’ attorney argued this week that commissioners don’t have that authority. Wednesday night’s filing from Griswold’s office asked for the court to make a decision on the removal — and responded to allegations of wrongdoing by Peters.

“Clerk Peters and Deputy Clerk Knisley jeopardized Mesa County elections, and their actions were not consistent with the required practice for the preservation of election records,” Griswold said in a statement, reiterating that the alleged breach was serious, compromising election equipment and spreading misinformation. “That is why my office had to quickly act to ensure Mesa County residents have great elections this fall.”

There are three investigations into the possible breach: the secretary of state’s, the Mesa County District Attorney’s office and the FBI. Knisley has been suspended from her job and charged with felony burglary and a misdemeanor cybercrime, though the charges are independent of the ongoing investigations.

Peters’ attorney, former Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, acknowledged in a Sept. 17 legal filing that there was an “unauthorized release of information on one or more publicly available web sites,” but said the actions by Griswold and the county commissioners to remove Peters and Knisley were “wholly disproportionate and directly violate Colorado law.”

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