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Colorado’s top election official orders Mesa County to scrap voting equipment after passwords leak

Jena Griswold wrote in an order that her office "finds it cannot establish a verifiable chain of custody for any of the voting systems components in Mesa County"

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks to the state’s nine Democratic presidential electors before they cast votes for Joe Biden at the State Capitol on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, Pool)
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Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Thursday ordered Mesa County to scrap its voting equipment following the leak last week of passwords for the local election system.

Griswold said an investigation by her office indicates that Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican, allowed an unauthorized person to attend a software update for equipment made by Dominion Voting Systems. That person allegedly took images of the passwords, and those images were posted on a far-right blog and on the social media page of a far-right conspiracy theorist, according to Griswold.

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Griswold wrote in her order that her office “finds it cannot establish a verifiable chain of custody for any of the voting systems components in Mesa County and cannot establish confidence in the integrity or security of those components.”

The Secretary of State’s Office investigation into the leak is ongoing. Local prosecutors have also launched a criminal probe.

Griswold, a Democrat, has placed blame for the breach squarely on Mesa County and Peters. Speaking to reporters Thursday during a news conference at her office in downtown Denver, Griswold said evidence shows Peters assisted with the breach.

“To be very clear, Mesa County’s clerk and recorder allowed a security breach and, by all evidence at this point, assisted it,” Griswold said. 

Peters, in response to the allegations leveled against her and her office, has said she is being persecuted. She’s attacked Griswold, a Democrat, saying the investigation is politically motivated.

Peters, who was elected in 2018 and is seeking reelection next year, has called into question the 2020 presidential election results, despite there being no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome.

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters was elected to the position in 2018. She was the subject of a recall effort after several issues arose, including the discovery of more than 500 uncounted ballots from a previous election found in a ballot drop box outside of the county elections office. (Gretel Daugherty, Special to The Colorado Sun)

In recent days, Peters has been attending a conference in South Dakota held by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ally of President Donald Trump who has made baseless claims about last year’s election. Images from the Mesa County breach have been discussed during the conference as evidence of malfeasance in the 2020 election. 

Peters did not respond to a text message and phone call from The Colorado Sun earlier this week seeking comment.

Griswold said Thursday that Gerald Wood, who doesn’t work for Peters, was allowed to attend the May 25 software upgrade, called a “trusted build” update, in violation of state election rules. Peters’ office told the Secretary of State’s Office that Wood was one of its employees, according to Griswold.

Griswold said “you have to be an employee to attend these,” and people in attendance are supposed to have passed a background check. She added that she believes that Wood was responsible for taking the images of the passwords based on questions he asked during the update.

Griswold said she couldn’t comment on Wood’s motivation.

The Secretary of State’s Office also found other problems that led them to require that Mesa County’s voting equipment be scrapped.

“The evidence suggests that the Mesa County Clerk’s Office directed Mesa County staff to turn off video surveillance of the voting equipment prior to the May 25 trusted build,” the order says. “The video surveillance cameras were not turned back on until August.”

State elections officials say the leaked passwords did not affect any election results last year and won’t affect the election in November.

Griswold said she’s confident no other counties’ voting equipment was affected by the breach. “We have no reason to believe, at all, that this is a widespread issue,” Griswold said.

The trusted build updates happen in each county ahead of each election. They are similar to an update that someone may do for their smartphone or computer, though there are strict security protocols because the update is to voting equipment.

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The passwords that were leaked were specific to Mesa County and can only be used at a physical piece of voting equipment in that county.

Matt Crane, who leads the Colorado County Clerks Association, said during Griswold’s news conference that his organization supports the investigation. He lambasted those responsible for the breach, saying “there is nothing heroic or honorable about what happened in Mesa County.”

“As election officials, we have to be the grownups in the room,” said Crane, a Republican and a former Arapahoe County clerk. 

Crane said in January he counseled Peters to be careful about what she posts on social media after she made a misleading and “extremely reckless” statement on Twitter about ballot-counting machines. 

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“As an election official, she has to be even that much more careful so as to not erode public trust,” Crane said. “Standing here today, I wish that was the extent of it. Obviously the damage done to public trust by her far exceeds anything that she put on Twitter.”

Griswold said Mesa County will be responsible for the cost of replacing its election equipment. She believes there is enough time for the equipment to be replaced before the Nov. 2 election.

If Mesa County cannot procure new equipment and have it certified by the end of this month, it will have to conduct the upcoming election through a hand count.

Asked if Peters should resign, Griswold said “I can’t comment on that.”


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