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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)

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold decided Monday that Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters cannot be trusted to oversee the election in November and is working to find a replacement.

Griswold, a Democrat, doesn’t have the ability to remove Peters, a Republican, from office. But she can bar any county clerk from overseeing an election if she feels they cannot carry out their duties.

The decision, which is expected to be formalized in the coming days, comes as Peters is under investigation for her involvement in the leak of images containing Mesa County elections system passwords. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office also said Monday that copies of Mesa County election equipment hard drives were publicly posted.

“While the investigation is ongoing, it appears these hard drive images contain copies of the election management software that runs voting system equipment in Mesa County,” the office said in a news release.

The release of the pictures containing passwords is under criminal investigation by Mesa County prosecutors. Last week, Griswold ordered Mesa County to scrap and replace its election equipment because her office couldn’t verify that the system hadn’t been tampered with.

Investigators believe the images containing the passwords were taken during a May 25 software update of Dominion Voting Systems equipment and then posted online. The Secretary of State’s Office believes Gerald Wood took the photographs and was allowed to attend the software update — called a “trusted build” — even though he wasn’t authorized to be there.

Griswold said Peters’ office told the Secretary of State’s Office that Wood worked at the Mesa County Clerk and Recorders Office, which isn’t true. For security reasons, only employees of the office are allowed to attend the update.

Investigators believe hard drive images were taken on May 23.

“New information acquired during the Department of State’s investigation reveals that the secure room where this election equipment is stored was accessed on the evening of Sunday, May 23, outside of normal work hours by the Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters; Gerald Wood, the unauthorized individual who attended the Mesa County trusted build; and another Mesa County Clerk and Recorder employee,” the release said.

Peters has said that she is being persecuted. She hasn’t returned multiple messages from The Colorado Sun seeking comment.

Last week, Peters attended 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 presidential election being fraudulent. Images from the Mesa County breach were discussed during the conference as evidence of malfeasance in the 2020 election. 

Peters has also spread unfounded claims of fraud and malfeasance during last year’s presidential contest.

Despite the leaked passwords and hard drive copies, Griswold and other Colorado elections experts do not believe the state’s voting systems are compromised.

The leaked passwords were specific to Mesa County and the U.S. Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency,  housed within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, reviewed the leaked hard drive copies and determined they do not present a risk.

Mesa County must pay for new voting equipment before the Nov. 2 election.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....