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Politics and Government

Mesa County’s former elections manager charged in election system breach case centered on Tina Peters

Sandra Brown is accused of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation and attempting to influence a public servant. Both are felonies that carry potential prison penalties.

The Mesa County Elections Office on Aug. 21, 2021. (Nancy Lofholm, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Former Mesa County Elections Manager Sandra Brown is the latest person to face criminal charges in the case centered on a security breach last year of the county’s election system that led to the indictment of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters

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Brown is charged with conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation and attempting to influence a public servant. Both are felonies that carry potential prison penalties. She turned herself in to authorities on Monday and was released from jail on Tuesday on a personal recognizance bond.

A 15-page arrest warrant affidavit filed Monday alleges Brown misrepresented to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office who would be attending a sensitive election system software update in May 2021. 

An email included in the document shows Brown messaging state elections officials to let them know that Gerald Wood would be attending the update, when in fact, according to authorities, he was never going to be there.

Sandra Brown’s mugshot. (Mesa County Sheriff’s Office)

Investigators allege that Wood’s identity was stolen by Peters, a Republican, to surreptitiously get another man, identified for the first time by authorities as Conan Hayes, a former pro surfer and election conspiracy theorist, into the Dominion Voting Systems software update. Peters’ No. 2, Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley, was also previously indicted in the case.

The warrant for Brown references cell phone data and flight records showing Hayes traveled to Grand Junction from California around the time of the software update. 

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Images of passwords from the update were later posted online. A copy of Mesa County’s election system hard drive was also posted online after the software update.

The warrant alleged Hayes made the hard drive copy using Wood’s identity. Hayes has not been charged. 

Brown’s arrest and the details from the affidavit against her were first reported by The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. 

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The New York Times first reported late last month that Hayes was the man who allegedly posed as Wood and attended the software update. Hayes confirmed to the newspaper that he attended the update.

Wood, a private computer expert who is not under investigation by local authorities, told The Colorado Sun last month that he had no involvement in the security breach. He completed a county background check and received an identification badge after he says he was solicited by Peters to do contract work for her office. 

Authorities alleged that the badge was used by Hayes, without Wood’s knowledge, to attend the sensitive software update.

Brown was fired from her position as Mesa County’s election manager in November because of her alleged involvement in the security breach. 

The affidavit for Brown also indicates Knisley is aiding investigators in their case against Peters and Brown. The document says Knisley told authorities that Peters told her to lie about Wood’s employment status with the county to get Hayes into the software update.

Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley, left, Clerk Tina Peters are the subject of state and federal criminal investigations of elections security breaches. (Provided by the Colorado County Clerks Association)

Knisley was indicted on three counts of attempting to influence a public servant and one count each of attempting to influence a public servant, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state.

Sherronna Bishop, a former campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and a Peters ally, also is named in the affidavit. Bishop has not been charged in the Peters case. The affidavit says Bishop’s credit card was used to reserve a hotel room in the name of “James Hayes” for the period the software update occurred.


Peters, who ran unsuccessfully this year to be Colorado’s secretary of state, was indicted in March on 10 counts, including allegations of attempting to influence a public servant and criminal impersonation. She says she is innocent.

Peters is among a slate of Republican 2020 election deniers who lost their primary bids in Colorado last month.


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