DENVER – Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters will be prohibited from participating in the upcoming November election, a Mesa County judge ruled Wednesday, finding she committed a breach of and neglected her duties.
Mesa County District Court Judge Valerie J. Robison issued the order Wednesday more than a month after Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold sued in late August seeking to have Peters and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley barred from overseeing any part of the Nov. 2 election amid criminal investigations into election security breaches within her office involving the county's voting equipment. The Colorado Sun first reported the judge’s ruling Wednesday.
Judge Robison’s order prohibits Peters and Knisley from acting as the county’s designated election official and designates former Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams as the designated election official until the election is complete. Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, a Republican whom Griswold originally appointed to oversee the election, will work as the election supervisor. The two have been working together to prepare for the November election after county commissioners decided to stick with Dominion Voting Systems in replacing the compromised voting systems.
“The Court determines that the Petitioners have met the burden of showing that Peters and Knisley have committed a breach and neglect of duty and other wrongful acts. As such, Peters and Knisley are unable or unwilling to appropriately perform the duties of the Mesa County Designated Election Official,” Judge Robison wrote in her order. “The Court further determines substantial compliance with the provisions of the Code require an injunction prohibiting Peters and Knisley from performing the duties of the Designated Election Official.”
Griswold and a Mesa County elector sued in August to block Peters and Knisley from being involved in this November’s election and appointed Reiner to supervise the election.
The local district attorney’s office, Colorado attorney general’s office, and Federal Bureau of Investigation are among those conducting a criminal investigation into how secret passwords leaked online to conspiracy theorists and hard drives of election management software were copied from within a secure room.
A Department of State investigation found that Knisley and another county clerk’s employee helped a man named Gerald Wood get into a May 25 “trusted build” of the county’s Dominion election system by misrepresenting his role. Investigators believe that is where the images of the passwords were taken.
On Aug. 2, video of the trusted build and the passwords for the voting system were posted on Telegram and right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, and the hard drive image copies were posted online a week later while Peters was at Mike Lindell’s symposium.
Knisley was suspended on Aug. 23 and barred from being at work or performing any work from Mesa County, but she was criminally charged with second-degree burglary and cybercrime last month after she was allegedly at a county building and using Peters’s computer two days after she was suspended.
Judge Robison wrote in her order that Peters failed to follow state rules by allowing Wood into the trusted build without a background check, breached their official duties, neglected them “by failing to take adequate precautions to protect confidential information, and committed wrongful acts by being untruthful.”
Since Peters is an elected official and can only be removed from her position through a recall process initiated by voters, the secretary of state’s office sought the remedy of replacing her as the designated election official.
“The Court’s decision today bars Peters from further threatening the integrity of Mesa’s elections and ensures Mesa County residents have the secure and accessible election they deserve,” Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement.
Attorney General Phil Weiser said his office continues to work with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office on the criminal investigation into the election security breaches.
“Because they breached their duties and committed wrongful acts, Tina Peters and Belinda Knisley cannot be allowed to manage the election in Mesa County,” Weiser said in a statement. “The freedom to vote is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans. Today’s ruling gives the voters in Mesa County the reassurance they need that the upcoming election will be free and fair, and administered in a manner that they and all Coloradans can trust.”