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Copies of Elbert County’s election system hard drive given to unauthorized people, state official says

Secretary of state demanding more information from Dallas Schroeder

Copies of Elbert County’s election system hard drive “are in the custody of unauthorized people,” the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said Friday.

Dallas Schroeder

The revelation came to light as Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, investigates Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder, a Republican, for making the copies over the summer. Griswold’s office says it’s also likely that the copies were made “using a prohibited removable storage device.”

The Secretary of State’s Office is now demanding more information from Schroeder about the copies, which he says he made ahead of a software update.

On Monday, Griswold issued an order demanding preliminary information from Schroeder about how he copied the hard drive. In response, Schroeder, through an attorney, said he delivered an external hard drive to an unnamed “private attorney … who promised to safeguard the evidence.”

Schroeder also admitted in his response to Griswold’s office that two people who are not employed by the Elbert County Clerk’s and Recorder’s Office provided instructions by phone to Schroeder as he made the images. Those people were identified in Schroeder’s response to Griswold’s office as Sean Smith and Mark Cook.

It’s not clear what groups, if any, Smith and Cook are affiliated with. They were identified in Schroeder’s response to Griswold only by their names.

Schroeder said he “does not recall anyone asking him to make an image of the server.”

Griswold says there has been a “potential breach of security protocols for voting system equipment in Elbert County.”

“My office is reviewing the information received about the copying of Elbert County’s voting equipment hard drives,” she said in a written statement. “We are continuing to investigate, and will determine any additional steps required. As secretary of state, I will ensure that every Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated voter has access to secure and safe elections.”

The Secretary of State’s Office said the hard-drive copy is problematic because security protocols may not have been followed when it was made. The office doesn’t know exactly what’s on the hard-drive copies.

“Colorado county clerks are required by law to follow election rules,” Annie Orloff, a spokeswoman for Griswold, said. “There are security protocols that need to be followed, such as who has access to voting equipment, prohibition in using an unauthorized USB or other devices, prohibition of breaking seals on the voting equipment without logging, among other things.”

The new order demanding more information says that Schroeder’s initial ”response does not fully answer the questions posed” and that it “presents potential evidence of additional violations of election security.”

Griswold’s latest order asks for the series numbers of the hard drives that were copied and more information about the device used to copy them. It also demands “any and all communications, including, but not limited to, text messages, emails or voicemails” with Smith and Cook “and any other persons involved in the planning and imaging of voting systems components, and the subsequent storage, maintenance, examination or copies of those images.”

The situation involving Schroeder comes amid an investigation into Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican who is accused of facilitating the creation of a copy of her county’s election system hard drive as well as allowing an unauthorized person to attend a sensitive election system software update from which passwords were posted online.

A judge barred Peters from having an oversight role in Colorado’s 2021 elections, and Griswold is seeking to prevent her from overseeing the 2022 elections as well.

Schroeder, Douglas County Clerk Merlin Klotz and state Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Fremont County, sued Griswold in November claiming that the election system software used in Colorado in 2020 was improperly certified and that the Secretary of State’s Office illegally destroyed election records.

Griswold has strongly denied the claims, saying they are based on debunked conspiracy theories.

Schroeder, who is in his second term as Elbert County’s clerk and recorder, did not respond to messages from The Colorado Sun this week seeking comment about the situation. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Schroeder’s county uses equipment from Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems.

The Secretary of State’s Office says it does not believe “that the unauthorized imaging (in Elbert County) has created an imminent or direct security risk to Colorado’s elections.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.