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Elbert County clerk ordered to disclose information about alleged election system hard drive copy

Colorado secretary of state says actions represent ‘a potential breach of security protocols’
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks Oct. 15, 2020, during a news conference about the state's efforts to protect the process of casting a vote in the general election. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is ordering Republican Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder to disclose how he allegedly made a copy of his county’s voting system hard drive.

Griswold, who says the image would represent “a potential breach of security protocols,” on Monday issued both an order requiring Schroder to reveal the method he used to make the alleged copy and an order requiring him to appear before her office to be deposed.

“The Elbert Court Clerk has failed to respond to both an email request and an election order requiring disclosure of information about this potential breach. That is why I am now taking further action,” Griswold, a Democrat, said in a written statement. “As secretary of state, my top priority is to ensure that every eligible Coloradan – Republican, Democrat and independent alike – has access to secure elections and I will always protect Colorado’s election infrastructure.”

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.

Hanks has baselessly cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election. Hanks withdrew his name from the lawsuit earlier this month, citing his duties at the Legislature and his 2022 bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat.

Schroeder indicated as part of the lawsuit that he made a copy of his county’s election system hard drive.

In a sworn affidavit submitted on Jan. 7, Schroeder said he made a “forensic image” of the hard drive before a software update was completed by the Secretary of State’s Office and requested that he be allowed to make another copy now that the update has been completed.

Schroeder said in the affidavit that he wants to compare the two copies so that he “can fulfill my duty to report a violation of election law.” He said the copy he made is on “a secure external hard drive that is kept under lock and in the Elbert County elections office.”

Schroeder, who in his second term as Elbert County’s clerk and recorder, did not respond to messages from The Colorado Sun seeking comment on Monday. His county uses equipment from Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems.

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.

“Colorado county clerks are required by law to follow election rules,” said Annie Orloff, a spokeswoman for Griswold. “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.”

Griswold said Schroeder did not respond to an email and earlier order from her office seeking information on the alleged hard drive copy. The copy is believed to have been made sometime before Aug. 27.

The deposition ordered by Griswold’s office is scheduled for Feb. 7.

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.