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Judge bars Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from having role in upcoming election

Colorado secretary of state sued to block Peters from being involved in the November election
In this March 3, 2020 photo, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, center, reads the results from the first round of ballots for the 2020 presidential primary elections at the Mesa County election office in Grand Junction. (McKenzie Lange/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP)

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming November election, a judge ruled Wednesday in the latest admonishment of the Republican who is under investigation in a breach of her county’s election system.

The ruling from Mesa County District Court Judge Valerie J. Robison comes after Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, sued to block Peters from being involved in the November election amid criminal investigations into Peters’ office.

Robison wrote in her 22-page order that that Griswold’s office “met the burden of showing that Peters and (Deputy Clerk Belinda) Knisley have committed a breach and neglect of duty and other wrongful acts.” She rejected arguments from Peters’ attorney, Scott Gessler, as not compelling.

As such, the judge wrote, the pair are “unable or unwilling to appropriately perform the duties of Mesa County Designated Election Official.”

Gessler declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday, but said that Peters plans to appeal.

Griswold released a statement saying she was pleased with the ruling.

“Clerk Peters seriously compromised the security of Mesa County’s voting system,” the statement said. “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.”

Peters, who has spread baseless claims about the 2020 presidential election being stolen, has been under fire since she allegedly allowed an unauthorized person to attend a sensitive Dominion Voting Systems software update in May. Photos of passwords taken during the update were then posted online.

Local, state and federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the breach.

Peters is also facing scrutiny after a copy of an election system hard drive from her office was posted on the internet.

Amid the probes, 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 stolen. She told Lindell that she is being persecuted, but provided no proof.

At a rally Monday in Grand Junction, Peters continued to defend herself and claimed that her concerns about election fraud have been ignored.

Embattled Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, center left, and supporter Sherronna Bishop, center, address a crowd outside the Mesa County Courthouse on Oct. 11, 2021. Peters convened a news conference in advance of a Mesa County court judge’s decision to determine whether she can serve as the chief election official for the Nov. 2 election. (Nancy Lofholm/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Trump, a Republican, beat Democrat Joe Biden in Mesa County by 28 percentage points. But Biden easily won in Colorado and bested Trump in the national contest.

The ruling Wednesday means former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, will serve as Mesa County’s designated election official for the Nov. 2 contest. County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, who is also a Republican, will serve as the elections director.

Peters, who is in her first term as Mesa County’s clerk and recorder, is up for re-election in 2022.

Despite the Mesa County election systems breach, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office says it believes the state’s voting equipment and processes are secure. The passwords that were shared online were specific to Mesa County.

Mesa County was also forced to procure new voting equipment from Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems as a result of the breach.

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