Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters must resign

Written by on August 20, 2021

Election integrity is critical, lest voters lose faith in election outcomes. Perhaps the most crucial element of election integrity is voters’ trust in election officials to perform their duties responsibly, without partisanship and according to the law. Secretary of State Jena Griswold (Democrat) and Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters (Republican) are prime examples of glaring breachers of trust.

Griswold continuously fails to foster faith in Colorado voters. She’s politicized her office from the start, when Planned Parenthood edited an official (and purely political) Griswold press release. She’s blamed the Postal Service for election failings by herself and other Democrats, even filing a frivolous federal lawsuit arguing “voter suppression” by the USPS.

Griswold recently claimed she instituted new rules “prohibiting sham election audits.” Yet state statute already forbids third parties from examining voting machines. She scored political points with Democrats while feeding election conspiracy theories. Griswold has undermined her ability to preside over elections and adjudicate important issues in a nonpartisan way that instills confidence.

Even at her press conference leveling allegations of election security breaches by Peters, Griswold gratuitously referenced “a coordinated effort to undermine democracy and suppress the right to vote.” Political gamesmanship doesn’t build trust.

Peters is a known skeptic of the 2020 presidential election results.

Too many Coloradans believe the ensuing investigations by Griswold, Mesa District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and the FBI are witch hunts by a hyperpartisan SOS. That’s on Griswold — and it’s a problem because the accusations are egregious and serious.

According to the allegations by Griswold and others, the week of May 17, Mesa County staff were apparently instructed to turn off cameras. Contrary to longstanding Mesa County Elections practice and Coloradans’ expectations of strict chains of custody for ballots and election materials, cameras remained off until August.

On Sunday evening, May 23, Peters, her employee Sandra Brown and a man identified as “Gerald Wood” went to the election equipment room and allegedly took a hard drive image from Mesa County election servers, which requires physical access. The extent of the information taken is unclear.

On May 25, Peters, Brown and Wood returned to the election facility along with staff from Griswold’s office and vendor employees to install a new “trusted build” update to the Dominion tabulator software. The next day, Wood purportedly took a new hard drive image after the build.

BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is the software that controls the motherboard and connects the operating system to hardware. With each trusted build, the SOS resets BIOS passwords with unique codes for each computer. Only the SOS has the passwords; counties and vendors do not. Thus, it appears her staff left the BIOS passwords for Mesa County’s voting system exposed — an abject failure of Griswold’s office violating Cyber Security 101.

Wood allegedly photographed and videoed the passwords, which were subsequently leaked online and recently traced to Mesa County.

A trusted build is a brand-new installation of voting system software such as Dominion or Clear Ballot consisting of enhancements and new security features, often required by law. All preexisting data is supplanted, and logs are deleted. Importantly, before the new trusted build, both the county and state are required to back-up all election data and past trusted builds. These backups ensure compliance with state retention laws requiring election records be maintained for 25 months (exceeding the federal requirement of 22 months).

Each county, including Mesa, should possess every election project or database version from 2020. The state holds copies of every trusted build ever installed for every election.

It appears Peters and Wood took an image of the system before and after the trusted build to observe differences between the old and new software builds.

I don’t know if Mesa County’s elections are spotless. What I do know is that what Peters did was wrong. Wood wasn’t an employee, yet she gave him full badge access, lied to SOS that he was on staff and made sure cameras were off.

It appears Peters violated both state law and election rules. At minimum, it’s serious enough for the Republican DA to examine possible legal charges and the FBI to investigate. The federal government labels election infrastructure critical to national security. As of deadline Wednesday, Peters’ whereabouts are unknown.

Peters could have conducted a hand recount of last November’s election, financed from her own budget. Elbert County clerk Dallas Schroeder did. He found Elbert was just three votes off based on voter intent. Peters didn’t conduct a hand recount. Why not? Ballots are available under the open records act. Why didn’t Wood request access to Mesa County ballots? ALL Colorado voters use some form of paper ballot. Hand recounts are the best way to verify results.

This isn’t about Republican or Democrat. It’s about holding the powerful to account. Republicans shouldn’t brush this off any more than Democrats should brush off Griswold’s outrageous partisanship and unprecedented staff turnover. Those who believe Peters is a hero must ask themselves if the supposed ends (whatever those are) morally justify the deceptive, potentially illegal means.

Peters is unable to discharge her duties responsibly. She claims what she’s doing is intended to restore election integrity. If that’s true — if she really does want voters to trust the process and those running elections — Peters must resign as clerk. In doing so, she will remove herself as a distraction from November and let the facts and investigation unfold as they will.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s August 20 column at The Denver Gazette, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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