Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of appointing a new official to supervise elections in rural Mesa County, where federal and local authorities are investigating a security breach that included the leak of voting system passwords.
Soon after, however, the county’s Republican three-member board of commissioners voted to reject Griswold’s appointment, saying she had overstepped her authority, and is attempting to install an elections supervisor of its own, setting up a likely legal fight.
Griswold has leveled serious allegations against Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, a conservative Republican, including accusing her of aiding a leak of closely guarded voting machine logins that ended up on a QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel. Peters, who did not respond to CNN interview requests, has accused Griswold of seeking to engineer a takeover of her office.
Griswold on Tuesday night gave Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner the authority to oversee election functions and appointed a three-person advisory committee to help Reiner with her duties.
“The people of Mesa County deserve safe and secure elections,” Griswold said in a statement Tuesday. “I am confident that with these appointments, voters in Mesa will be able to exercise their constitutional right to have their voices heard in our democracy.”
But in a special meeting on Tuesday evening, Mesa County commissioners voted 3-0 to reject Griswold’s appointment of an elections supervisor and advisory committee and instead appointed their own elections supervisor, former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
Annie Orloff, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, told CNN that Griswold was “considering next steps.”
“The Secretary of State’s Order ensures supervision of Mesa’s elections; it does not remove Clerk Peters,” Orloff said in a statement. “Mesa County doesn’t have the authority to remove Peters or to appoint Williams as the Designated Election Official (DEO).”
The county’s commissioners, however, said Griswold was the one who lacked authority in the matter.
“Frankly, we don’t think the secretary of state has the authority to figure out to do a replacement, that designation,” Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis said at a meeting, adding that Griswold was “out of her lane.”
Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said his organization supported Griswold’s decision to appoint an interim election official “in light of the ongoing investigation into the chain-of-custody and election security protocol breach in Mesa County.”
FBI joins investigation into QAnon-affiliated leak
An FBI spokeswoman told CNN on Tuesday that the FBI Denver field office has joined a Colorado district attorney’s investigation into the county clerk’s office and how voting machine logins from the county wound up in the QAnon-affiliated video.
The secretary of state’s office also is conducting its own probe and last week ordered the replacement of election equipment in the county.
The voting machine logins were featured in an August 3 video posted on a QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel about 2020 election fraud claims.
In a news conference last week, Griswold blamed Peters for the leak, saying the secretary of state’s office could not establish a verifiable chain of custody for the machines, and that Peters brought a “non-employee” to a May 25 “trusted build” meeting where closely guarded voting machine login credentials were visible to attendees. Griswold said her employees had been misled to believe that the “non-employee” in question was a county employee.
Griswold’s office had said Monday that the secretary of state would appoint a new person to oversee elections in Mesa County.
Dan Rubinstein, the Mesa County district attorney, had previously confirmed to CNN that the secretary of state’s office contacted him last week, saying, “They believed that there were potential criminal matters which would be referred to my office for prosecution.”
Courtney Bernal, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Denver field office, told CNN in a statement that they are working with the district attorney’s office, “on the forensic review and analysis of county voting systems to determine if there was a potential federal criminal violation.”
CNN reached out to the Mesa County district attorney’s office and the Colorado secretary of state.
A source briefed on the investigation described the “trusted build” as a routine meeting between county and state officials in a secure setting to update voting machine software. Only the clerk, her office’s employees, Dominion Voting Systems staff and representatives from the secretary of state’s office were allowed to attend, the source said.
The Telegram video claimed that the individual who provided the material containing the logins was a Dominion Voting Systems employee. A spokesperson for Dominion told CNN that that individual is not an employee of their company.
CNN reached out to the “non-employee” for comment, but has not received a response. At this time, the individual does not appear to have a working Mesa County email address.
“I think this is troubling for the entire state of Colorado, to have someone in a trusted position, literally trusted to protect democracy, allow this type of situation to occur,” Griswold told reporters last Thursday. “To be very clear, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder allowed a security breach and, by all evidence at this point, assisted it.”
Peters did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
On August 10, while appearing onstage at Mike Lindell’s 2020 Cyber Symposium in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Peters discussed the secretary of state’s investigation.
“I’ve been persecuted,” she told the crowd. “I’ve been accused of passing down or allowing someone to, uh, expose our passwords in our elections office.”
Without supporting evidence, Peters claimed that Griswold “weaponized her position to attack people that disagree with her” and had targeted her because she is a Republican.
There’s no indication that the FBI has named any persons of interest, or suspects, in the investigation.
This story and headline have been updated with further developments Tuesday.