Election chicanery in Mesa County sparks additional spending to boost local confidence in elections | SteamboatToday.com

Election chicanery in Mesa County sparks additional spending to boost local confidence in elections

Poll workers said the voters trickled into the polling center inside the Steamboat Christian Center in the morning and early afternoon as Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, arrived in Steamboat Springs. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Election equipment malfeasance nearly 200 miles away in Mesa County is having an effect in Steamboat Springs, with some questioning if a similar breach could be possible in Routt County.

The incident in Mesa County started when elections conspiracy theorists posted images of passwords to county election equipment online earlier this month, according to the Colorado Department of State.

This sparked an investigation from Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, who said while the breach did not threaten election security, it needed to be investigated.

On Monday, Griswold’s office announced the ongoing investigation showed Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican, and two others allegedly entered a secure room on the night of May 23, just before scheduled software upgrades to the county’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment, referred to by election officials as a “trusted build.”

That is when they allegedly made copies of elections equipment hard drives that were later shared at a voter-fraud symposium put on by Mike Lindell, the founder of My Pillow.

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The Mesa County district attorney, a Republican, is also investigating the situation separately from state officials.

Last week Griswold ordered Mesa County to replace its election equipment following the breach, and she is now looking for someone else to run Mesa County’s upcoming election, saying that Peters cannot be trusted.

The breach did not affect any election results, and federal officials with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed they don’t believe it has heightened any election risk.

Still, Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kim Bonner said residents have called her concerned about the incident in Mesa County. When coupled with debunked election fraud claims still reverberating across the country after the 2020 election, Bonner said she anticipates spending more money on educating and explaining the election process to residents.

“With all the uncertainty with the elections now, we figured that we were going to need to probably boost voters’ confidence by putting in details,” Bonner said. “Maybe explain a bit how the process works.”

People haven’t called into question any of Routt County’s elections, Bonner said. County commissioners commended Bonner for the elections office’s accuracy, including a recount of the 2017 bond issue in Hayden that was decided by two votes.

Routt County’s election equipment is also made by Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, the voting technology company that has filed multiple billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against conservative news outlets and others for saying the company rigged voting machines to elect President Joe Biden.

A lawsuit the company filed last week says these claims have “no basis in fact or reality.”

Bonner said the county’s equipment also goes through the “trusted build” process, which is where a Department of State employee accompanies a Dominion employee to update software on election equipment.

Colorado is often held up as a model for voting across the country. Bonner said there are a lot of protocols the county has in place to ensure that nothing nefarious happens with election equipment.

Equipment has two sets of passwords, one kept with county employees and the other kept with the secretary of state’s office. The system is also segmented, meaning that various county election systems are not connected to each other, so the breach in Mesa County doesn’t change anything locally.

“No one person has all the keys to the castle,” the Department of State said Monday.

Bonner said the county even does more than required when it comes to election security. The county has surveillance cameras in rooms where election equipment is kept, and those cameras must be on any time anyone enters the room. But Bonner said Routt County goes further with these cameras recording all day, every day.

But Bonner said the actions of her counterpart in Mesa County are making her own job more difficult.

“That is a classic example of not having term limits, especially for an office like that because politics just plays too much of a role sometimes, and unqualified people get elected to office,” Bonner said.

Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan suggested the county could be doing more to educate people about the election process, and Bonner said she thought that would be really important to do this year, especially ahead of the midterm elections in 2022.

“We did put more money in the budget for advertising for that purpose,” Bonner said.

When people call, Bonner said she likes to remind them that everyone who works for the county has a certain responsibility to uphold as part of the job — a responsibility that was not upheld in Mesa County.

“Elected official and employees, we all have to take an oath to uphold the Constitution,” Bonner said. “Not only did (Peters allegedly) probably commit a crime, she violated her oath.”

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