DENVER (AP) — A judge has ruled that a Colorado county elections clerk cannot be involved in the November elections after multiple investigations, including a criminal probe by the FBI, were opened into a security breach of the county's voting machines.
Judge Valerie Robison issued an injunction Wednesday prohibiting Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and her deputy, Belinda Knisley, from acting as designated election officials for the upcoming elections.
Robison ruled that Peters and Knisley “committed a breach and neglect of duty and other wrongful acts" making them “unable or unwilling to appropriately perform” their duties as election officials.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold sued to remove Peters as clerk and recorder after she said images of election equipment management software from Mesa County were obtained by elections conspiracy theorists and posted on far-right blogs. Her office says one of the images was taken May 23 from a secure room in Mesa County where the voting equipment was stored and was accessed that day by Peters, who allowed a non-employee into the room.
The secretary of state’s office has identified the person it says was allowed into the secure room but has refused to say anything more about who he is or why he was there. The Associated Press isn’t naming him until more information becomes available. He has not been charged with a crime.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Griswold praised the judge's order which granted her requests for the appointment of Wayne Williams as the designated election official and Sheila Reiner as the election supervisor for Mesa County.
“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,” she said.
After Griswold filed the lawsuit, Peters was absent from Colorado for several weeks, only appearing publicly in broadcasts hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump who has made unsubstantiated claims about fraud in the 2020 election. Peters claimed that Griswold’s investigation is an attempt to take over one of the few remaining conservative counties in Colorado.
The FBI has also announced it is assisting a criminal investigation into the breach being conducted by Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein.
Separately, Rubinstein has filed charges of second-degree burglary and cybercrime against Knisley. The charges “stem from conduct as a county employee” after Knisley was placed on paid leave due to a “confidential personnel matter,” Rubinstein’s office said in a statement.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser who represented Griswold in the civil case, said in a statement that his department would continue working with Rubinstein's office for the ongoing criminal investigation. He did not offer further comment.
In August, Mesa County officials served Knisley a written notice of her suspension as an employee, explaining that the county received “numerous workplace harassment complaints.” Two days later, Knisley allegedly attempted to access the county’s computer network using Peters’ computer and log-in credentials, according to the arrest affidavit.
At a Monday press conference on the steps of a Mesa County courthouse, Peters and Sherronna Bishop, a Garfield County resident and staunch supporter of the clerk, stood together as they reiterated claims of election fraud but presented nothing new to prove their statements, the Grand Junction Sentinel reported.
The two also made claims that Williams, Mesa County Elections Manager Brandi Bantz and the Grand Junction Sentinel newspaper were all working together to cover up election fraud.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.