Colorado election clerk charged with violating voting system

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DENVER (AP) — A Colorado grand jury has indicted a county election clerk who cast doubt on the 2020 presidential election, alleging she was part of a “deceptive scheme” to breach system technology. voting system used across the country, according to the indictment made public on Wednesday.

Tina Peters, a Republican elected in 2018 to oversee the Mesa County election, was charged with 10 felony and misdemeanor counts, including attempting to influence a public official, criminal impersonation and official misconduct in the first degree. Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley is also facing charges in the case.

Over the past year, Peters has appeared on stage with supporters of former President Donald Trump who have made false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Peters recently announced his intention to launch a campaign for Colorado’s secretary of state, on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast.

The indictment alleged that Peters and Knisley were part of a “deceptive scheme designed to influence officials, violate security protocols, override authorized access to voting materials and trigger the possible distribution of confidential information to unauthorized persons”.

An email seeking comment from Peters representatives was not immediately returned. Authorities said an arrest warrant had been issued. A lawyer for Knisley did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

State election officials first became aware of a security breach in Mesa County last summer when a photo and video of confidential voting system passwords were posted on social networks and a conservative website.

Because each county in Colorado has unique state-administered passwords, officials identified them as belonging to Mesa County, a largely rural area on the border with Utah that Trump won in the presidential election. of 2020 with nearly 63% of the votes. President Joe Biden won all of Colorado with 55.4% of the state vote.

Peters in August 2021 appeared on stage at a “cybersymposium” hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who promoted Trump’s claims of a stolen election and promised to uncover evidence during the event.

Although no evidence was provided, a copy of the Mesa County voting system hard drive was distributed and posted online, according to participants and state officials.

The copy included proprietary software developed by Dominion Voting Systems which is used by election offices across the country. Experts called the unauthorized posting serious, saying it provided a potential “practice environment” that would allow anyone to search for vulnerabilities that could be exploited in a future election.

Peters has previously said she doesn’t know how the copy was distributed and declined to say who was with her when the copy was made.

“I didn’t go out and try to address a conspiracy theory,” Peters told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this year. “It’s just my responsibility to protect, and only my responsibility to protect election records.”

But state officials, in various court documents, have described what they believe happened. It started when officials asked the county for a list of people who would be in attendance for a routine state visit to prepare voting systems ahead of the 2021 election.

As part of the process known as a “trust build”, the files from the previous election are removed and the software that runs the elections is replaced with the original version. This is a security measure that ensures that election officials are using software that has not been modified.

According to the indictment, Peters falsely presented a person as a county employee during the May 25-26 visit by state officials for “trust building.” County records showed that an office entry card assigned to the person had been used to gain access to a secure area of ​​the election office the previous Sunday.

Authorities have been working to determine the identity of this individual, who allegedly made two copies of the county’s voting system hard drive — one before the visit by state officials and one after it.

The person whose name and background check was presented to state officials before the visit testified before the grand jury that he was – in fact – not present during the state visit and did not was ever hired by the county, according to the indictment.

Peters said she had the authority and the obligation to make the copies. State authorities, however, said Peters was only allowed to back up certain files and was not allowed to make a copy of the entire hard drive. Federal authorities are also investigating.

Meanwhile, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold persuaded a judge to bar Peters from overseeing last year’s Mesa County election and sought a similar injunction for this year’s election. .

In a statement, Griswold – a Democrat running for re-election this year – said: “Officials charged with conducting elections do so in the public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position. “

Peters also faces other legal issues stemming from allegations that she obstructed a police officer assisting with a search warrant and violated court rules by using a tablet to record a hearing involving a county election worker.

A rep for Peters previously called the allegations a “partisan political witch hunt.”

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Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

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This version corrects the fact that Peters was charged with 10 counts, not 13.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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