DENVER – Colorado’s secretary of state filed a lawsuit Monday that seeks to permanently remove Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters as the county’s designated election official and bar her from overseeing any part of this November's election.
The suit was filed in Mesa County District Court by Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Heidi Hess, a Mesa County elector and organizer for One Colorado. It names Peters and Deputy Clerk and Recorder Belinda Knisley as the respondents.
The lawsuit requests that Wayne Williams be appointed to serve as the Designated Election Official in Peters’ place and that Sheila Reiner be appointed as the Director of Elections for the county’s November 2021 election, with a three-person panel appointed to assist her.
Williams is the former Republican Colorado secretary of state and El Paso County clerk and recorder, and Reiner is currently the county treasurer but is the former Mesa County Clerk and Recorder. On Aug. 17, Secretary of State Jena Griswold appointed Reiner to supervise this November’s elections, and Mesa County commissioners voted to appoint Williams as the chief designated election official.
“My priority is ensuring that the voters of Mesa County have accessible and secure elections. With the quickly approaching election, I am taking action to ensure that the county’s election office can provide great elections for Mesa voters,” Griswold said in a statement. “As Secretary of State, I will continue to provide the support and oversight needed to ensure the integrity of Colorado’s elections.”
The secretary of state’s office said in the filing that though it was able to prohibit two Clerk and Recorder employees from participating in any aspect of the election and to appoint Reiner to supervise the election, it needed to file the lawsuit because it cannot remove Peters as the county clerk. A county recall would be necessary to do so.
“This legal action seeks to legally bar Peters from serving as DEO, as she is not fit to serve as the DEO after allowing breaches to election security protocol,” Griswold’s office said in a release.
Williams said in an interview on Aug. 18 that he and Reiner were working together to get things in order in the county ahead of deadlines the county has to meet this week regarding its voting systems.
“Shortly after the appointment, Sheila and I talked,” Williams said in the interview. “We’ve been friends for a long time, so as we wait for either the parties or the court to work out what will actually be the arrangements, we’re going forward and we’re working together. We’re trying to make sure the instructions we give staff are harmonious and going in the same direction because that’s what has to happen right now.”
Williams said in a statement Monday afternoon that he, the county elections team and Reiner "Will be working hard to deliver a transparent and fair election this fall for the citizens of Mesa County."
Reiner said she was "pleased with the end result."
"I'm thankful for having Brandi Bantz as the Elections Director and I'm looking forward to being Wayne's on site person who can respond quickly since I am local," she said in an email.
Mesa County commissioners voted unanimously last week to move forward with Dominion Voting Systems equipment to replace the Dominion systems that needed to be decertified and replaced after security breaches were allegedly committed by Peters and members of her office.
The local district attorney’s office, Colorado attorney general’s office, and Federal Bureau of Investigation are among those conducting a criminal investigation into how secret passwords leaked online to conspiracy theorists and hard drives of election management software were copied from within a secure room.
The Department of State also has a separate investigation ongoing that has so far found that Belinda Knisley and Sandra Brown, two Clerk and Recorder employees, helped Gerald Wood, a man who does not work for the county, get into a May 25 “trusted build” of the election system by misrepresenting Wood’s role. Investigators believe that is where the images of the passwords were taken.
Griswold’s office has also said it believes someone in the county clerk’s office directed staff from the county to turn off video surveillance of the voting equipment before the May 25 trusted build. The cameras were not turned on until this month.
On Aug. 2, video of the trusted build and the passwords for the voting system were posted on Telegram and right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, and the hard drive image copies were posted online a week later while Peters was at Mike Lindell’s symposium.
The lawsuit says that Knisley was suspended with pay by the county’s human resources director on Aug. 23. It also says that the counsel representing Griswold talked with Mesa County commissioners ahead of its filing and that it was understood that if a judge approves the petition, Williams will be a paid contractor of the board of commissioners and Reiner would be paid as a temporary Mesa County employee.
"We are proud Mesa County will now have what is arguably the most secure and transparent election system in the United States," the board of commissioners said in a statement Monday. "Our approach includes using both software systems approved by the state, which we will use to tabulate the vote and then validate that vote, back up by a hand count and posting of ballot images for any individual or organization to further validate the vote on their own. This approach is comprehensive, transparent and secure."
The filling also says that Peters and Knisely are both presently absent, and should they return, are “unable to perform the required duties as a result of her above wrongful acts and breaches of duty.” Vice previously reported that Lindell, the MyPillow salesman and election conspiracy theorist, was hiding Peters.
Reiner said in an interview when she was appointed to supervise the election earlier this month that she was confident in the job.
“I feel like the people of Mesa County have put their faith in me to do the same job in the past for two terms," she said at the time. "...And I'm really looking forward to actually solving the problem. I am confident in my knowledge of the system and the policies and the procedures.”
There are deadlines this week to get the new voting systems in place and certified ahead of the Nov. 2 election that Mesa County officials need to meet.