Colorado’s secretary of state on Thursday accused a Republican county official of allowing an unauthorized person to access the county’s voting machines — leading to a leak of sensitive information into the right-wing fever swamps.
After that alleged incident, video and photos of the county’s voting machines — and county-specific passwords — were posted online by an infamous QAnon promoter, Secretary of State Jenna Griswold (D) said at a press conference.
The district attorney’s office is investigating. The county will have to replace the voting machines.
And the Republican clerk, Tina Peters, isn’t backing down.
Speaking at MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium” in South Dakota on Thursday — the event promised and then failed to deliver evidence of Chinese election hacking — Peters was unapologetic, and went on the attack against Griswold.
“She has come into my office several times already in the last two years since I’ve been the elected official because I am a Republican, I’m a conservative and she’s not, and she weaponizes her position to attack people that disagree with her,” Peters said, referring to Griswold.
“When I was on a plane to come see you kind folks, and to talk to you out there, guess what they did? They provided a search warrant and raided my office,” she added. “I don’t know what they did, but I can tell you I don’t trust them.”
The district attorney in Mesa County, Dan Rubinstein, confirmed to Colorado Public Radio that he’d assigned someone to investigate the alleged security breach, but offered no further detail.
“I can confirm that we have not entered into this investigation with any person or criminal act in mind and will reserve judgment on that until the investigation is complete,” Rubinstein said in an email to the outlet. “I also am unable to speculate on the length of time the investigation will take as we are too early in the investigation to have a good sense of the scope of it.”
At Griswold’s press conference Thursday, Matt Crane, a former Republican county clerk now serving as the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, expressed outrage at the situation.
“It was a solo, intentional and selfish act that jeopardized the conduct of, and integrity of, the elections in Mesa County, and affects the confidence of voters throughout the state and the country,” he said.
“To be very clear, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder allowed a security breach and, by all evidence at this point, assisted it,” Griswold said Thursday.
How ‘CodeMonkeyZ’ Got Sensitive Election Material
The trouble for Peters started last week, when a key figure in the QAnon movement, Ron Watkins, claimed to have heard from a “whistleblower” about Dominion voting machines.
Watkins is the former administrator of the messageboard 8chan and a major figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory world, thought by some to have authored at least some of the “Q” posts himself.
On his Telegram channel “CodeMonkeyZ,” Watkins claimed that his “whistleblower” was from a state other than Arizona that uses Dominion machines. Watkins then posted a document showing how to change the administrative password of a Dominion system.
What’s more, Watkins wrote, “The whistleblower reached out with footage filmed of the Dominion Election Management System inside an election center in one of the states that used Dominion software and hardware (not Arizona).” The far-right website Gateway Pundit posted Watkins’ claims in an article.
On Monday this week, Griswold announced in a press release that “Several items were published online that constituted a breach in the security protocols for Mesa County voting system components,” and specified that the items included “passwords specific to the individual hardware stations of Mesa County’s voting system.”
That same day, The Bulwark noted that Watkins had screwed up: the video he’d posted had included a unique password, one that had allowed the secretary of state’s office to identify the county in which the leak had occurred: “It turns out the election hacker was not Antifa or a Hugo Chavez apparition but a real live human in the office of Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters,” the outlet reported.
The breach didn’t constitute an imminent threat to Colorado’s elections, Griswold said, but she wanted to inspect the county’s equipment. Peters didn’t respond to that request. Griswold’s team showed up on Tuesday and began their inspection.
And on Thursday, she laid out what they’d found.
What Investigators Found At The Clerk’s Office
According to Griswold, investigators in her office found that someone had been given improper access to the county’s machines during a routine maintenance appointment — known as a “trusted build” — back in May. She pegged responsibility on the clerk’s office.
“On May 25, at the trusted build, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder authorized a non-employee into the trusted build after misleading my office on the person’s employment status,” Griswold said.
At that time, she said, video and photos were taken, including of the county-specific passwords, and then posted online “by a known conspiracy theorist.” Griswold later confirmed that she was referring to Watkins’ “CodeMonkeyZ” channel. Watkins appeared at Lindell’s symposium Wednesday to discuss purported material from Mesa County.
Perhaps more troubling in Griswold’s press conference was the news that video surveillance of the county’s voting machines had been turned off the week prior.
“It appears, a week before the trusted build, that Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s office directed Mesa County staff to turn off the video surveillance of their voting equipment,” Griswold said.
The video surveillance was not turned back on “until recently,” she said. As a result, the chain of custody for the county’s voting equipment could not be confirmed and the machines need to be replaced.
Peters’ office has not responded to TPM’s request for comment on the allegations.