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Investigation underway into security protocol breach at Mesa County Clerk's Office

Sec. of State's Office says images showing passwords to voting system computers posted online
Posted at 3:30 PM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 14:27:30-04

DENVER – The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office has initiated an investigation into a security protocol breach involving the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office and its voting system.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office said the potential breach involved images posted online that showed basic input/output system (BIOS) passwords that must be entered before booting up a computer, in this instance, part of the county’s voting system.

Griswold’s office said the passwords were for “one or more” parts of the county’s voting system and said the posting of them constituted “a serious breach of voting system security protocols” and an election rules violation.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel first reported the news of the investigation Monday, and reporter Charles Ashby said more was coming Tuesday. The Bulwark also published details regarding the source of the investigation.

The secretary of state’s office said it was “likely from the content of the social media postings” that the information was gathered during a build installation on May 25 to which there was limited access.

“The collection and dissemination of this information during the trusted build installation violated security protocols and Department of State rules governing the process,” the secretary of state’s office said in a news release.

The office also said that the security protocol breach “has not created an imminent direct security risk to Colorado’s elections, and did not occur during an election.”

Griswold's office sent an order to the clerk and recorder's office requesting an inspection of election equipment "and other relevant materials," a spokesperson said.

Depending on what the investigation finds, the security protocol violations could end up with Mesa County’s voting systems being decertified, according to Griswold’s office.

Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said one of the investigators from his office had been assigned to the case.

“We are taking this situation very seriously, but I cannot comment on whether we are considering criminal charges until the investigation is complete,” Rubinstein said in an email.

Stephanie Reecy, a spokesperson for the clerk and recorder’s office, said the district attorney’s office had asked the county not to comment on the case until the investigation is complete.

“Confidence in the election process is paramount to Mesa County,” Reecy said.

“The citizens of Mesa County have been critical of election integrity,” Peters said in an Aug. 9 statement, though she has not returned subsequent requests for comment. “They have brought me their concerns and I have told them I will do everything in my power to protect their vote. I will share more information once the investigation has concluded.”

Griswold’s office said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters “failed to respond to the Order or any request for information.”

The secretary of state’s office said its civil servants, along with Mesa County officials, started inspecting voting equipment and relevant documents. The office said staff are in contact with the district attorney’s office, which is conducting a separate investigation.

“Yesterday I ordered the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder to comply with inspection of election equipment, video footage, and other documents in the county. The Clerk’s Office must prove that chain of custody remains intact and that there has been no unauthorized access to voting equipment in the county,” Griswold said in a statement. “Failure to do so will result in decertification of the specific voting equipment in Mesa. Colorado has the best election system in the nation, with built in security redundancies.”

During an interview with Denver7 Tuesday, Griswold said if the equipment in Mesa County has to be decertified, they will have to get new equipment by the end of the month or do a hand count. She emphasized that the security breach happened in May and "did not affect any election" and they're resolving it before the next election.