Mesa County treasurer appointed to supervise elections with advisory committee amid breach investigations

Mesa County commissioners vote to appoint Wayne Williams; unclear who will oversee election
mesa county elections clerk and recorder.png
Posted at 6:40 PM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 14:27:43-04

DENVER – Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Tuesday afternoon appointed Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner to supervise elections in Mesa County this November, as well as a three-person advisory committee to advise and assist her amid investigations into security breaches allegedly committed by the current clerk and recorder.

Griswold said earlier this week she had the authority to appoint someone to run Mesa County’s elections this year after County Clerk Tina Peters and two others were found to have committed security breaches involving the county’s voting systems. The FBI said Tuesday they were assisting the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office in 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.

An order issued by Griswold Tuesday afternoon says two county clerk and recorder’s office employees would be banned from participating in any aspect of the November election and that Reiner would supervise “all conduct related to elections in Mesa County” until her authority is revoked by the secretary of state’s office.

Reiner is the former Mesa County clerk and recorder. In a phone call Tuesday evening she said she accepted the appointment.

"I'm pretty confident. 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 in the interview. "...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. And then, also, in tune with what the Stands for the Constitution group and other Republicans want in the form of transparency."

The advisory committee will be comprised of Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, Ouray County Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer and former Democratic Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.

“The committee will participate in weekly meetings with Ms. Reiner during the preparation for and execution of an election, unless Ms. Reiner and the committee decide upon another frequency,” the order states. “The committee shall also be permitted to participate in election functions as designated by Ms. Reiner and in accordance with rule and law.”

The secretary of state’s office also released some new details about what has been uncovered so far in the Department of State investigation. Griswold’s office said the Department of State staff is still conducting analysis, awaiting more information along with the outcome of the criminal investigation.

But the investigation so far found that Belinda Knisley and Sandra Brown, two Mesa County Clerk and Recorder employees, helped Gerald Wood, who does not work for the county, get into the May 25 “trusted build” of the election system “by misrepresenting the individual’s employment status and role,” according to the secretary of state’s office.

Investigators believe that trusted build was where images of the passwords for the voting system were taken, then leaked to others this month. The secretary of state’s office said videos and photos of the passwords were leaked then posted online. That trusted build was limited to Dominion employees, staff with the Department of State, and three people from Mesa County: Peters, Brown and Wood.

The secretary of state’s office has previously said, and reiterated Tuesday afternoon, that investigators believe 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 again until this month, Griswold’s office has said.

Additionally, images of the hard drives were posted online the week of Aug. 9. The secretary of state’s office said Tuesday that analysis confirms the images belong to the Mesa County hard drives “and were created before and after the May 25, 2021 trusted build.” Griswold’s office said copies can only be made by physically accessing the machines.

Her office also reiterated what it reported Monday – that one of the images is believed to have been taken on May 23. It has now been confirmed by investigators that Peters, Brown and Wood accessed the area where the voting equipment was being stored after-hours on May 23.

“The Mesa County Clerk and Recorder and staff will take any and all lawful direction from Ms. Reiner and any other Secretary of State designee on any and all election matters,” the secretary of state’s office said in a news release, adding that a “swift” appointment was needed in order for the county to buy, certify and install a trusted build on new election equipment by Aug. 31.

Griswold’s office previously prohibited the use of the components of the county’s voting system because of a lack of proper chain of custody and said the county would have to foot the bill for the new system.

Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said the association supported the decision.

“While unusual, this important step of placing a top-notch election expert in the office will ensure a safe and secure election is conducted for the citizens of Mesa County,” he said.

Griswold’s order says Mesa County will reimburse all expenses for Reiner, the advisory committee, and “any additional observers appointed by the Secretary of State, including travel and accommodation expenses.”

“The people of Mesa County deserve safe and secure elections. I am confident that with these appointments, voters in Mesa will be able to exercise their constitutional right to have their voices heard in our democracy,” Griswold said in a statement. “As Secretary of State, my top priority is to ensure all election security protocols are followed and to safeguard Coloradans’ right to vote and we will continue to conduct the business required of our office to provide oversight, to ensure the integrity of the state’s elections.”

Mesa County commissioners met Tuesday evening and voted 3-0 to appoint former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican who preceded Griswold in office, to oversee this year's election in opposition to Griswold's order. The commissioners claimed they were refusing Griswold's order and had the authority to make their own, though it is currently unclear whether that is the case.

Reiner said in the interview if Williams ends up being the person to oversee the elections, she would be OK with that.

"The main focus is that I'm very committed to doing the right thing, and I'm very committed to the citizens of Mesa County," she said. "And so whatever that ends up looking like after the Secretary of State and the commissioners figure that out, I'll be here."

She said if her appointment holds up over Williams's that she would prefer to go back to the Dominion voting system and purchase new equipment but also do a more extensive, if not complete, hand count after the election, which she estimated would take at least three weeks.

As a former county clerk, Reiner said she was "really disappointed" in what allegedly happened with the clerk and recorder's office that has come to light the past week.

"One of the thoughts that I've had is that as treasurer, and when you're taking care of money, there are dual controls on everything," she said. "...If it's true, what the allegations are, that Tina had a staff member in on it and was able to break the rules herself to get access to the equipment in an unauthorized manner, it really says a lot to how important it is to have dual controls in place."

She pledged to run elections as she did when she was the clerk beforehand.

"Elections are solely to be focused on ensuring that there's accurate results, and that the will of the people are reflected in those results when they are delivered," she said. "So, I just would say to the Mesa County voters that I can absolutely handle this job and I do look forward to solving the problem for them. And I am very sorry and embarrassed for Mesa County for having to go through all this."

“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.”