Tina Peters rally

In this file photo, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters speaks at a rally on Dec. 1, 2021, outside the old Mesa County Courthouse in Grand Junction,

The Colorado Republican Party's statewide officers on Wednesday called on Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters to suspend her campaign for secretary of state while under indictment on multiple felony charges related to allegations the Grand Junction Republican tampered with voting equipment.

In an extraordinary joint statement issued hours after prosecutors released the 13-count grand jury indictment, the state GOP's three elected officers asked Peters to "consider what is best for the Republican Party in Colorado" while facing the charges.

Peters, elected in 2018 to oversee elections in Mesa County, declared last month that she's running for secretary of state against the Democratic incumbent, Jena Griswold, who is seeking a second term as the state's top election official. Peters has been among the most prominent Coloradans promoting former President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

On Wednesday afternoon, shortly before turning herself in to authorities at the Mesa County sheriff's department, Peters released a statement through her campaign rejecting the party's advice.

The indictments returned late Tuesday by a Mesa County grand jury allege that Peters and her deputy, Belinda Knisley, "devised and executed a deceptive scheme" to breach voting systems, which resulted in secure passwords and proprietary system software being posted online. 

"It is our belief, as leaders of the Colorado Republican Party, that any Republican candidate who is indicted with felonies by a grand jury and who will be charged by a Republican District Attorney should suspend their campaign while they undergo the legal challenges associated with those indictments," said state GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown, Vice Chairwoman Priscilla Rahn and Secretary Marilyn Harris.

"The Republican Party is the Party of law and order, and we need every Republican voter focused on getting Republicans and constitutional conservatives elected across Colorado in 2022," they continued. "Today, we are asking Clerk Peters to consider what is best for the Republican Party in Colorado and act accordingly as she avails herself of our judicial system."

Peters is running in a primary against two other Republicans for the secretary of state position: former Jefferson County Clerk and director of the Colorado County Clerks Association Pam Anderson, and economic development specialist Mike O'Donnell. Griswold is unopposed for her party's nomination.

Last summer, Griswold ordered Mesa County to replace its election equipment after secure passwords and copies of its election management software appeared online. Griswold later prevailed in a lawsuit to prevent Peters from administering last year's off-year election and filed a similar lawsuit last month regarding this year's vote.

In a lengthy statement that also took aim at Griswold and Daniel Rubinstein, the Republican district attorney whose office sought the indictments, Peters tore into Burton Brown, suggesting that the state party boss is out of touch with the "Republican base’s demand for more election transparency and integrity."

Peters called the party officers' statement a "knee-jerk overreaction" and dismissed it as naive, arguing that the Republicans who pursued the charges she's facing are in league with Democrats hoping to kneecap Griswold's strongest potential opponent.

Pointing out that state Republicans get legal advice from the same law firm that has defended Dominion Voting Systems — the Denver-based company that provides election equipment and software to the vast majority of Colorado's counties, including Mesa County — Peters also faulted Burton Brown for releasing the public statement without contacting her, a move she said "calls into question the Republican Party chairwoman’s impartiality in the primary."

The state Republicans' executive director, Joe Jackson, stressed in a statement issued at the same time as the officers' that the GOP is bound by its rules to stay neutral in primary races. He added that the party will continue to offer Peters "the same information and opportunities afforded other statewide candidates unless notified by her campaign that her status as a candidate for office has changed."

Peters has denied wrongdoing and instead maintains that she has only been trying to unearth evidence of election fraud.

The grand jury indicted Peters on 10 felony and misdemeanor charges, including attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, identity theft, official misconduct, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state. Knisley faces six charges, including four felonies and two misdemeanor counts.

Peters is also the target of an ongoing federal investigation related to the election data breach. Last week, a Mesa County judge issued a contempt citation linked to allegations Peters defied a judicial order against recording court proceedings and then lied about it to another judge. She's also facing obstruction charges involving allegations she tried to prevent officers from serving a search warrant in the contempt investigation.

Burton Brown's counterpart across the aisle, Colorado Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll told Colorado Politics in a statement that the party supports Griswold's efforts to secure the state's election system.

“We proudly support the secretary of state and her actions to ensure that Colorado has safe and secure elections for all," Carroll said in a text message. "No one is above the law — it is critical that the facts are discovered and anyone who violated the law or breached the public trust is held to account.”

Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said in a statement that the state's other elected clerks "are devastated by this breach of trust."

He added that news of Wednesday's indictments has "encouraged our association to redouble our efforts to push for changes that will both ensure better training for all election officials as well as increase penalties for those election officials who choose to break the law."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters.

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