Republican Tina Peters, the Mesa county clerk under criminal investigation by federal and state authorities for alleged voting system security breaches, said Monday she's challenging Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold's bid for a second term as Colorado's top election official.
Peters, who claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, said in a written statement that she's running to restore public trust in elections and vowed to "put people over the political theater and prioritize them over politics."
Calling Peters "unfit" to be secretary of state, Griswold said in a statement that Peters has embraced "dangerous extremism" and called her candidacy "a danger to Colorado elections."
Griswold noted that Peters shared the stage last week with someone she described as an "extreme election denier" who told the crowd that Griswold deserves to be hanged.
"Colorado deserves a Secretary of State who will stand up to the Biden administration that wants to run our country in the ground with nationalized elections," Peters said.
"That is why today I am announcing I am running for Colorado Secretary of State to restore trust and put an end to government overreach in our election process. Weaponizing our elections and targeting political opponents has no place in Colorado. We need to get back to honoring our Colorado Constitution, honoring our state legislature to craft laws through a representative government by, of, and for the people."
Added Peters: "As your next Colorado Secretary of State, I will strengthen checks and balances by following the Colorado Constitution and restoring public trust. I will put an end to reckless 'emergency' rulings, government overreach, and corruption in the office of Secretary of State. I work for the people of Colorado, not special interest because every day we put Colorado first and don’t quit, we win!”
Three Republicans are already running for secretary of state in a primary, include former Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson and first-time candidates David Winney and Mike O'Donnell.
Griswold, an attorney, unseated Republican Wayne Williams in 2018 by an 8-point margin. She's the first Democrat to win election as secretary of state since 1960 and the first Democratic woman ever to hold the office.
Peters announced her candidacy Monday morning on Steve Bannon's War Room, a video podcast hosted by Peters supporter and former top Trump aide Steve Bannon.
Saying he was "glad to have you on not handcuffed normally like you are," Bannon quipped: "They made a mistake, they should [have] never unshackled you because now you're off the chain."
Peters was arrested last week in Grand Junction on misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations after authorities attempted to seize a tablet computer from her under a search warrant in a case involving allegations she recorded a court hearing contrary to a judge's prohibition. Peters turned herself in to authorities and bonded out on Thursday.
The charges aren't related to ongoing investigations, including one opened last month by a local grand jury, into allegations Peters helped facilitate a data breach of the county's election equipment.
In her statement on Monday, Griswold listed some of the investigations and allegations facing Peters since last summer, when Griswold's office ordered Mesa County to replace its voting equipment after secure system passwords showed up in a video posted to right-wing websites.
Said Griswold: "Peters compromised voting equipment to try to prove conspiracies, costing Mesa County taxpayers nearly one million dollars. She works with election deniers, spreads lies about elections, was removed from overseeing the 2021 Mesa County election, and is under criminal investigation by a grand jury. Colorado needs a Secretary of State who will uphold the will of the people; not one who embraces conspiracies and risks Coloradans' right to vote.”
Griswold is suing to prevent Peters, who is serving her first term as county clerk, from overseeing the 2022 election. Last October, in response to an earlier lawsuit filed by Griswold, a Mesa County District Court judge ruled that Peters had breached her duties by allowing a security vulnerability to be introduced into the county’s voting system equipment and blocked her from having a role in administering the November election.
Peters maintains her innocence, arguing that she was taking necessary steps to preserve election records. She called the new lawsuit retaliation for her refusal to comply with a "gag order" Griswold asked her to sign.
In August, days after the system password were discovered online, exact digital copies of the county's election system hard drive were posted to popular file-sharing sites after Griswold's staff discovered that 24-hour video surveillance of the election equipment had been turned off by someone on Peters's staff.
Shortly after the data breach was discovered, Peters appeared in South Dakota at a symposium sponsored by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a prominent supporter of false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump.
Mesa County officials hired Williams, a member of the Colorado Springs City Council, to oversee the county's elections last fall with Griswold's support.
Peters is also facing investigations by the state's independent ethics commission and Griswold's campaign finance office into complaints that Peters violated a constitutional gift ban by accepting travel expenses from Lindell. A separate ethics complaint alleges Peters has been raising money for a legal defense fund that doesn't comply with state ethics law.
Peters has rejected the allegations and her attorney has denied she violated ethics requirements.
Colorado Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll ripped Peters's candidacy and criticized state Republicans in a text message to Colorado Politics.
"Recently, the Colorado GOP has a bad habit of propping up their most corrupt and unqualified candidates. Tina Peters is no exception," Carroll said. "Fueling election conspiracy theories only energizes the GOP base, and it does nothing to help Coloradans."
A spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Editor's note: This developing story has been updated.
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