Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said Thursday that she has issued an order prohibiting Mesa County from using election equipment she said was compromised when the county's clerk and recorder "knowingly" allowed a security breach that led to the voting system's passwords showing up on right-wing websites.
"The integrity of these components cannot be established," Griswold said at a press conference in Denver. "I have determined it is necessary to take further action."
Griswold, a Democrat, said her office's investigation has determined that Tina Peters, a Republican and Mesa County's top election official, told county staff to turn off required video surveillance a week before a routine May 25 software update to the county's election system, and that it wasn't restored until this month.
"This is troubling for the entire state of Colorado to have someone in a trusted position — literally trusted to protect democracy — to allow this situation to happen," Griswold said.
Griswold alleged that during the software update — a procedure known as a "trusted build" — Peters allowed an unauthorized person identified by Griswold as Gerald Wood to record the procedure, including images of screens that showed system passwords.
A video that displayed those passwords surfaced online last week on the social media site Telegram and on the Gateway Pundit blog.
Wood, said Griswold, is not a county employee, and there is no evidence he has passed the criminal background check that would allow him to be present for the activity. She also charged that Peters later claimed falsely that Wood was an employee.
In addition, Griswold said her staff determined that touch-screen ballot marking devices weren't sealed until one to two days after the software update, as state rules require, indicating that "the chain of custody for these components cannot be verified."
In all, Griswold's order prohibits Peters' office from using 41 pieces of election equipment, including the touch screen devices, an election management system server and optical scanners used to count mail ballots.
A spokeswoman said that the move is unprecedented in Colorado.
"The Secretary has never had to decertify election equipment due to a security breach of this nature," said Annie Orloff, Griswold's communications director, in an email.
Peters hasn't responded to an order issued Monday by Griswold demanding copies of the surveillance footage and other documents involving the election equipment security, Griswold said.
Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein told Colorado Politics that his office is conducting a concurrent criminal investigation into the alleged security breach and said an investigator executed a search warrant at Peters' offices earlier this week. He declined to comment further on the pending investigation.
Griswold said Mesa County will have to replace its voting system within weeks in order to conduct the November election.
"These machines will have to be replaced or Mesa County will have to do a hand count," she said, adding that the equipment "needs to be on the ground, installed and tested by Aug. 30 for the upcoming election."
Mesa County will have to pay for the new equipment, Griswold said.
Griswold's order only affects Mesa County, she said, stressing that the security breach only involved the Dominion Voting Systems equipment in use by the county.
"We have no reason to believe at all this is a widespread issue," Griswold said.
She said that if passwords were leaked online, they could only be used to access the Mesa County equipment, which is kept under lock and key at the county elections office, and that could only be done by someone with physical access to the system, since it isn't connected to the internet.
"Colorado has the best election system in the nation, with built-in security redundancies," Griswold said, adding that she's confident the alleged breach in Mesa County didn't create an "imminent security risk" to the same equipment in use in nearly every other Colorado county.
"Across the nation, you're seeing a coordinated effort to undermine democracy and suppress the right to vote," Griswold said Thursday.
Griswold's actions come the same week Peters has been appearing on stage at a three-day "cyber-symposium" in South Dakota sponsored by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leading supporter of former President Donald Trump and promoter of debunked election conspiracy theories.
At the symposium, Peters accused Griswold's office of conducting a "raid" on her office while she was on her way to South Dakota.
“We don’t know what they were doing in there because for several hours they wouldn’t even let my chief deputy, who is the acting clerk for Mesa County when I’m absent, they wouldn’t let her observe what the secretary of state and Dominion were doing in my office,” Peters said at the event.
Griswold said staff from her office flew to Grand Junction on Tuesday and inspected election equipment and documents at the clerk's office while accompanied by county officials. No Dominion employees were present, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported.
Rubinstein said in an email that an investigator from the DA's office who handles election-related investigations "was present to conduct our investigation into criminal matters at the time that the Secretary of State's team was looking into their security/policy/protocol matters."
Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association and a former Republican clerk and recorder from Arapahoe County, said at the press conference that the group supports Griswold's actions.
The security breach, he said, "jeopardized the integrity of and confidence in Colorado's elections."
Added Crane: "We’ve heard people say that this is a heroic act. To be clear, there is nothing heroic or honorable about what happened in Mesa County."
Peters hasn't responded to repeated inquiries from Colorado Politics.
This article has been updated.