Wayne Wiliams Sheila Reiner

In this file photo, former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and former Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner are pictured at a conference in Salida in August 2018. Williams and Reinert were appointed separately by competing officials on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, to oversee Mesa County's upcoming election.

The former Colorado secretary of state and former Mesa County clerk named this week by competing officials to run the county's upcoming election say they plan to work together while state and local officials sort out who has the legal authority to make the appointment.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Tuesday appointed Sheila Reiner, Mesa County's elected treasurer and a former county clerk, to supervise the November election after declaring the incumbent county clerk, Tina Peters, was incapable of overseeing the vote.

Hours later, arguing that it was their right to pick an election supervisor, Mesa County's three commissioners voted unanimously to hire someone else — former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who served a term a decade ago as El Paso County clerk and is a sitting member of the Colorado Springs City Council.

Peters is facing multiple investigations for helping leak sensitive election data, including voting system passwords and copies of the software used by 62 of Colorado's 64 counties to manage elections. Last week, Griswold ordered Mesa County to replace its election equipment after determining its security couldn't be guaranteed.

Reiner and Williams told Colorado Politics they decided to join forces and get to work immediately rather than delay preparation for the off-year election, with the first ballots scheduled to start going out to voters in just over four weeks.

"Until we get clarification from a court or otherwise, we are coordinating major decisions to ensure we aren’t giving contradictory instructions to staff," Williams said in a text message.

"When conversation about who has the jurisdiction or owns the turf began, Wayne and I were able to communicate and say, 'Let’s just do the right thing,'" Reiner said in a telephone interview.

"That’s important to both of us. The people who are carrying out the work and were not involved with the conspiracy and are still employed by the election division — they need support and they need consistent leadership."

Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis said Tuesday prior to making Williams' appointment official that the board is confident the power to designate a temporary election supervisor "is retained by the board of county commissioners, not by the Secretary of State."

Added McInnis: "Our position is she is out of her lane. This is our territory, not her territory."

In a statement to Colorado Politics, the Secretary of State's office disputed the commissioner's claim.

"The Secretary of State’s Order ensures supervision of Mesa County’s elections; it does not remove Clerk Peters from her position as County Clerk. The Mesa County Commissioners don’t have the authority to remove the Clerk or to lawfully appoint a new Designated Election Official (DEO).

"Given that the upcoming election is rapidly approaching, the Secretary of State’s Office is considering next steps and will continue to conduct the business required of our office to provide oversight and ensure the integrity of the state’s elections."

In the meantime, Reiner said Williams has begun work on replacing the county's election equipment while she deals with finding room for election division employees to work before ballots go out.

That's because "a good portion" of the division's offices are sealed off while the security breaches that led to Peters' sidelining are under investigation, Reiner said.

"We're trying to determine how long it will be inaccessible," she added. "The room where the server and the ballot sorter are, and the storage area where the voting equipment is stored — those are all locked down. All of that fun stuff needs to happen in just a few weeks, so we just need the space."

Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said his office launched a criminal investigation last week into allegations an unauthorized person was present in late May during a software upgrade to the county's Dominion Election Systems server after images displaying system passwords showed up on right-wing websites. A spokeswoman for the FBI's Denver division told Colorado Politics that federal agents have joined the investigation.

Griswold charged last week that someone in Peters' office told county staff to turn off a video surveillance camera before producing copies of the system's hard drive, which also posted online last week.

Peters hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment from Colorado Politics. On Thursday, Vice News reported that Peters was "holed up" at an undisclosed location secured by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an election conspiracy theorist and prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump.

"I’m confident we can recover from this," Reiner said. "I think we have a strong elections staff and a strong elections director in place. She just needs support at this time. And I think Wayne and I can do that, whether he ends up leading because the county has jurisdiction or I end up leading because it’s the state that has jurisdiction. It’s more important to both of us that Mesa County voters get a fair election and an accurate and transparent election."

Neither Griswold's nor the commissioners' temporary appointment has an effect on Peters' other duties as county clerk, including recording documents, handling vehicle registrations and issuing marriage licenses.

At the same time she appointed Reiner, Griswold also named a three-member advisory committee tasked with assisting Reiner in the months ahead: state Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, who served as Mesa County's clerk for two terms before Reiner held the position; Ouray County Clerk Michelle Nauer; and former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher.

Most of the officials involved in the tug-of-war over managing the county's election are Republicans — including Peters, Reiner, Williams, the three commissioners and Rich. Griswold and Buescher are Democrats, while Nauer, the clerk from Ouray County, was elected as a Republican but has since changed her registration to unaffiliated.

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