Colorado county's election equipment scrapped after breach; criminal probe launched


DENVER, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Colorado's secretary of state on Thursday ordered a county to scrap and replace its election equipment that she said was compromised with the assistance of its elected clerk, and a local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation into the security breach.

Jena Griswold, the Democratic secretary of state, ordered an investigation this week after images of Mesa County's election equipment passwords were posted on a right-wing blog.

"Video and photos were posted online by a known conspiracy theorist," Griswold told a news conference on Thursday.

Griswold accused Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican and supporter of former President Donald Trump, of allowing the breach, and "by all evidence to this point, assisted it."

Peters did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The breach occurred in May during an update of software provided by Dominion Voting Systems, and not during an election, Griswold said.

Denver-based Dominion has been the target of some Trump supporters who claim without substantiation that the voting equipment company rigged the 2020 presidential election against Trump.

The company has filed multiple defamation lawsuits against Trump allies and conservative networks over those claims, which it says are false.

Peters criticized the secretary of state's investigation earlier this week at a symposium held in South Dakota and hosted by Mike Lindell, founder of the MyPillow bedding company and a prominent Trump supporter.

Griswold had announced her office was inspecting voting equipment and documents before Peters appeared at the event on Tuesday, when she called the inspection a "raid" and said Griswold was coordinating with Dominion, according to the Gazette, a Colorado publication.

"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, the Gazette reported.

The Mesa County District Attorney's Office has opened an independent investigation, Griswold said.

District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein told Reuters by phone he was contacted by investigators with the secretary of state's office, who said that they believed a crime may have occurred. His office has executed search warrants at the clerk's office, he said.

In her order decertifying the equipment, Griswold said the clerk's office ordered video surveillance cameras to be turned off prior to the update, and an unauthorized person was present during the upgrade, in violation of accepted protocols.

"Because of this, the department finds that it cannot establish a verifiable chain of custody for any of the components ... and cannot establish confidence in the integrity or security of those components," the order said.

The Mesa County board of commissioners has scheduled a closed-door session on Friday to look into the matter, a spokesperson for the county government said.

"There are still many unanswered questions, and the board is working closely with legal counsel to determine the next steps," spokesperson Stephanie Reecy said in an email.

Mesa County, in western Colorado on the border with Utah, has a population of about 150,000.

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.