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Voters in conservative Colorado county worry about nominating election denier for secretary of state


By Eric Bradner, CNN

Mesa County clerk Tina Peters, who has become Colorado’s most prominent election denier and faces a series of legal battles after years of efforts to undermine the state’s mail-in voting system, is seeking the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary to become secretary of state.

But in the county on Colorado’s Western Slope where she is barred by a district judge from performing her election-oversight duties, many voters — including some unaffiliated voters who typically back Democrats but had voted in this year’s Republican primary because of Peters’ presence on the ballot — said they want to stop her.

“Yes, there was voter fraud. She caused it,” said Daria Kent, a 24-year-old teacher and unaffiliated voter in Grand Junction.

Peters, who was indicted earlier this year on 10 counts related to voting machine tampering allegations, is the best-known Republican in the race to take on Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold in November. Peters has pleaded not guilty.

If she wins Tuesday, Peters would become the latest in a line of election deniers nominated by Republicans for roles that would position them, if they win this fall, to take over their states’ election machinery in time for the 2024 presidential race.

Peters is facing Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County clerk and former head of Colorado’s county clerks association, who has defended the integrity of the state’s elections and is running as an effective technocrat, as well as Mike O’Donnell, a non-profit leader who has cast doubt on the 2020 election results but has not gone as far as Peters.

Colorado conducts its elections entirely by mail, with ballots sent to all active, registered voters. Peters, who claims falsely that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election, says she wants to scrap that system and return to precinct-level voting with hand counts of ballots. Such changes would need the Colorado legislature’s approval.

Controversy surrounds Peters

Peters and her top deputy were indicted in March after an investigation by local authorities into a security breach that resulted in confidential voting machine logins, and forensic images of their hard drives, being published in a QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel in early August 2021. In May, after a lawsuit brought by Griswold, a district judge stripped Peters of her duties overseeing this year’s elections in Mesa County.

Peters, whose campaign did not respond to CNN’s request for an interview, has publicly asserted that the investigation was partisan and politically motivated.

She told Colorado Public Radio this month that the indictments she faces are “laughable.”

“If I have to be controversial to get the truth out, I’m not afraid of that. And that would make me dangerous, ’cause I’m not afraid,” she said.

Peters has aligned herself with far-right figures who have advanced Trump’s lies about widespread election fraud. She appeared at the “Cyber Symposium,” a gathering of election deniers last year in which a host of debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election were promoted, and in Colorado with MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell.

In February, she turned herself in to local authorities — after she was briefly arrested — and booked for obstructing a peace officer and government operations after DA investigators had tried to seize an iPad under a search warrant.

Rory McShane, a spokesperson for Peters, said in an email to CNN at the time, “The Tina Peters Legal Defense Fund vigorously contests the allegations made in the Arrest Affidavit.”

“The team of officers procured the iPad listed in the search warrant and then attempted to seize items from Clerk Peters not listed in the warrant, specifically her car keys.”

In May, Peters traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for a screening of a film that makes a series of unfounded claims about the 2020 election.

Her office has also been involved in other controversies. In 2020, months after Colorado’s 2019 election, Peters said her office had discovered 574 ballots in a drop box that had never been collected or counted.

‘She’s a crook’

On a Saturday morning in downtown Grand Junction, just blocks from Peters’ office in the heart of heavily Republican Mesa County, some Republican voters said Peters has no business overseeing Colorado’s elections.

“She’s a crook and should not be running for secretary of state,” said Tammy Reece, a 65-year-old retiree.

“The system did have a flaw. And that is, the very person who was supposed to protect it had the passwords to it, and opened it up,” said her husband Bob Reece, 75, also a retiree.

“I mean, it’s been well-documented in the local paper about all the things that Peters has been accused of,” Bob Reece said. “And as the allegations go through court, it’s going to be a continuum of decisions. … I was shocked that she was running for any public office. You lose your job here, and you want the one above it?”

Colorado mails both parties’ primary ballots to unaffiliated voters, but only allows them to return one. Chad Kent, a 25-year-old freight handler and husband of Daria Kent, said he chose to vote in the Republican primary because the heavily GOP area lacked competitive Democratic races. He voted for Anderson over Peters.

“Personally, I like candidates more who talked about just counting the ballots, handling things as it needs to be,” Kent said. “Trump didn’t get it stolen. I feel like anybody who’s going to bring that up has an agenda.”

Aubrey Hoffman, a 39-year-old educator in Grand Junction, said she knew people who had switched their party affiliation to vote against Peters.

Still, some voters said they did agree with Peters’ false claims about election fraud, and supported her bid for secretary of state.

“I think that there’s a lot of questions and enough people are questioning it,” said Sierra, who declined to give her last name, citing privacy concerns.

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