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Republican county clerk indicted in voting-machine breach, arrest warrant issued

Mugshots of Tina Peters and Belinda Knisley.
Enlarge / Booking photos of Tina Peters (left) and Belinda Knisley (right) provided by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office after Peters and Knisley turned themselves in on March 9, 2022.

Aurich Lawson

A grand jury in Colorado yesterday indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters on 10 charges related to the leak of voting-system BIOS passwords and other confidential information that ended up being published by QAnon conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins. Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley was indicted on six counts.

Arrest warrants were issued for both Peters and Knisley, and bond was set at $500,000 for each woman. Peters, a Republican, last month announced she intends to run for secretary of state, saying that “Colorado deserves a secretary of state who will stand up to the Biden administration that wants to run our country into the ground with nationalized elections.”

In April and May 2021, Peters and Knisley “devised and executed a deceptive scheme which was designed to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people,” the indictment said. “Furthermore, these defendants, without permission or lawful authorization, also used the name and personal identifying information of Gerald ‘Jerry’ Wood to further their criminal scheme. This unlawful use of Mr. Wood’s identity by Tina Peters and Belinda Knisley also subjected Mr. Wood to various forms of liability and criminal exposure.”

Peters has promoted former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory that voting machines were manipulated to help Joe Biden win the presidency. The FBI and local law enforcement raided Peters’ home in November as part of the investigation into the voting-machine security breach. She was also arrested and briefly detained by police last month when she was accused of resisting a search warrant.

Update at 6:15pm ET: Peters is now in custody after turning herself in to the Mesa County Detention Facility, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office told Ars. Knisley turned herself in earlier today.

Trusted build meeting not so trustworthy

The indictment from a Mesa County grand jury charged Peters with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, identity theft, first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty, and failing to comply with requirements issued by the secretary of state. Knisley was charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, violation of duty, and failing to comply with requirements issued by the secretary of state.

The indictment centers on a May 2021 meeting about a “trusted build” software update that was supposed to ensure a secure chain of custody for the voting system. Before the meeting, Knisley had an IT employee shut off the surveillance cameras in the election offices. “Knisley stated in an interview that Tina Peters directed her to turn off the cameras,” the indictment said. Jessi Romero, who is the voting systems manager for the secretary of state’s office, told the grand jury “that Mesa County’s election staff had historically always kept their various security surveillance cameras on and operating,” the indictment said.

In April, Peters’ office asked the secretary of state’s office to let members of the public watch the trusted build, but Romero “informed Mesa County’s election staff that only required personnel from Dominion Voting Systems, the [secretary of state’s office], and the county will be permitted in the trusted build.”

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