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Colorado Secretary of State orders Mesa County to stop using election equipment

Secretary of State Jena Griswold said the county will have to replace voting equipment by Aug. 30, or hand count ballots in the next election, after security breach.

DENVER — Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said election equipment that may have been compromised must be replaced in Mesa County after an investigation of a security protocol breach.

Griswold said on Thursday that the county must replace 41 pieces of election equipment and get them certified by Aug. 30, or hand count ballots in the next election, because the security of the voting systems cannot be verified. Mesa County must also cover the cost of replacing the machines.

The decision comes after passwords linked to Mesa County’s voting system were somehow discovered and published online, sparking an investigation by by the Secretary of State's office after it became aware last week.

The security cannot be verified because surveillance cameras were turned off one week before the May 25 "Trusted Build," and not turned back on until August. Griswold said investigators discovered Mesa County Clerk and Recorder's office directed staff to turn the surveillance off.

A trusted build is an annual process where voting equipment is updated to ensure adequate security. Griswold compared it to the type of updates that happen on a home computer. The primary function of a trusted build is to create a chain of evidence which allows stakeholders to have an approved model to use for verification of a voting system. 

Only civil servants from the Colorado Department of State, representatives for the voting equipment provider and select county clerk employees are allowed to participate. Background checks are also required.

During the trusted build, an unauthorized person gained access after Mesa County Clerk and Recorder's office mislead Griswold's office to believe he was their employee, but he was not, according to Griswold.

The chain of custody of Mesa's County equipment cannot be verified, and ballot-marking equipment was not secured with tamper-evident seals until a day or two after the trusted build, therefore the integrity of the equipment cannot be confirmed, Griswold said.

"The collection and dissemination of this information during the trusted build instillation violated security protocols and the Department of State's rules governing this process," Griswold said.

The passwords that were leaked could only be used physically at the voting system at the Mesa County Clerk's Office, and Griswold said there is no indication there are similar problems anywhere else in the state.

RELATED: Passwords linked to Mesa County's voting systems posted online in 'serious breach' of security

The conservative website GatewayPundit.com shared screenshots of the information, which they say came from Ron Watkins, a well-known figure in the QAnon movement. QAnon is a series of conspiracies that include allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election and stories of Democrats running a pedophilia ring and drinking the blood of children.

>> Watch below: Full press conference with Colorado Secretary of State

As part of its investigation, the SOS ordered an inspection of Mesa County’s security protocols, surveillance videos, chains-of-custody for logs and a list of people who had access to the voting systems, as well as immediate access to the voting equipment. After Peters did not respond to a request made on Monday, civil servants from the Secretary of State's office began inspecting Mesa County's voting equipment and relevant documents.

They also ordered Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters not to log in to, touch or otherwise access the equipment without written permission from the state, and she was urged not to destroy any materials related to the investigation.

Peters, who has supported election conspiracy theories in the past, told 9NEWS she would not comment on the investigation based on advice from the local district attorney. District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, however, said Tuesday he never advised Peters or anyone else in her office. His office is also conducting its own separate criminal investigation of the incident.

When asked if Peters should resign Griswold said she cannot comment, and County Clerks Association Director Matt Crane, a former Republican Arapahoe County Clerk, said it would be premature to say, but would ultimately be up to Mesa County voters. 

However, Crane offered pointed criticism when describing the security breach.

"It was a solo, intentional and selfish act that jeopardized the conduct of and integrity of the elections in Mesa County, and effects the confidence of voters throughout the state and the country," he said. "We've heard people say this is a heroic act. To be clear, there is nothing heroic or honorable about what happened in Mesa County. If you want to know who the true heroes are in Colorado elections, it's the other 63 county clerks and their teams."

RELATED: Denver-based Dominion filing $1.7 billion lawsuit against OAN

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