FBI joins criminal probe in Colorado voting equipment breach

AP National News
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FILE – In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks during a news conference about the the state’s efforts to protect the process of casting a vote in the general election in downtown Denver. Griswold announced Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, that Mesa County in western Colorado must replace its election equipment because it is no longer secure after a security breach in the county clerk’s office. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — The FBI said Wednesday its agents are joining a criminal investigation into an alleged security breach of a rural Colorado county’s voting equipment.

The agents are working with Mesa County prosecutors to determine if there was a criminal violation, FBI spokeswoman Courtney Bernal said in a statement.

The federal probe comes after Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold alerted federal cyber security officials within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of the suspected May breach.

No elections have occurred since, and the federal officials confirmed the alleged breach posed no significant risks “at this point,” Griswold said earlier this week.

The allegations involve images of election management software used by Mesa County election’s equipment that were obtained by conspiracy theorists.

Griswold’s office said it believes one of the images was taken on May 23 from a secure room where the equipment was stored and accessed by Peters, another county elections worker and a non-employee.

Griswold’s office identified the non-employee but refused to say anything more about who he is or why he was there. The Associated Press isn’t naming him until more information becomes available. He has not been charged with a crime.

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters condemned Griswold’s inquiry into the alleged security breach at an event last week in South Dakota hosted by My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell, who has become well-known for his unwavering support of former President Donald Trump and efforts to overturn the 2020 election because of widespread fraud. A range of election officials across the country, including Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have confirmed that widespread fraud did not occur.

Peters said Griswold’s investigation is an attempt at a takeover of Mesa County’s elections in one of Colorado’s last Republican strongholds. Peters also alleged the investigation is an attempt by Griswold and Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to “control the way you vote,” she told the South Dakota audience.

The dispute is the latest illustration of how the November 2020 election that is a distant memory for many remains front and center for some far-right Trump supporters. A Republican-led audit of Arizona ballots has been going on for months despite any evidence to support the review.

Accelerating the dispute on Wednesday, Griswold’s office blasted the My Pillow chief executive as the “chief misinformation spreader” in a fundraising email and asked Colorado residents to donate to Griswold’s reelection campaign to “take action to show we stand with the truth, not with conspiracy theories created and spread by sore losers.”

The federal inquiry adds yet another layer to the political brawl between Griswold, a Democrat and Peters, a Republican. The feud came to a head last week when Griswold accused Peters of assisting in the security breach by directing staff to turn off video surveillance of its voting equipment before a May 25 software update and allowing a non-employee into the elections office at that time.

Griswold appointed Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner to supervise the county’s upcoming elections and a three-person advisory committee to assist Reiner. Griswold also ordered Mesa County to replace its voting equipment due to the posting of the county’s voting equipment passwords on a far-right blog.

Colorado’s voting system has been praised by officials, including former Trump-appointed Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, as one of the nation’s safest.

The state’s election procedures were developed under both Republican and Democrat-appointed secretary of states.

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Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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