Mystery attorney in Colorado election security case turns out to be a former GOP lawmaker

Joe Stengel, a former Republican Colorado House minority leader, is the mystery attorney at the center of an election security lawsuit in Elbert County, newly unsealed court documents reveal.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold in January opened an investigation into the activities of Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder as a potential security breach after learning that Schroeder, with the help of activists who reject the results of the 2020 election, had made full copies, or “forensic images,” of the hard drives of Elbert’s Dominion Voting Systems machines. She deemed the copies “unauthorized,” and in February she sued Schroeder after finding the Republican clerk’s response to her inquiries unsatisfactory.

A primary piece of information Griswold, a Democrat, sought was the name of a “private attorney” to whom Schroeder had given possession of one of two hard drive copies Schroeder made. Schroeder had refused to reveal the identity of the private attorney.

Elbert County District Court Judge Gary Kramer ordered Schroeder to supply to Griswold material she sought in her investigation, including the name of the attorney, and the court suppressed the material. Griswold and Schroeder subsequently asked the court to make most of the material open to the public, and on Monday Kramer granted that request.

The material includes several affidavits that indicate there were in fact two unnamed attorneys who were in possession of election system hard drive copies — Stengel and Ric Morgan, an attorney in Elbert County.

An affidavit submitted by Joseph P. Stengel Jr., a Greenwood Village real estate attorney, says he was retained by John Case, Schroeder’s lawyer, on Jan. 25. On that date Case delivered to Stengel a red metal box, which contained one of the election system hard drive copies, and Stengel stored it in a fireproof safe, the affidavit says.

On Feb. 3, Case instructed Stengel to take photographs of the metal box, and Stengel noticed from the photograph that a yellow seal on the box was broken.

In his own affidavit, Case offered an explanation for why the seal was broken.

“I assume that I must have broken the yellow plastic latch on January 25, 2022, when I tried to force the Red Metal Box under the driver seat” of his vehicle when he delivered the box to Stengel, Case wrote.

Stengel took more photographs of the box, again at Case’s instruction, on April 13.

He returned the metal box to Case on May 4 “in the exact condition in which it was delivered” to Stengel, according to Stengel’s affidavit.

“At no time since the Red Metal Box has been in my possession has the Red Metal Box been opened to examine the contents,” he wrote.

Griswold considered the “unauthorized” election system hard drive copies a potential security breach partly because Schroeder “did not disclose how the copy was made or what security measures were taken at the time.”

In 2006, Stengel stepped down from his post in the Legislature amid an ethics investigation that found he claimed “excessive” pay in the off-season and “discredited the reputation of the General Assembly,” according to a contemporaneous Denver Post story.

An affidavit from Morgan says Schroeder delivered a pouch “relating to his official duties” to Morgan for safekeeping. The pouch contained a SanDisk hard drive, according to a Griswold spokesperson. Morgan says he secured the pouch in a storage cabinet in his office, where it remained unmoved and unopened until Morgan returned the pouch to Schroeder. The affidavit does not indicate on what dates these activities occurred.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:51 p.m., May 16, 2022, to include new information about what was contained in the pouch that was in the possession of Ric Morgan.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Sparks fly at tumultuous Colorado Republican assembly as GOP candidate threatens chairwoman

Unsuccessful candidate for Colorado governor Danielle Neuschwanger and her supporters engaged in a tense exchange that included physical threats with state GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown during the Republican Party’s state assembly on Saturday, according to interviews with witnesses and publicly available accounts.

Neuschwanger, a 34-year-old Colorado native and small business owner, was viewed as a top Republican governor candidate going into the assembly, which took place at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. But she failed to secure at least 30% of the delegate support, knocking her out of contention.

Neuschwanger challenged that result. Echoing baseless claims that many Republicans have made about the 2020 presidential election, she suggested the GOP’s own count of delegate votes at the assembly was fraudulent.

“(Delegates) attempted to tell you that the system was fraudulent, and you negated their voice when they attempted to bring it to you,” Neuschwanger said to Burton Brown, as captured on a video that Neuschwanger posted to social media. Neuschwanger was standing with supporters at the foot of the arena stage while Burton Brown knelt at the edge of the stage. “I am going to see you in court, and I’m going to make sure, if you committed any fraud that you are behind bars.”

Carly Koppes, the Republican Weld County clerk and recorder, was at the assembly and witnessed some of the interaction. At one point she heard Neuschwanger supporters make physical threats. One man said to Burton Brown, “I’m going to rip you off that stage,” Koppes said.

“And there were some others that I didn’t quite clearly hear but that’s the only one that I remember clearly hearing, was that, unfortunately, and that was just like, ‘OK, this is not the type of behavior I want to be around.'”

Colorado primary candidates advance after Republicans, Democrats hold state party assemblies

In the video Neuschwanger posted, a supporter of hers is heard to say to a Burton Brown colleague on the stage, “Don’t stick your hand in front of my face or I’ll throw your ass f***ing out.”

At another point Koppes was near the back of the venue when she saw Neuschwanger walk up on stage as Burton Brown, often referred to as KBB, was leading the assembly through party resolutions.

“Danielle walked up and tried to grab the two microphones that were at the podium,” Koppes said. “Kristi didn’t see her, she was reading the teleprompter in front of her. And, you know, when Danielle tried to reach for the microphones Kristi grabbed the microphones and then her sergeant at arms promptly escorted Danielle off of the stage.”

Ashe Epp, co-founder of U.S. Election Integrity Plan, was at the assembly and also witnessed this moment. Neuschwanger walked up on stage and appeared as if she were going to contest the results, Epp said.

“This is the only thing physical that I saw. KBB said, ‘No, you can’t be up here,’ and Danielle reached for the microphone, and KBB smacked her hand away,” Epp said. “Danielle was then taken off the stage by other handlers” who responded on behalf of Burton Brown. “It wasn’t like they carried her off the stage, but they surrounded her and walked her off the stage.”

Koppes disagreed that Burton Brown smacked Neuschwanger.

“She was grabbing the microphones away from Danielle,” Koppes said. “There was definitely not anything that looked like for me as any sort of slap.”

Asked to reflect on the episode, Koppes said, “It was pretty upsetting.”

“Danielle and Kristi and I, we’re all relatively around the same age, and we should all understand that we are in the political world, still very young, and it’s needed to be having an understanding that we should be showing our strength and ability to handle challenging and difficult situations,” Koppes said. “And I don’t believe that is what we saw in that moment. And it’s very saddening, I don’t know how else to say it. But it was really sad for me to see that. And very disappointed in the actions of that person.”

Burton Brown discussed the confrontation with Neuschwanger during a Monday appearance on George Brauchler’s KNUS radio show. “Her husband threatened to beat up my dad,” Burton Brown said.

Newsline sent a message to Neuschwanger on Sunday asking for comment but had not received a reply by the time of publication. On Tuesday, Neuschwanger representative Tifanee Brannen wrote to Newsline with a reaction to the story.

“Video evidence from Neuschwanger has proven that KBB did physically touch Neuschwanger when she reached to cover the microphone — not grab it,” Brannen wrote. “Also video footage shows KBB dad assaulted Mr Neuschwanger,” Neuschwanger’s husband.

A top question leading into the assembly was whether candidates who had campaigned on false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump would succeed despite the preference of some party officials other candidates who sought to avoid the “election integrity” debate. It turned out to be a good day for election deniers. Governor candidate Greg Lopez, U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks, and secretary of state candidate Tina Peters all came away with the most support of delegates. Lopez has expressed doubt about the 2020 presidential election; Hanks, a state representative, repeatedly advances conspiracy theories about the election and crossed police lines during the Jan. 6 insurrection; and Peters, the Mesa County clerk and recorder, was indicted by a grand jury for her alleged role in an election security breach in her own office.

A large segment of assembly participants lobbied organizers to use paper instead of electronic ballots. They were not successful, and electronic voting at the assembly became subject to suspicion among the figures who had spent months accusing Democrats of fraud in the presidential election.

“With regard to electronic voting at State Assembly, I have requested all records, including all electronic records, & the contract between the vendor & COGOP, so that we may conduct an audit and learn the system specifications & the terms of the agreement our party signed on to,” tweeted Hanks, even though he cleared the field at the assembly and emerged as the only assembly-approved candidate for the GOP primary ballot in June.

On Saturday, Neuschwanger tweeted, “Due to numerous delegates reporting fraudulent behavior during the vote today I will not be conceding until I have had ample time to investigate their claims.”

Koppes led the committee that oversaw vote counting during the assembly. She said organizers successfully tested the system, worked with county delegations to ensure they were assigned the correct number of secure keypads, had county chairs sign for the keypads and took other steps to ensure an accurate vote. Participants were instructed to come forward with questions and concerns during voting.

“We only had a handful of people come back during the voting process,” Koppes said, and the issues were addressed.

She released a statement to this effect that was posted to the Colorado GOP website. The party also posted on its site election reports and log files from assembly votes.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:11 p.m. on April 12, 2022, to include remarks from a representative of Danielle Neuschwanger.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.


Sparks fly at tumultuous Colorado Republican assembly as GOP candidate threatens chairwoman

Mike Lindell sued by former Dominion employee Eric Coomer for defamation

Eric Coomer, the former Dominion Voting Systems employee, is suing election conspiracist Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, for defamation.
Coomer filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court on Monday, the day before Lindell spoke at an election-denial rally at the Colorado Capitol.

The lawsuit claims that Lindell, along with his company MyPillow and his media platform Frankspeech, targeted Coomer as part of Lindell’s effort “to undermine faith in American democracy and enrich himself in the process.”


The lawsuit says Lindell based defamatory remarks about Coomer mainly on a single source, Joe Oltmann, an influential conservative Colorado podcast host and founder of the activist group FEC United. Oltmann originated a conspiracy theory about Dominion when he claimed that before the November 2020 election he infiltrated a conference call and heard a person he later claimed was Coomer say that he rigged the election against former President Donald Trump. This narrative was later amplified on national platforms, including through Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Frankspeech.

Coomer has sued Oltmann and other Trump-connected defendants for defamation based on claims similar to those in the Lindell suit. He has maintained that he was not on the supposed call Oltmann claims to have heard and did nothing to compromise an election. The defendants, including Lindell, however, intentionally and persistently defamed Coomer as a “traitor,” the lawsuit says.

Coomer lives in Colorado, and Dominion is based in Colorado.

“Dr. Coomer has had an onslaught of harassment and credible death threats issued against him; he is at risk in his home or in going to work; his presence puts his family, friends, colleagues, and his community in danger,” the lawsuit says. “The results of the Defendants’ ongoing conduct are foreseeable and obscene. This conduct is so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency. It should be regarded as atrocious and determined intolerable in a civilized community.”

Lindell was at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday as the keynote speaker of an “election truth rally,” which also featured prominent Colorado election deniers such as Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters and state Rep. Ron Hanks. Lindell voiced baseless claims about the unreliability of elections during the event.

“You guys here in Colorado, you’re in a battle — you’re like the tip of the spear (against) evil of epic proportions,” he said.

Lindell was reportedly served with a lawsuit during the rally.

Claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent or compromised have been debunked by experts, courts and election officials from both parties.



Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Colorado GOP candidate caught praising an election conspiracy group linked to Mike Lindell

Heidi Ganahl, the best-known Republican candidate for Colorado governor, during a recent event with supporters endorsed the work of a Colorado-based conspiracy group that rejects the results of the 2020 election, according to a recording of her comments obtained by Newsline.

The event, a meet-and-greet in Durango, occurred on Nov. 18.

At one point she discussed elections and ways they purportedly might be compromised by “bad actors.” Then she mentioned the election conspiracy group U.S. Election Integrity Plan, referring to it by its abbreviation: “USIE, IE , EIP — I always mess up the acronym — there are a lot of great people working on this issue that would love to have you volunteer, get involved, and they are just doing great things.”

She adds that she would be happy to share the group’s contact information.

USEIP was founded by Colorado election deniers and reportedly deploys teams of volunteers to neighborhoods throughout the state to conduct “voter verification” canvassing, an effort to collect evidence of alleged election fraud. The group has close ties to Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County whom a court barred from overseeing last month’s election due to her alleged role in subverting election security in her own office. Leaders of USEIP, which claims to have a presence in 38 states, were recently hired by election-conspiracy Trump ally Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, to help coordinate national efforts to prove the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent or compromised have been debunked by experts, courts and election officials from both parties.

Newsline received no response to multiple messages to Ganahl’s campaign seeking comment.

Some of Ganahl’s comments during the Durango visit were previously reported, but her endorsement of USEIP has not been previously reported.

Her promotion of USEIP is notable, because when Ganahl announced her candidacy for governor in mid-September her refusal to answer whether she thought the 2020 presidential election was stolen became central to the story of her entry into the race.

Ganahl, a regent of the University of Colorado, is the only remaining Republican elected to statewide office in Colorado. She is running to unseat Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who is up for reelection in 2022.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Second Colorado county clerk joins GOP lawsuit seeking 2020 election ‘audit’

A second Colorado county clerk signed on to a lawsuit filed by state Rep. Ron Hanks against Secretary of State Jena Griswold as part of an effort to conduct a third-party “audit” of the 2020 election in the state.

Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder was added as a plaintiff in the lawsuit in an amended complaint entered a day after the initial complaint was filed in Denver District Court on Nov. 18.

The lawsuit claims that election system software used in Colorado’s 64 counties in 2020 was improperly certified, that the secretary of state’s office illegally destroyed election records, and that Griswold exceeded her authority when in the summer she adopted emergency rules to prevent the kind of election audit then occurring in Arizona, which she deemed illegitimate.

Also named as plaintiffs are Merlin Klotz, the Douglas County clerk and recorder; two of the three Rio Blanco County commissioners, Gary Moyer and Jeff Rector; and Park County Commissioner Amy Mitchell.

Claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent or compromised have been debunked by experts, courts and election officials from both parties.

When asked Monday about his motivation for joining the lawsuit, Schroeder said, “I’m not going to be speaking to the news media about that. We’ll have a website up shortly that will explain what’s going on.”

Schroeder in August told Newsline that after the November 2020 election, he started fielding calls about election integrity from citizens, and to demonstrate that constituents could have confidence in the results his office conducted a hand recount of the vote in Elbert. The recount proved the results were correct.

Asked if he still has faith in Elbert’s election results, Schroeder said, “Yes, we believe what we’re doing here is accurate.” He began to add, “So far that’s what’s …,” but didn’t complete the sentence. Asked if he thought voters could trust election results in other Colorado counties, he said, “You’ll just have to read the complaint and look at the website.”

Hanks is in his first term representing state House District 60, which includes Fremont, Chaffee, Park and Custer counties. Last month he entered the race to challenge U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who is running for reelection in 2022. Hanks has repeatedly made false claims relating to the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. He crossed police lines at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

As of Monday, Griswold had yet to file a response to the lawsuit with the court.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

MyPillow's Mike Lindell is funding a new nationwide 'election integrity' group: report

Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow and a leading election-conspiracy ally of former President Donald Trump, has given financial support to a new nationwide organization devoted to “election integrity," according to Shawn Smith, a prominent Colorado Springs-based activist and apparent leader of the organization.

Smith announced the launch of the organization, Cause of America, during an appearance Monday on “Bannon's War Room," hosted by former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and carried on Lindell's media platform

“Cause of America — it's a new nonprofit that's started out," Smith told Bannon. “Mike Lindell is kind of the angel investor, and the purpose of Cause of America is to enable the grassroots organizations across the country who are doing election integrity."

Smith works with Colorado-based U.S. Election Integrity Plan, an activist group that was established after the 2020 election and has promoted unsubstantiated claims about the election in Colorado. He is an ally of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, whose alleged involvement in a security breach of election equipment in her own office was the basis of a court ruling that barred her from overseeing this month's election in Mesa County and who is a subject of a related criminal investigation. In August, Smith appeared in South Dakota with Peters at the Lindell-hosted “Cyber Symposium," which sought to present proof of debunked election-fraud claims. The election-fraud claims that Smith often advances are mirrored in a lawsuit filed last week against Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold by Republican state Rep. Ron Hanks.

Claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent or compromised have been debunked by experts, courts and election officials from both parties.

Leaders of USEIP, such as Smith and Ashe Epp, have repeatedly said the group does not raise money. “We don't fundraise, and we don't accept donations," co-founder Epp said during a presentation in May. But during his interview with Bannon, Smith, who implied that USEIP is affiliated with Cause of America, highlighted advantages of financial support.

“We" — USEIP — “haven't charged anybody for anything, it's all been out of pocket, but there have been limits on that, because everyone are volunteers and we have limited resources and the same people who are investigating election machines are trying to figure out how to code websites at night and do an open records act request, so Cause of America is standing up as an organization to enable grassroots and help coordinate the election integrity activity of citizens across the country," Smith said.

The Cause of America website, which Smith said launched Monday, features a “Want to Donate?" prompt. However, the feature says the organization “is not currently taking direct donations" and instead leads visitors to donate to another outfit that is “geared toward fixing 2020" and is not a charitable organization.

The site includes a page that offers “a timeline of election related activities and news" for several states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Its “Library" includes documents that largely concern Colorado voting and the issues on which Smith has previously focused. The Hanks lawsuit is prominently featured in the site's “News" section.

Newsline did not immediately receive a response to a request for comment sent through Cause of America's online press inquiry form.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Embattled Mesa County clerk Tina Peters appears with militia supporters in video call that included endorsement of violence

Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk who is under criminal investigation for her alleged involvement in a security breach of election systems in her own office, appeared on a video call last week with supporters of the Three Percenter militia.

The video was posted Thursday on the America's Mom Facebook page, which is operated by Sherronna Bishop, a Peters ally whose home was searched Nov. 16 by the FBI as part of an investigation related to the case against Peters. Peters' home was also searched that day.

At one point in the video, a recording of a Zoom call, Peters is seen seated with Jacqueline Anderson, who last week, as reported by Colorado Times Recorder, resigned her position as first vice chair of the Mesa County Republican Party, and Anderson's husband, activist Cory Anderson, who previously has been identified as a Three Percenter member.

Cory Anderson, discussing the Peters case, complains on the video that Mesa County has “weak commissioners, weak sheriff, weak (district attorney)," counting off on his pinky, fourth finger and middle finger — the three fingers that raised forms a Three Percenter hand sign.

“Three percent right there," Anderson says, as Jacqueline Anderson laughs and joins him in flashing the sign. “Had to get my three out there. Show me the three, y'all."

Peters smiles. Moments earlier Peters said, “Cory needs to be sheriff."

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the Three Percenters are “an extremist movement that claims to be ready to carry out armed resistance to perceived tyranny."

Peters is accused of being involved in a security breach of Mesa County election system equipment that resulted in passwords and other sensitive election system information becoming public. Peters, a Republican, was barred by a court in a case brought by Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold from overseeing the coordinated election this month. Agents from the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office, Colorado Attorney General's Office and the FBI participated in the search of Peters' home.

On the video call, Peters repeated conspiracy-theory claims about the integrity of the 2020 election.

“They're the ones that cheated," she said in reference to the people involved in removing her from election oversight. “They're the ones that destroyed election records. They're the ones that are allowing influences to come into our computers changing votes and doing all these things."

She said she doesn't want to go to prison, but she is “willing" to, to “expose the lies."

Several other figures who have promoted debunked claims that the election was illegitimate took part in the video call.

Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force colonel from Colorado Springs who has worked with Colorado-based group U.S. Election Integrity Plan, which rejects the outcome of the election, made an appearance. He says during the video call that Dan Rubinstein, the Mesa County district attorney, should be investigated by the FBI. And he says “something's about to happen in a legal setting" related to election integrity and involving jurisdictions throughout the state, adding that district attorneys will be obliged to investigate.

“If they don't investigate I think we're going to have to go to sheriffs and ask them to arrest the district attorneys," Smith says.

Later Smith endorsed violence as a legitimate response to the government activity discussed in the call.

“I have no desire whatsoever for violence, but I promise you that people in the country are not going to go down," he said. “There's not going to be a tyrannical regime that stays in power. Only they'll recognize their limits under the law and this will be walked back or it's going to get very dangerous. And it's going to be dangerous all around. I hope it doesn't come to that, but if they think this is going to end somehow in surrender from the people, they're all wrong about that."

Smith's backdrop on the call depicted a bald eagle filing its nails to sharp points.

Former state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who is currently the executive director of the hard-right Republican Study Committee of Colorado, also joined the call. About law enforcement activities in the investigation into Peters and Bishop, Lundberg said, “They've set a standard that is completely unacceptable, and we cannot respond in like but we need to respond in such a way that it will be unmistakable that we won't go along with this type of tyranny."

Bishop, a former campaign manager for Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, said law enforcement officers busted through her door during the search of her home, and she compared them to Nazis.

She said the search warrant was related to a charge of “conspiracy to commit wire fraud."

“On the warrant it says that they were here to take anything electronic that they potentially could find any information on, so they took my cell phone immediately," Bishop said. “I wasn't able to film or take photos of anything and they took my laptop and my desktop."

She said the investigation is part of pushback against people who question election integrity, critical race theory being taught in schools, “comprehensive sex education" and mask mandates in schools.

“It's a new day, for sure," she said.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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'Worrisome' letter defending election conspiracy theorist Tina Peters sent to Colorado county clerks

Multiple county clerks in Colorado recently received a letter that they found alarming because of its tone and due to the context of intensifying efforts by activists who say, despite the absence of evidence, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

The one-page letter, dated Aug. 27, is typed, and, at least for some of the recipients, a handwritten portion is added at the bottom.

“We the people of Colorado aren't taking it anymore — You work for us!" reads the handwritten line at the bottom of the letter received at the office of Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell. “Chaffee County may be next!"

Mitchell told Newsline that the warning, in the context of the rest of the letter, might refer to a potential that her office, like the clerk's office in Mesa County, could be investigated by the secretary of state.

“But it's hard to know because, after all we've been through, it's just worrisome," Mitchell said.

Earlier in the summer, in response to mounting threats directed at Mitchell, she had bulletproof infrastructure installed in her Salida offices.

In recent days, at Mitchell's request, agents with the Department of Homeland Security conducted a physical security assessment at the clerk's office, where 10 people work, and she plans to make improvements based on the agents' advice.

The typed section of the letter, which is identical in the versions viewed by Newsline, discusses Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold's investigation into an election-system security breach in the office of Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters. Mesa County election-system hard drive images were copied and released to conspiracy theorists with alleged participation by Peters. Staff from Griswold's office visited the clerk's office last month to investigate the breach, and the FBI and Mesa County district attorney are conducting a related criminal investigation.

The letter refers to the visit as “raids," and it defends Peters, saying she did nothing wrong. Griswold is using a “'Gestapo Standard' of election intimidation" on behalf of a “tyrannical, weaponized government," it says.

“Enough. There is no more time nor reason to tolerate or negotiate with tyrants," the letter ends, adding a demand that Griswold resign.

Carly Koppes, the Republican clerk and recorder for Weld County and president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, also received a version of the letter. The handwritten portion of Koppes' letter says “We the people" don't want voting machines touched or loaded with new software, and it ends, “You may be next!"

Koppes said the meaning of that line is ambiguous, but taken with other threats to her office since the November election it's notable.

“Some of my colleagues have received much worse than I have," Koppes said.

Koppes, who was born and raised in Weld County, began working in the clerk and recorder's office in 2004. Elections in her experience didn't used to be so confrontational. “In my 17 years I have never seen anything like this," she said.

Some of the letters appear to be signed by “Katherine Hawkins" and feature a similar style of cursive handwriting. Other clerks who reportedly received a version of the letter include those in Park and Baca counties. Colorado County Clerks Association spokesperson Michele Ames said that to her knowledge “a majority of the clerks in the state" received a version of the letter.

Its distribution appears to be part of a strategy by election conspiracists that involves “ramping up their efforts to pressure clerks," Ames said.

Since he lost the election to President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump has claimed without evidence that the election was fraudulent. Some activists in Colorado, such as those associated with U.S. Election Integrity Plan, have sought to prove that election systems in Colorado are vulnerable to tampering and fraud, though their claims amount mainly to innuendo, and the most serious actual breach is the one allegedly committed with the help of the Republican Peters. USEIP volunteers have reportedly gone door-to-door in multiple counties asking individual voters to verify their participation in the election. Election-fraud activists have pressured Colorado county clerks to conduct audits of the election.

Clerks expect such pressure to worsen as the next statewide election, on Nov. 2, approaches.

“I have no doubt it will escalate," Mitchell said. “Clerks are trying to stay positive, check in with each other, offer support when they can."

Mitchell has worked in the clerk's office since 2011 and has been clerk since 2014. Like Knoppes, she said she has “absolutely not" seen anything like the recent attacks on elections officials before.

“It just takes a toll on you, because you're worried about your staff," she said. “You're just worried about them feeling safe at work and you're worried about everybody's safety for real."

A lot of her staff are longtime members of the community, she said.

“We're just trying to do our jobs, our professional jobs, and help people interact with their government, and it's like we're just turned into the enemy all of a sudden," she said.

Mitchell is up for reelection next year. Asked how she feels about remaining in office after the threats she's experienced, she said, “I'm going to fight like hell and I'm going to win again … I have a job to do and I'm going to do it, and I'm going to run the best campaign I can, and I'm going to win."

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Colorado secretary of state files lawsuit to strip Tina Peters of election authority after she goes into hiding with help from Mike Lindell

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has filed a lawsuit as part of an effort to prevent the Mesa County clerk and recorder from maintaining her authority over elections.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in state district court in Mesa County. The lawsuit seeks to remove Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters as the designated election official.

“My priority is ensuring that the voters of Mesa County have accessible and secure elections. With the quickly approaching election, I am taking action to ensure that the county's election office can provide great elections for Mesa voters," Griswold said in a statement. Peters “is not fit to serve" as the designated election official, she said.

Peters is accused by Griswold of participating in activity that led to the release of election-system hard drive images and passwords to election-fraud conspiracy theorists, including Ron Watkins, a leading QAnon figure.

The reported breach is the subject of an investigation by the secretary of state, as well as separate criminal probes by 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and the FBI. No criminal charges have yet been filed against Peters in connection with the incident.

Peters, a Republican adherent of debunked claims that the November election was fraudulent, has not cooperated with investigators from the secretary of state's office, and she's reportedly out of the state “in hiding" and under the protection of MyPillow CEO and election conspiracist Mike Lindell. She was a featured speaker at an election fraud “Cyber Symposium" in South Dakota hosted by Lindell from Aug. 10 through Aug. 12, when state investigators traveled to her office in Grand Junction to inspect election equipment, which Griswold determined was compromised and ordered decertified.

Peters is the subject of at least two ethics complaints related to her participation in the Lindell event and his subsequent patronage, The Daily Sentinel reported. The complaints accuse Peters of violating the state's ban on gifts for government employees and elected officials.

On Aug. 17, Griswold designated a new supervisor, Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, as well as a three-person advisory committee, to oversee elections in Peters' place. The advisory committee includes state Rep. Janice Rich, Ouray County Clerk and Recorder Michelle Nauer, and former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher. In opposition to Griswold's order, Mesa County commissioners voted to reject Reiner and appoint former Secretary of State Wayne Williams to oversee Mesa County elections. Williams and Reiner had agreed to work as a team to supervise elections.

But as part of Griswold's court filing, she asks that Williams be appointed as the designated election official and Reiner be appointed as the director of elections. That would mean Reiner would answer to Williams.

In her Aug. 17 order, Griswold also prohibited two clerk's office staff members accused of involvement in the election-system breach — Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley and elections manager Sandra Brown — from any role in elections.

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