(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tina Peters, the Mesa County, Colorado, clerk indicted on multiple felony counts stemming from an election security breach, poses in a jail booking photograph in Grand Junction, Colorado, U.S. March 9, 2022. Mesa County Sheriff’s Office/Hando
By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Tina Peters, an election official in western Colorado, has been indicted for election tampering and barred by a judge from overseeing voting in her home county this year.
But Peters, who has echoed former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, is far from cowed. She is seeking the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Tuesday’s primary contest, a position that would put her in charge of the state’s election apparatus.
Peters is among dozens of Republican candidates in November’s midterm elections who have rejected the legitimacy of the 2020 race and are seeking offices with huge sway over future elections, including in battleground states such as Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
There are 23 election deniers running in 17 states for secretary of state, typically a state’s top election official, according to a tracker maintained by States United Action, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The races – once low-profile – have drawn intense attention and huge fundraising totals following the 2020 election, when Trump and his allies sought unsuccessfully to alter the results in several key states.
The candidates’ rhetoric has alarmed good government advocacy groups, who warn the 2024 presidential election could trigger a constitutional crisis if certain states refuse to certify the results.
“I think people should be very worried,” said Jessica Marsden, counsel to Protect Democracy, a nonprofit group. “There’s a very real chance that with their hands on the levers of power, some of these candidates could participate in a similar scheme to alter outcomes of future elections.”
Peters’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Peters is part of a slate of Republican candidates for secretary of state, the America First Secretary of State Coalition, who share similar messaging about election fraud.
The group was founded by Jim Marchant, a former Nevada lawmaker who won that state’s Republican nomination for secretary of state last week. Marchant, who did not respond to a request for comment, has said he would not have certified Democratic President Joe Biden’s victory in Nevada in 2020.
The coalition has received financial backing from The America Project, an organization led in part by Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser known for spreading election conspiracy theories.
Flynn’s group is also spending $100,000 on last-minute ads attacking Peters’ main Republican rival, Pam Anderson, according to campaign finance records – nearly as much as Anderson has raised so far.
A Colorado grand jury indicted Peters in March for allegedly allowing an outsider to gain access to the elections office in Mesa County, where she serves as clerk, and copy the voting system’s hard drive.
Peters has denied wrongdoing and accused Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state, Jena Griswold, of targeting her for political reasons.
The indictment has turned Peters into a hero in some conservative circles. She is frequently a featured guest at forums promoting election falsehoods and has outraised her Republican opponents.
The breached data that triggered Peters’ criminal charges is cited by pro-Trump activists in presentations to local officials around the country as evidence for baseless conspiracy theories involving rigged voting machines.
“She’s a clerk and a very patriotic clerk,” said Mark Cook, a technology consultant who has worked for pillow magnate and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. Cook was speaking to a board of commissioners in Nevada’s Lyon County on April 21 during a presentation that cast Peters’ tampering with election equipment as a noble act.
Griswold, who is running for reelection, also serves as chairwoman for the Democratic Association of Secretaries of States.
“It’s extremely dangerous, it causes violence and it’s being used to set the stage to steal American elections,” she said in an interview, referring to the lies about 2020.
Anderson, Peters’ leading Republican opponent, told Reuters that Peters’ false rhetoric was “at a minimum reckless.”
“Election officials and public officials who hold these offices must remain above the political fray and push back,” said Anderson, a former county clerk.