Tina Peters, a county clerk running as a Republican for secretary of state of Colorado, was indicted Tuesday evening on 10 criminal counts related to allegations that she tampered with election equipment after the 2020 election.
The indictment, which the district attorney of Mesa County, Colo., Announced on Wednesday, is connected to Ms. Peters’ work as the top county election administrator, a role in which she promoted former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen. Because of Ms. Peters’ unusual scheme to interfere with voting machines, state officials “could not establish confidence in the integrity or security” of election equipment, the indictment said.
Ms. Peters’ case is a prominent example of how false theories about election fraud and Republican-led calls for “audits” of the 2020 vote count have created election-security threats involving the integrity of voting machines, software and other election equipment. And in running for secretary of state, Ms. Peters is among a group of brazenly partisan candidates who claim that Mr. Trump may have won the election and who are transforming races around the country for such once little-known offices.
A grand jury indicted Ms. Peters on both felony and misdemeanor charges, including counts of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, identity theft, first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state.
In a statement, Ms. Peters accused Democrats of using the grand jury “to formalize politically motivated accusations” against her.
Using legal muscle to indict political opponents during an election is not new strategy, but it’s easier to execute when you have a district attorney who despises President Trump and any constitutional conservative like myself who continues to demand all election evidence be made available to the public, ”she said.
The grand jury also indicted Belinda Knisley, Ms. Peters’ deputy, on six counts. A lawyer for Ms. Knisley did not respond to a request for comment.
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that Ms. Knisley and Ms. Peters were both in custody.
The indictment focused on how passwords used to update voting machine software had been leaked online in August 2021.
Beginning in April, Ms. Peters and Ms. 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,” according to the indictment, which linked their actions to the release of the passwords and other confidential information.
Jessi Romero, the voting systems manager at the Colorado secretary of state’s office, told the grand jury that the Mesa County elections office – which Ms. Peters led as county clerk and recorder – had contacted him in April to request that members of the public be allowed to observe a software update process in person. Mr. Romero responded that this was not allowed.
On May 13, according to the indictment, Ms. Knisley requested an access badge and an official email address for a “temp employee” who would represent the county on site during the software update. But that person was not an employee and had no right to be on site under state regulations, the indictment said.
“Relying on the misrepresentations” of Ms. Knisley – who later said she had been acting on Ms. Peters’ instructions – Mesa County granted the person an access badge for the election building. He later returned the badge to Ms. Knisley, the indictment said.
But, according to the indictment, county records show that someone used that badge to enter secure areas of the election offices on May 23, two days before the scheduled software update.
A few days earlier, according to the indictment, the security cameras in the election office had been turned off at Ms. Knisley’s request.
Prosecutors have previously said they believe that Ms. Peters entered a secure area of a warehouse where voting machines were stored and copied hard drives and election-management software from the machines.
The indictment does not explain why prosecutors believe Ms. Peters or Ms. Knisley wanted the material.
In early August, the conservative website Gateway Pundit posted passwords for the county’s election machines. Shortly afterwards, the Mesa County machines’ software showed up on large monitors at a South Dakota election symposium organized by the conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and attended by Ms. Peters.
A Colorado judge stripped Ms. Peters of her duties overseeing last year’s election after a lawsuit was filed by Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. Ms. Peters announced last month that she would run for secretary of state against Ms. Griswold.
“Officials who carry out elections do so in public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position,” Ms. Griswold said in a statement on Wednesday.
The indictment was announced by the Mesa County district attorney, Daniel P. Rubinstein, and the Colorado attorney general, Phil Weiser.
“The grand jury, randomly selected from the same pool of citizens that elected Clerk Tina Peters and chosen months before any of these alleged offenses occurred, concluded there is probable cause that Clerk Peters and Deputy Clerk Knisley committed crimes,” Mr. Rubinstein and Mr. Weiser said in a statement in which they added that their offices would provide no further comment “to maintain the investigation’s impartiality.”
Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting.