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Colorado clerk Tina Peters pleads not guilty in election system breach

A Colorado county clerk accused of allowing an unauthorized person to break into her county's election system in search of proof of the conspiracy theories spun by former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case on Wednesday.

Tina Peters entered her plea in Grand Junction before Judge Matthew Barrett, who scheduled a trial for her in March.

Peters is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation, two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, one count of identity theft, first-degree official misconduct, violation of duty and failing to comply with the secretary of state.

Colorado elections clerk Tina Peters
Tina Peters speaks to supporters at her election watch party in Sedalia, Colorado, on June 28, 2022.  Thomas Peipert/AP

Peters denies she did anything illegal and contends the charges are politically motivated. She has issued reports purporting to show suspicious activity within voting systems, but those have been debunked by various officials and experts.

Last month, Peters' former chief deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in connection with the case under a deal that requires her to testify against Peters. She was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation. A third employee from Peters' office has also been charged in the scheme.

Prosecutors alleged that Knisley worked to get a security badge for a man Peters said she was hiring in the clerk's office. Peters then allegedly used it to allow another, unauthorized person inside the room to make a copy of the election equipment hard drive during an update to election equipment in May 2021. That other person has not been charged.

A judge prohibited Peters from overseeing last year's and this year's elections in Mesa County, a western region of the state that is largely rural and heavily Republican. Trump lost Colorado in 2020 but won the majority of the vote in this county.

Peters lost her bid to become Colorado's top elections official in June — she sought to become the Republican candidate to challenge Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold in November's election. Peters alleged fraud in the primary but a recount she paid for confirmed that she lost.

On Tuesday, a judge threw out her lawsuit challenging the way the recount was conducted, saying she waited until after the recount was finished to ask for it to be stopped so he did not have the authority to consider it.

Her lawyer in the case, David Wilson, said some recount observers reported that election machines were tested with test ballots instead of actual ballots cast by voters before they were used to conduct the recount. According to the secretary of state's office, its election rules require scanning machines to be tested with a set of test ballots that contain every potential configuration of ballot marking, which it says is the most reliable way to make sure the machines are operating correctly.

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