Eagle County Treasurer and Public Trustee Teak Simonton (pdf) produced a report to the Colorado Secretary of State (pdf) on August 7 reviewing and making recommendations to improve the operations of the Mesa County Clerk’s Elections Office. The Colorado Department of State hired Simonton as a consultant to observe the Elections Division during the June 30th primary and make recommendations for improvement. Simonton, who has 14 years of experience in administering elections, concluded that while there is a lack of experience among the staff, numerous problems that need fixing and best practices that are not being employed, the Mesa County Clerk’s Elections staff as a whole is a dedicated and capable group of employees.
Her review of the Mesa County Clerk herself, though, was not good.
“Rude, antagonistic,” difficult, uncooperative
The Secretary of State requested that a detailed Memorandum of Understanding be agreed to between me as consultant and Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters. Ms. Peters was initially willing to execute and engage in this agreement, but despite numerous adjustments to the document at her request, and multiple requests for execution of the agreement, she would not sign the document. Ms. Peters repeatedly asserted that any election oversight was unneeded, unwanted and a burden on her already stressed staff. Despite my best efforts to convince her of my intention to help, she was distrusting, frequently rude and antagonistic. As such, her interactions with me were at times terse and uncomfortable.
While this terrible review of Peters’ character and lack of cooperation was a real attention-grabber, the report also contained a detailed description of other problems within the Elections Office.
The fact that Clerk Peters was 100% certain that oversight of elections procedures in her office was completely unnecessary is perhaps the most frightening part of the entire report, particularly in light of the numerous problems and absence of best practices Simonton found in Mesa County’s elections procedures. It’s also a worry given that the general election will generate twice the volume of ballots that the primary did.
Security and procedural problems, reluctance to address concerns of Democratic election observer
Simonton found deficits in ballot collection box security, saw staff improperly placing new seals over old seals which blocked the ability to inspect prior seals, a lack of use of best practices in chain of custody of ballots, mis-marked boxes of ballots, and noted that when the Democratic Canvas Board member (election observer) asked for more information on what she saw going on, the elections team was unwilling to provide it, and had to be convinced to do so. When the same Democratic Canvas Board member asked to include a minority report detailing her concerns about what she observed, the Mesa County election team only agreed to allow her to do so after consulting the Secretary of State’s Office. Simonton also noted that even after “a thorough review” of the Democratic Canvas Board member’s points, “some concerns remained.”
Simonton also said she saw “limited to no social distancing” in the Elections Office, saying “only some were wearing masks required by election rule related to Covid-19.”
The extremely detailed, informed report reveals how complex elections operations really are, and points out what we already know, specifically that “Tina Peters was elected in 2018 with no prior election administration experience.”
Peter’s opponent in the 2018 election had ten years experience in the Clerk’s office, oversaw ten employees, ran the DMV and was already certified in local, state and was shortly to be certified in general elections. But people elected a completely inexperienced Wicked Clerk of the West instead, who believes she can’t possibly improve on anything she is doing because everything is perfect.
When-oh-when will Mesa County citizens ever start electing solid, knowledgable people who have the right character for a change, and get the county off its long-standing track record of electing people with hubris, out-sized egos and gross incompetence?