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10th Circuit: Tina Peters to face trial over voting machine interference

The former clerk and recorder of Mesa County faces charges related to leaking voting machine passwords in 2021.

DENVER (CN) — The 10th Circuit on Friday terminated an appeal filed by Tina Peters, a former Mesa County clerk and recorder who sued the district attorney prosecuting her on state charges related to leaking voting machine information.

“Ms. Peters must show the state court proceedings could not afford her an adequate opportunity to present her First Amendment claim. She has not,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Scott Matheson, in an 18-page opinion. “She has made no argument that state law clearly bars her from raising her claims.”

Prosecutors say in April and May 2021 Peters allowed unauthorized individuals to access voting equipment during a sensitive security update and leaked voting machine passwords to a social media site.

The 68-year-old Peters faces three felony counts of attempting to influence a public servant; four felony counts related to impersonation and identity theft; and a misdemeanor count each of official misconduct, violating her duties and failing to comply with the secretary of state’s requirements.

Peters pleaded not guilty last September. She filed the federal lawsuit against Mesa County District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein in November, claiming he wrongfully prosecuted her for criticizing the county’s voting machines, speech protected by the First Amendment. She also claimed she was immune from state prosecution since she was following federal election law — an argument raised and rejected in state court.

Alongside Rubinstein, Peters listed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold as defendants.

In January, U.S. District Judge Nina Wang, a Joe Biden appointee, granted Rubinstein’s motion to dismiss, finding she could present her challenges in state court. Peters appealed.

The 10th Circuit in February denied her request to stay the trial pending the outcome of the appeal.

“Ms. Peters argues she was prosecuted ‘for actions that she was obligated to take,’” Matheson wrote. “This may be a possible defense to the state charges, but it has nothing to do with her theory of retaliation for voicing public criticism.”

In public speeches, Peters has raised concerns about the integrity of the voting machines in Mesa County, particularly after voters declined to elect several conservative candidates during the 2021 Grand Junction municipal election.

Worried the local election could have been compromised, Tina Peters agreed to film the voting machine updates to allow the Florida-based company CyberTeam U.S. to analyze them. The passwords and updates were posted online as evidence of the suspected fraud.

In a report published in September 2021, CyberTeam U.S. revealed it did find unusual activity and deleted records. District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein investigated Peters' claims of election fraud and discovered several instances of human error, rather than an attempt to change the results of an election. The omitted records were also not related to the election results.

Over the years, Peters has been embraced by a community of conservatives who subscribe to the unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of election fraud that spread after Biden won the presidency in 2020. Several conservative candidates also deployed the leaked data as proof of fraud to garner interest to their own campaigns.

In her opening brief, Peters argued Rubinstein pursued retaliatory criminal charges and “participated in an ad hominem campaign with Secretary Griswold to suppress public knowledge of those concerns by personally discrediting Ms. Peters as at best an irresponsible, conspiratorial nut, at worst a corrupt partisan saboteur.”

Matheson was joined on the opinion by Circuit Judges Robert Bacharach and Gregory Phillips, all three of whom were Barack Obama appointees.

“We are pleased with the decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found no merit in Ms. Peters’ claims that her prosecution was improperly brought, and we look forward to bringing her case to trial next month,” Rubinstein told Courthouse News via email.

Peters’ jury trial is scheduled to begin in Mesa County on July 31.

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Categories / Appeals, Criminal, Politics

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