Since the 2020 election, Chaffee County has received two requests to review its election video files, but has not yet been able to provide those files. After a broken machine prevented viewing of the files, the county has been unable to release any of the video recordings, which the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office requires every county to have.
Requests for video
Local Jerry Raski filed a Colorado Open Records Act request in December to view the county election video.
Raski said the county quoted him $6,500 to obtain a copy of the video, because the county would have to convert the video from a proprietary system by Speco Technologies.
Raski then requested to review the video at the county building.
In the process of removing the equipment from where it was stored, Jason LePonte, county IT manager, reportedly dropped the unit, damaging it enough to make it unusable.
Speco said they were unable to assist as the equipment was from 2007 and no longer supported.
Raski was able to purchase a Speco machine that would be able to read the video files, but he said the recording he was given was from 2015, not 2020.
Vicki Derke of Nathrop also requested a copy of the 2020 video and said she too received a copy of the 2015 election.
When asked why Raski and Derke received copies of 2015 election video instead of 2020 – if perhaps it was already on the hard drive and being written over, or if they were labeled incorrectly, Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell said she didn’t know.
A letter sent April 28 by County Attorney Jennifer Davis, responding to Kerke’s CORA request, stated there are about 264 recorded hours of the 2020 election, but they are currently inaccessible.
In a press release from July 24, the county stated the video recorder may have malfunctioned, and portions of the 2020 election may not have been recorded properly, or even at all.
When asked why he first requested the video from the county, Raski said, “I started out by wanting to find out why I did not get appointed as a poll watcher. I still do not know the answer to this question.
“I requested a list of the election judges, annotated by political affiliation. I was surprised by how few election judges were Republican.
“I asked for a schedule of which judges worked at what duties. When the schedule was not produced, I remembered that in a Mountain Mail article from last October the county clerk stressed the importance of the ballot room video.
“I asked for the video, believing I could view it and compile my own list of which judges were working. As soon as I asked about the video, I immediately received the judges’ schedule.
“Sensing a reluctance from Clerk Mitchell to produce the video, I filed a formal CORA request on Dec. 16, 2020.
“In hindsight, I believe the clerk knew at that time that there was no video. Every action from the county since then has been an attempt to delay, confound and cover up the issue.”
When asked what he thought he might find, Raski said, “I did not know what I would find. I just sensed reluctance from the Chaffee County Clerk’s Office to let me view the video. My suspicions only escalated over time. I believe that dropping and damaging the DVR was planned.
“I believe I was only given a copy of the encrypted hard drive because they believed there was no way it could be viewed.
“It took months of trying, but I eventually was able to view the video I was given. That is when I determined it was from the 2015 election, not 2020.
“If I had not succeeded in decrypting this video, the story would have died there. The cover-up would have succeeded.”
Raski said he wasn’t sure what his next steps would be, since he didn’t know what he would find.
He said he believes that one of two things is true: Either there have been no recent, successful video recordings of the election since 2016 or, if there were recordings, they have been disposed of.
Raski filed a complaint in March with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office regarding seating of election judges.
Mitchell said Raski had applied too late to be an election judge, and the Secretary of State’s Office found no basis for the complaint.
Mitchell said, regarding Raski’s complaint that there weren’t enough Republican election judges, that she had reached out to the local Republican Party.
“This year was different,” Mitchell said. “It was hard to get 50 judges. The parties give me lists and I reached out to those people. With COVID-19, it was tough getting people, and we even tried to get extras for safety precautions.”
Interview with Mitchell
Mitchell explained the process of setting up an election, selecting election judges and what steps are taken regarding handling of ballots.
When asked how the video system worked, however, Mitchell said, “Maybe it was a technical breakdown; I don’t know – I don’t have an answer to that.”
Mitchell said she didn’t believe anyone had requested to review the video since Marilyn Marks filed suit against Clerk Joyce Reno in 2012.
Mitchell said the clerk’s office reached out to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, explaining what happened and requesting help.
The state office was unable to help recover the video but said they found no fault by the county.
When The Mail contacted the Secretary of State’s Office, asking about the video recording equipment and what they could tell us about it, Steve Hurlbert said, “We are not Speco experts, and as long as counties are in compliance with a system in place, we don’t track which systems counties ultimately use. Our Elections and IT divisions worked with Chaffee County to recover the video using multiple data recovery programs but were unsuccessful because the footage is tied to the specific device used to make the recording. Speco would probably be your best resource for all the technical aspects of their recording systems.”
A representative with Speco said without knowing the exact model, they couldn’t help, and since it was so old, having been installed in 2007, they no longer supported the system.
IT questions for the county
Multiple phone calls to LaPointe since July 15 went unanswered.
Beth Helmke, county public affairs officer, returned a call Wednesday and said LaPointe had left Tuesday on a 10-day vacation.
The following questions remain:
• Who oversees the election video system for the county clerk’s office?
• How long does it run? Is it for 60 days before the election and 30 days after? Is that continuous? Based on movement?
• How long does the county hold these recordings? Are they reused for the next election? Does someone label and sort them, or how is storage handled?
• How often do the hard drives have to be replaced? Who swaps them out when they are full? How big are the hard drives?