DENVER – A woman has struck a plea deal to testify against her boss, a Colorado clerk who became a hero to election conspiracy theorists after she was charged with breaking into her county’s voting system.
Belinda Knisley, who has long been on administrative leave from her role as chief deputy to Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, appeared in district court in Grand Junction on Thursday and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of trespass, official misconduct and violation of duty. She was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.
“You engaged in concrete acts to undermine the integrity of our democratic process under the guise of protecting it. In doing so, you abdicated your role as a clerk, you violated your oath and you betrayed your duty,” Judge Matthew Barrett told Knisley during the hearing.
Peters and Knisley were being prosecuted on allegations they allowed a copy of a hard drive to be made during an update of election equipment in May 2021.
Peters is awaiting trial on several felony charges for her alleged role in allowing unauthorized people to break into her county’s election system in search of proof of conspiracy theories spun by former President Donald Trump after his 2020 election loss.
She 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.
Knisley, who had previously denied wrongdoing, said Thursday she was a “rule follower” who was acting at the behest of Peters – an assertion that did not sit well with Barrett.
“Every time you acknowledged what you did, you prefaced it with, ‘I was told to do this. I was told to do that,’ as if you did not know exactly what you were doing and as if you did not know the harm you were engaging in,” he said. He added that Knisley’s crimes were “worthy of incarceration," but he did not want to throw out the plea deal, which did not call for jail time.
State election officials learned of a security breach last summer when a photo and video of confidential voting system passwords were posted on social media and a conservative website.
A judge prohibited Peters from overseeing last year’s and this year’s local elections in Mesa County, a western region of the state that is largely rural and heavily Republican.
Also facing charges is Sandra Brown, a former elections manager in Peters’ office. Brown was charged in July with attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation and conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation.
Peters lost a bid to become the GOP candidate for Colorado secretary of state in June. She came to national attention when she spoke last year at a conference hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of the most prominent election conspiracy theorists in the country.
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.