Why Colorado’s Democratic Secretary of State Keeps Warning of ‘Inside Threats’

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DENVER – Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold was in a constant state of motion Tuesday night as she awaited primary election results that would determine her opponent for re-election this fall.

Moving into her downtown office building, Griswold, who ran unopposed for the Democratic Party renomination, checked in with her Rapid Response Election Security Cyber ​​Unit, the group she established in 2020 to help tackle election misinformation. She spoke with her cybersecurity team, made up of members of her IT team and IT personnel temporarily deployed by the Army and Air National Guard. And she saw the results of the Republican Secretary of State’s primary come in quickly — a perk of the state’s vote-by-mail system in which previously processed votes are tabulated immediately after state polls close. .

Could his November opponent be Tina Peters, a local elections official accused of leading a breach in the voting machines – exactly the type of “insider threat” to election security that Griswold has spent the past few years putting in place? guard against and try to guard against?

Less than an hour after the polls closed, former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson had been projected the winner instead. Peters, almost immediately and without proof, fraud allegation was responsible for his third place.

Griswold later told NBC News, following Peters’ claims, that the state’s elections were “safe and secure and had bipartisan oversight throughout” the process.

“The continued dissemination of election lies by Peters is no surprise,” she said, adding that “candidates must respect and accept the results of free and fair elections.”

But these kinds of fallacious claims have been the focus of Griswold’s work over the past four years. In an interview on Tuesday, she said the Jan. 6 committee hearings as well as a situation in New Mexico last month, where Republican officials refused to certify an election, underscore the need to take “threats seriously.” internal” against the elections as a natural consequence of baseless conspiracy and misinformation.

“The very actions they describe in the January 6 hearings that led to a failed theft of the presidency continued. The January 6 coup did not stop,” she said. “Attempts to sabotage American democracy have not ceased.”

The Colorado Voting System

Experts consistently rate Colorado as one of the nation’s most secure and reliable voting patterns.

Its automatic voter registration and universal email voting systems include a myriad of safeguards, such as repeat ballot signature verification processes and risk-limiting audits.

Griswold, during her four years in office, fought for legislation that now the law. This gives his office the power to certify elections if local officials refuse to do so; subject local officials to sanctions for wrongdoing; strengthen existing laws against voter intimidation; and protect election workers in the state.

Colorado, nonetheless, remains at the forefront of disinformation and sabotage efforts by election deniers and other bad actors. State forwarded more than 500 threats against election workers to federal government Election Threat Task Force since its convocation last July by the Department of Justice in response to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Griswold faced numerous other “insider threats” to election security from officials in the state government, in addition to Peters’ situation. On top of that, Griswold says she herself has received hundreds of violent threats, including death threats, and has been under government and private security protection for months.

That prompted officials like Griswold, along with county clerks and other paid government election officials across the state, to implement unique and sometimes unprecedented measures.

Griswold in 2020 assembled his cybersecurity team so his office can monitor and alert officials and voters to election misinformation — one of the first such efforts in the time. She urged election officials across the state to enact physical safety measures for their workers, including active shooting exercises and the installation of bulletproof glass.

It may also not be enough in the current political climate.

“I’m not sure there is a silver bullet that will convince everyone of the legitimacy of the elections. Part of that is because the incentives around the ‘big lie’ are so big in some ways that it becomes too difficult, so to speak, to get out of it,” said election expert David Levine. to the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy, referring to false claims perpetuated by Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that elections across the United States are plagued by fraud.

“But there can be some sort of restoration when it comes to confidence in our elections,” Levine added, saying such results could come from investing in systems, processes and people, as well as “robust” voter education initiatives — articles he noted were integral to the Colorado model.

Griswold, who is president of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, said that the fact that Colorado’s system does so much to build security and trust further demonstrates the scant merit of many of the claims perpetuated by election deniers. . Nevertheless, “threats destabilize, disinformation destabilizes.

“You scare election workers and quit. You get insider threats, people get radicalized and become security breaches themselves,” she said.

According to a non-partisan group following the races.

Legislation passed in response by the state legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, not only aims to address so-called insider threats, but would also help prevent the type of scenario that unfolded last month. in Otero County, New Mexico. There, a GOP county commission refused to certify primary election results, citing concerns about voting machines based on false information. Commissioners protested the use of equipment from Dominion Voting Systems, perpetuating conspiracy theories stemming from the 2020 election, even though there was no evidence of problems with the voting process in last month’s election . (Officials voted to certify the primary election results days later, pursuant to a state Supreme Court order.)

It’s the kind of crisis that started with rumblings and rhetoric but quickly metastasized, aided by the lies of Trump’s allies, according to Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Democratic Secretary of State for New Mexico. . Like Griswold, she is re-elected this fall, and also faced growing threats amid its own efforts to keep the elections safe, secure and free from interference.

“Normally you see rumors like this pop and die pretty quickly, but it’s all become a whole new beast,” Toulouse Oliver said.

The first night in Colorado everything was safe and secure.

A reporter watched a Jefferson County polling center as trained election judges — gathered in bipartisan groups — carefully supervised automated processes to open and count ballots and verify ballot signatures. When problems rarely arose – it could be signatures that did not match those recorded, a coffee stain on a ballot, or a voter returning primary ballots for elections in both major parties – these trained judges stepped in to resolve them, with the chain of custody of each document meticulously documented. The CCTV of near and far ballot boxes was scrupulously monitored.

The day went well – not an unusual outcome for a low turnout primary election. An election judge catching Covid and a water outage in the Elections Division building were among the only problems.

But, Griswold noted, that wouldn’t stop some people from trying to claim fraud.

“Nothing we say or do will stop the far-right MAGA from pushing these conspiracies. It is a political tool to gain power, period,” she said.

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