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Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell is continuing to assure the integrity of county elections procedures, while also acknowledging issues recently discovered with the 2020 election security surveillance video recordings.

Elections conducted by the Chaffee County Clerk’s office are accepted by the Colorado Secretary of State following confirmation of numerous standardized security checks and validation of election processes. The 2020 election results were certified on November 24, 2020 following an audit and canvass (review) conducted by a bipartisan team of election judges.

Video Surveillance of Many Election Security Measures

Image courtesy of the Chaffee County Clerk’s Office.

Video surveillance of election activities is one of many election security measures required by state statute and employed by the Clerk’s office. In early January 2021, Clerk Mitchell contacted the Secretary of State to report a problem with the ability to view the November 2020 election security surveillance video. The video files were unreadable from an encrypted hard drive containing the footage, which was discovered after accidental damage to the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) device used to record the election. The DVR was used to capture footage beginning on September 4, 2020, through December 3, 2020, via three cameras connected within the election rooms.

The Clerk’s office was responding to a citizen’s Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request for the election surveillance recordings when the damage to the DVR occurred. Following this issue, Chaffee County’s contracted Information Technology manager worked with the Secretary of State IT team and Speco Technologies, the video recorder’s equipment manufacturer, to identify alternative options for viewing the video files, however, these efforts were unsuccessful. Because the Speco DVR model that was used for election recording is no longer supported by Speco, they were unable to fix or replace the broken device.

The citizen who submitted the CORA request was provided a cloned hard drive of the surveillance footage. He reported being able to use an alternative means of accessing the hard drive contents by converting to a different operating system format and shared this information with the County Clerk’s office and legal department on June 8.

However, the video of the 2020 election was still not viewable from the hard drive; only raw and unreadable files imprinted with the date and time stamps appeared. The County received a separate, second CORA request for the election video and encountered similar issues with a cloned hard drive on which files were also converted to fulfill that additional request. The Clerk’s office is currently unable to produce visually viewable files of the 2020 election surveillance footage. The cause of the issue is unclear.

In addition to the inoperable DVR player, the County’s contracted IT manager believes there may have been a malfunction within the recording process due to the failure of the Speco DVR equipment hardware, causing it to cease capturing files for a portion of the scheduled surveillance period. Throughout the election, the recording function is visually monitored by watching the screen display and confirming the DVR device’s “recording indicator” light is illuminated. However, the video file itself is not reviewed real-time throughout the course of an on-going election unless a concern arises during the election process.

State statute (per CRS 1-7-802) requires security video files to be retained for 25 months following an election. Generally, footage is only reviewed when there is a question or concern regarding an election-related process. Because the multiple election security measures and safeguards in place in Chaffee County were audited and confirmed to be compliant and valid by the Secretary of State’s office, the County did not have reason to review the video footage prior to these CORA requests. It is unable to confirm the original status of the video footage prior to the DVR damage and file conversion.

Election Process Confirmed, Continuing Video Problem filed with Secretary of State Office on Tuesday

County Clerk Lori Mitchell and an election assistant outside the large vote tent at the Chaffee County building. Dan Smith photo

The Clerk’s office submitted an incident report to the Secretary of State on June 22 updating them on the ongoing issue with video accessibility and reporting the suspected equipment failure. The Secretary of State has not voiced concern with the surveillance video issue, as there are multi-layered security procedures and checkpoints conducted for Chaffee County’s 2020 election that have been verified.

The election security measures in place within the Chaffee Clerk’s office included utilization of bipartisan election judges, routine ballot signature verification, and ballot adjudication conducted by volunteers affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell with staff members inside the spacious 2020 election vote tent Dan Smith photo

Clerk Mitchell submitted the County’s election Watcher Accommodation Plan to the Secretary of State prior to the election, and in accordance with Colorado statute and standard Secretary of State procedures, election judges for the November 2020 election were appointed by both the Republican and Democratic parties.

All staff and certified election volunteers involved with Chaffee County’s election underwent Colorado Bureau of Investigation background checks, and received standardized online trainings from both the Clerk’s office and the Secretary of State office.

Judges for the Voter Service and Polling Centers also received in-person training from the Clerk’s office and mandatory cybersecurity training. Additionally, bipartisan and unaffiliated election volunteers supported election processes, fulfilled ballot transport and chain-of-custody documentation responsibilities, and facilitated the post-election canvass (review) and internal audits.

Standard security processes involve system-based and physical access controls, redundant testing and validation of equipment, visual comparison of hand-marked paper ballots to the voting system’s reading of that ballot, and voting file system backups. The Clerk’s Office maintains all elections documentation, including the ballot logs and voter verifiable paper audit trail records, as required by statute.

A citizen complaint was submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State in late-February alleging neglect in performance of elections duties within Chaffee County. Clerk Mitchell provided responses to the complaints within an hour of receiving a request from the Secretary of State’s office on March 16. On April 12, the Secretary of State’s legal department issued its final decision on the matter, dismissing all claims against Clerk Mitchell.

Chaffee County Election space Remodeled

In an effort to continuously improve the County’s elections operations, Clerk Mitchell initiated a remodeling project within the Clerk’s office facilities in January, which is being done in concert with the other improvements to the County Administration Building. The improvements will place the entire voting process on one floor, in one large elections space.

Planned improvements include removing walls from the current rooms to create a larger open elections management room and installing a new video surveillance system capable of recording from multiple angles and storing video files on a more universal platform. The renovation and installation of the upgraded surveillance system is expected to be completed in July, 2021.

In another sign that the growing political hostility across the nation is occurring at the local level, the Clerk’s Office has confirmed that it has recently installed bullet resistant glass and walls following ongoing threats to the Clerk and the office staff.

“We look forward to hosting public tours of the renovated spaces and giving overviews of Colorado’s election process and personally showing people how the procedures are managed in our offices,” shared Mitchell.

Additional information on the Chaffee County election procedures can be reviewed at https://chaffeeclerk.colorado.gov/elections-general-information.

The State of Colorado’s Elections Policy Manual that set forth Chaffee County’s elections processes can be viewed
at www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/policyManual/ElectionsPolicyManual.pdf.