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On Friday, Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) introduced the Colorado Election Security Act (SB22-153) legislation aimed at keeping Colorado’s elections secure and defending the state’s election system from internal threats and those who would seek to compromise the security of Colorado’s election system.

“Senate Bill 153 is one of the most important bills involving elections that we have ever seen. I support this bill as it gives us strategies to combat something new for Clerks, which is insider threats,” said Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell. “This bill bars an election official from ‘knowingly or recklessly’ spreading ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’ regarding election administration. The bill requires in-depth training for election officials. The Clerks believe that elected officials who refuse to take the election training currently mandated by state law should be barred from running elections in that county.”

While Democrats are coalescing behind Fenberg, Republicans appear poised to introduce a competing bill, not designed to ensure election security but to do away with mail ballots. Colorado has used an all-mail ballot system with a risk-limiting audit process since 2013, which is considered to be one of the nation’s “gold standard election systems”.

Colorado State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The election security bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver). The Colorado Election Security Act will improve election security by, among other measures, prohibiting anyone from serving as an election official if they have been convicted of any election offense or any offense or conspiracy to commit sedition, insurrection, treason, or conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Fenberg’s bill also prohibits election officials or candidates from physically tampering with voting equipment, and from having access to or being present in a room with voting equipment without being accompanied by one or more persons with authorized access.

“Colorado sets a national example when it comes to holding free, fair, and secure elections, and we want to keep it that way,” Fenberg said. “But unfortunately, there are folks both inside and outside the election system seeking to tamper with and undermine trust in our elections. The Colorado Election Security Act increases penalties for anyone who tampers with Colorado’s gold standard elections and interferes with our democracy, and will help defend our elections from wrongdoers while giving Coloradans peace of mind at the polling place.”

“We’ve seen a small number of extreme conspiracy theorists use their official and trusted positions to threaten our gold standard election system, and it has to stop,” said Rep. Lontine. “Several individuals, including elected officials, are alleged to have illegally accessed voting systems, and they continue to pose a very real threat to our democracy. The seriousness of these violations demands that we act and take all necessary steps to protect our democracy and fortify the security of our elections.”

“Colorado leads the nation in election security and access, and we must continue to innovate,” said Secretary of State Jenna Griswold. “The Colorado Election Security Act will strengthen the laws that protect voting equipment and election systems from insider threats and will expand the physical security requirements around voting systems equipment. I thank President Fenberg for championing this important bill in the legislature and look forward to working together to ensure Colorado continues to deliver the best elections in the nation for Republican, Democrat, and Unaffiliated voters across the state.”

“It’s important to harden our election security posture against insider threats who seek to break the law and undermine public confidence in our elections,” said Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz, President of the Colorado County Clerks Association. “The Colorado Election Security Act does just that and I look forward to this important piece of legislation becoming law.”

Without naming names, the bill has a clear reference to the illegal access to voter data by Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, as well as recent revelation of irregularities in handing voter data in Weld County during the 2020 election.

Lori Mitchell stands next to her, “fancy machine,” which scans ballots and organizes them into batches. Courtesy of Ark Valley Voice

The Colorado Election Security Act would also assist in securing Colorado’s gold standard elections by improving training for clerks and election workers, and penalizing anyone who interferes with or obstructs the notification of a potential violation, or retaliates against someone providing notice.

“In Chaffee County, I and three others on my staff are Colorado-certified election officials,” explained Mitchell. “The bill also increases basic security measures and helps clerks pay for it. The bill boosts safeguards from those who seek to do harm from within. I think the President of the Clerk’s Association and Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz said it best, ‘What happened in Mesa County was a breach of public trust. A low- [level] information official was targeted by grifters and bad actors.’ What happened in Mesa County is why we need to pass this bill.”

The bill also prohibits accessing electronic equipment or a reporting system without authorization, makes knowingly publishing passwords or other confidential information a class 5 felony, and directs the District and Supreme Courts to expedite scheduling and issuance of final rulings of any orders in connection with a violation of election code.

The Colorado Election Security Act will receive a hearing in the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee today, Tuesday, March 15.