Montrose County not seeing third-party vote audit requests, clerk says in wake of new state emergency elections  rules

Lu Anne Tyrrell approaches an official ballot drop box last November, as "Uncle Sam" waits to give her an "I voted" sticker. The Secretary of State recently implemented emergency rules to enhance the security of Colorado's voting equipment. (Katharhynn Heidelberg/Montrose Daily Press file photo)

Alluding to a third-party audit of General Election votes taking place in Arizona, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold took steps to ensure voting equipment does not fall into the wrong hands.

Griswold on June 17 implemented emergency election rules and amended rules that bar third parties — those not directly associated with conducting an election — from accessing voting equipment in the state.

Griswold in announcing the new and amended rules said several Colorado counties have been contact by third parties with offers to conduct post-election audits — but the state already conducts audits after every statewide election.

Montrose County did not receive any third-party offers for audits, Clerk and Recorder Tressa Guynes said. Although like Griswold, she touts Colorado’s election system as secure and as a model for the nation, Guynes said the new emergency rules were unexpected and seem replicative of existing practice.

“We were surprised to see it. Nobody’s contacted us and I’ve no idea who was contacted,” Guynes said.

Only if she received a court order to allow access to voting systems would she act — and then, she would contact the Secretary of State’s Office as well as the county attorney, proceeding as mandated, she said.

“We’re very guarded with our equipment and our election integrity. I would leave it to the powers that be to decide that,” Guynes said.

Griswold’s emergency rules, as described, say that to access any part of a county’s voting system, the person seeking to do must have passed a comprehensive criminal background check and be either employed by the county clerk, by the voting system provider, by the Secretary of State’s Office, or be an appointed election judge.

The new and updated rules also allow the SOS Office to limit or prohibit the use of any voting systems’ components if there is a break in its chain of custody, or other hardware security compromises that render it impossible to verify security or integrity of results. As well, the office can decertify the equipment.

The rules are intended to “ensure uniform and proper administration, implementation and enforcement of federal and Colorado election laws,” as well as to increase transparency and security.

“Adoption of these rules and amended rules on a temporary basis is necessary given the public concern regarding rapidly increasing instances of purported ‘forensic audits’ conducted by unknown and unverified third parties nationwide,” a statement of justification and reasons says.

“Colorado’s elections are considered the safest in the nation and we must remain steadfast in our dedication to security,” Griswold said, in her announcement of the emergency rules.

“Along those lines, no third-party person or vendor will be permitted to access voting equipment in our state. We will not risk the state’s election security or perpetuate ‘The Big Lie.’ Sham audits have no place in Colorado.”

Her statement alludes to Arizona, where Senate Republicans authorized another audit of the 2020 election results. President Joe Biden ultimately carried Arizona, leading to claims of fraud. The Arizona Republic reported that two previous independent audits found no evidence of fraud in Arizona’s election. The current audit is being conducted by Cyber Ninjas, a firm with no experience in elections.

Guynes said the Montrose County clerk’s office has been responding to questions about elections and voting as they are received, and is trying to educate people about processes such as signature verification, key components of the process and how Colorado’s process differs from other states’.

Guynes said anyone who touches voting equipment already has to have had a background check and that third parties are not allowed access to the equipment.

“We’re very guarded with that equipment. For our purposes it (emergency rule) was not necessary,” she said.

In Colorado, people can vote by mail or in person; all ballots undergo rigorous signature verification, and when discrepancies are found, they are kicked back to the elector to cure.

Signature verification takes place in a secured room that the public can only access with an escort. Vote counting equipment is also kept in a secured room. The equipment is connected only to the Statewide Colorado Registration and Election system, a database of voter signatures, which is connected to an internal server encased in the secured room.

Those who vote in person receive a paper printout from the machines, which are not connected to the internet. The state uses encrypted thumb drives that automatically erase when they are removed from equipment; these cannot be placed into another computer for an additional vote.

All counties in the state conduct risk-limiting audits after elections.

Guynes said she is confident in Colorado’s existing election security measures — that if the process is followed correctly, there should not be fraud in Colorado.

“We see no evidence of fraud for Colorado. I can’t speak for other states,” Guynes said,

“As far as we’re concerned for Montrose County … we’re not aware of any reason for her (Griswold) to do this.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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