Ten months into the session and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s year isn’t slowing down.
After almost one year of making strides with voting and election standards, cyber security, campaign finance reform and more, Griswold’s office is now helping to fight against recent news from the Trump Administration that the U.S. will be pulling out of the Universal Postal Union that sets international postal rates.
“You might be wondering why the secretary of state is (interested) in this,” said Griswold, “but the problem is that we have a total of 5 million American citizens living abroad. Pulling out of the UPU has the potential to disenfranchise millions of people who are eligible voters.”
Pulling out of the UPU means that there isn’t a guarantee that foreign countries will send mail back to the United States, said Griswold. There is also no way of telling how much it will cost to send the mail back.
“The administration said they would be negotiating 192 treaties on postage in the next two weeks,” said Griswold. “I’ve been talking with other secretaries of state urging them to take action. We are drafting a letter to the President asking him to negotiate while keeping us in the treaty.”
Griswold assured that Colorado has contingency plans in place and that they are working with county clerks to alert every single voter that they might not be able to send their mail back to the United States. She said there is also an encrypted file share process that would allow for the secure transfer of overseas ballots.
“We shouldn’t put up barriers for people serving overseas,” Griswold said. “Just because someone isn’t here doesn’t mean they don’t have fundamental rights.”
With the 2020 election nearing, Griswold focus has also been on making improvements to the voting and election practices in Colorado.
“I inherited a system that is one of the best,” said Griswold. “But that doesn’t mean you stop, it means you keep going to have the best system possible.”
Girswold says one of the key accomplishments from the 2019 session thus far is the overall increase in polling stations and drop boxes across the state.
“We also removed barriers for Native Americans and for the first time ever at tribal leadership’s request there will be a guaranteed polling station on tribal lands,” said Griswold. “We have also removed barriers for students and will have polling locations on public university campuses depending on the size.”
Another key accomplishment for Griswold is that Colorado is the first state to allow 17-year-olds to vote in the presidential primary and state primary elections if that person will be 18 at the time of the presidential election.
“It’s important to get people registered and participating even in high school,” said Griswold. “We want to get (young people) to engage civically.”
Griswold said that not many Coloradans know that Colorado has two primary elections.
“We have the presidential primary election on Super Tuesday and we also have a second one on June 30 for the Senate races and all the others,” said Griswold. “This means that candidates will be fighting for our early vote in the primaries.”
With cyber security on the minds of many Americans, Griswold said that Colorado remains the safest place to cast a ballot.
“We invest heavily in our cyber security in a way that no other state in the nation does,” said Griswold. “You cannot change the tally results in a Colorado election. Our voting equipment isn’t connected to the internet, a majority of our state uses mail-in ballots to vote.”
Although a secure system, Griswold said her office is still taking the necessary steps to make sure that it remains that way. The office runs risk-limiting audits to determine the certainty that polling results are correct, she also said that Colorado is the first state to require two-step authentication.
Cyber security continues to be a hot topic nationwide, but for Griswold, campaign finance reform has been a continued effort throughout 2019.
“We just passed the biggest money and politics reform in the nation,” said Griswold. “It stops people and organizations from having the ability to funnel their money. They now have to earmark it and are legally mandated to disclose [if they’ve made a campaign donation].”
Griswold said that high amounts of money are dumped into elections statewide. She said that in 2018, $84 million were put into Colorado’s version of SuperPacs. Seventy-five percent was donated above $100,000 and one-third of those donations was about half a million dollars, she said.
“I am passionate about reforming this system,” Griswold said. “I want to make sure that no matter who you are that your voice is heard in [our] democracy.”
Griswold said she has created a team that is dedicated to help enforce these new set of rules and to enforce them so that people with special interests can’t find a way to skirt the law.
Addressing issues that affect the state of Colorado is part of Griswold’s job, but her office also visited Montrose County on Saturday to award the clerk’s office a $43,394 grant to update the electronic reporting system for all of its records.
“Crystal Hudanall is the supervisor of recording and vital statistics for the county and she is the one that submitted a grant,” said Griswold. “We are excited to help the town and to give them this money so that it is easy to find (these types of documents) that affect people’s lives.”
The grant amount is the combined total of two grants under the Electronic Technology Recording Board’s disbursement; grants through the board are funded by surcharges for clerks’ services. Montrose County was most recently awarded money for an indexing project and also for reimbursement for the costs of a new plat machine.
“We are thrilled we had the opportunity to apply for the grant. It’s a lot of paperwork, but we see benefits of receiving the grant,” Montrose County Clerk and Recorder Tressa Guynes said Monday.
As Griswold finishes out the year, she said that she will continue to fight to make sure that everyday people’s voices are heard in Colorado.
Emily Ayers is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.