Secretary of State Jena Griswold stopped in Montrose Tuesday afternoon to discuss various voting topics and election security. (Josue Perez/Montrose Daily Press)

Secretary of State Jena Griswold made her way through the Western Slope this week, stopping in Montrose late Tuesday afternoon to discuss her re-election campaign and voter access information.

Griswold recently filed a lawsuit to remove Mesa County’s Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters from the upcoming election following a security breach in May’s election.

Griswold reviewed the case, explaining that the county clerk’s office “misled” the secretary’s office when state officials were performing routine upgrades to equipment. Peter’s office claimed someone in the election room was an authorized employee who wasn’t actually permitted in the room.

“The only people allowed in the room are people who have been background checked and are an employee of my office. So the clerk allowed a third party who was not an employee, that we do not believe was background checked, into a secure upgrade,” said Griswold of the ongoing situation.

Mesa County already replaced the 41 Dominion voting machines required to be swapped out in case they were compromised. Griswold added that the individual took the passwords specific to that county, as well as copies of the equipment hard drive from the server, and posted them online.

The judge overseeing the case said Tuesday that there will be a decision before mid-October, just in time for the Nov. 2 election.

The Secretary of State department’s priorities are currently focused on “protecting democracy” and safe elections.

“Since I’ve been Secretary of State, I was able to lead the largest democracy reform in the nation in 2019, and a lot of those reforms have led to increased access for Colorado voters,” Griswold continued. “We’ve increased drop boxes by 55% and added 42 new voting centers.”

Voting access and education play a significant role in the secretary’s platform goals. Since her installment in 2019, Griswold has guaranteed access to either a drop box or voting center on all public universities and tribal lands, as well as automatic voter registration.

The department recently passed various legislation during the last legislative session, with bipartisan support, to increase cybersecurity and access for election season.

“So we just keep on moving forward and making sure we’re pushing back on the attacks on democracy that we’re currently seeing,” Griswold said.

Fighting misinformation is a primary concern for the secretary, which she says has reached a troubling point, particularly following the Mesa County lawsuit. She cited the 2020 election as a major success in Colorado, with a record voter turnout than in any election in the state’s history.

The record was underscored more by its occurrence during the pandemic on a nationwide level, with higher turnouts from both Democrats and Republicans. Griswold noted that Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for the Department of Homeland Security through 2020 called the election the “most secure in our history.”

“We’ve seen across the nation this year 500 bills to suppress the vote,” said Griswold. “We’ve seen threats against election officials and just in general, but predominantly women secretaries of state and election workers across the nation.”

Griswold referred to recent threats of violence and death and her denied request for private security. She clarified that the Ethics Commission didn’t say she shouldn’t have security, but that the state should pay for the expense. For now, the department is working with stakeholders on a solution that will “make sure elected officials can do their jobs,” as well as potentially include legislation next year related to security. The Secretary aims to lead the charge to eliminate barriers, old and new, so another generation of women can be elected to more offices.

These barriers extend to everyone, though, regardless of rich or poor or skin color, the Secretary prioritizes voting access. As someone who grew up in rural Colorado with a mother who worked two jobs, Griswold is personally invested in voting access.

The secretary’s office is currently working on a “pretty big” legislative agenda that has not yet been announced, said Griswold, adding that they will continue to fight to ensure open access with increased security. She described Colorado as the gold standard for both, her office additionally establishing a unit to combat foreign disinformation in 2020 that is being considered a model for other states to replicate.

Colorado has 16 forms of accepted identification under its voter ID law, including verified signatures on the back of mailed ballots.

“We have a voter verified paper ballot, which means that a hacker can’t hack the election,” said Griswold. “We do something afterwards called a Bipartisan Risk Limiting Audit to ensure that the tabulation is correct and we can bind to a statistical degree of certainty that the election was correct and that’s why we have such high confidence.”

The secretary’s office continuously works with all counties to ensure they have resources needed, according to the state official. The department works with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the counties, as well as hosting events that simulate election disasters with several counties in attendance.

Griswold anticipates more “insider threats” across the nation, adding her concern for individuals elected to oversee democracy deciding to “risk the integrity of an election system.”

We need election officials who believe in facts and democracy, in the will of the voter and who will do the right thing regardless of the outcome of the race, Griswold said.

Griswold is up for re-election on Nov. 2, 2022.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.