DENVER – Colorado Democrats introduced a bill Monday that aims to shore up election security further in Colorado in the face of alleged security compromises in Mesa and Elbert counties by the clerk and recorders in those counties.
SB22-153, called the Colorado Election Security Act, is sponsored by Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver. It is a measure that Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has pushed for in the wake of the alleged breaches of election equipment in Mesa and Elbert counties, which state and federal investigators are looking into.
“Several individuals, including elected officials, are alleged to have illegally access voting systems, and they continue to pose a very real threat to our democracy,” Lontine said. “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.”
The bill is expected to get its first committee hearing Tuesday afternoon in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee.
The measure, as introduced, would strengthen some existing security laws and add new ones to try to better keep people from potentially compromising election systems, including making accessing voting equipment without proper authorization, or publishing confidential election information like system passwords, a class 5 felony.
Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on 10 counts, including multiple felonies, with respect to her alleged tampering with election equipment last year. According to investigation results released so far, someone turned off the cameras at the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office ahead of a trusted build of the elections system, made copies of hard drive images, and leaked passwords for the voting system, which were posted on Telegram and the right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit.
Peters’ deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, was also indicted on several counts tied to the same incidents.
And in February, Griswold sued Elbert County Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder asking for more information about the alleged illegal copying of the county’s voting system hard drives and who is in possession of the copies.
Supporters of the newly introduced Senate bill say it is an attempt to push back at the election conspiracy theories that have permeated facets of the Republican party in Colorado and across the country. Just hours after the measure was introduced, Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Fremont County, spent time again talking about election conspiracy theories in the House chambers.
He is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, which also includes Schroeder, filed last November against Griswold which claims the election software used by Colorado counties in 2020 was not properly certified. Griswold’s office has discredited the claims in the lawsuit, saying they were “based on multiple unfounded election conspiracy theories.”
In a statement Monday, Griswold said passage of the Colorado Election Security Act would further strengthen the voting security requirements.
“The vast majority of our election officials and workers do a great job. But we must recognize the few who have taken actions to undermine our systems,” Griswold said Monday. “…I don’t think we were thinking about insider threats before Mesa [County]. We have lots of safeguards, but the idea that someone elected to uphold elections would try to destroy them from within was shocking to the election community in Colorado.”
The bill has the support of the Colorado County Clerks Association, whose president, Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz, said the measure was “important to harden our election security posture against insider threats.”
The bill, as introduced, would do the following if passed into law:
- Prohibit a county from creating or asking someone else to create an image of a hard drive of any voting system without written consent from the Department of State.
- Require voting systems be kept in a location where a key card is needed for access and which is under constant video surveillance.
- Make it a class 5 felony for someone who is not authorized to do so to access electronic voting equipment or election reporting systems without authorization, and also makes it a class 5 felony if an authorized person publishes or facilitates the publishing of election passwords or other confidential voting system information.
- Allow an election official to file a district court petition alleging that someone charged with obeying the election code has or is about to commit a breach or neglect of duty.
- Require designated election officials and other employees who work with elections to complete a certification program on elections and specific courses, including voter registration, coordinated elections, mail ballot processes, systems testing, risk-limiting audits and election security.
- Make changes to when someone is ineligible to serve as the designated election official in a county.
- Prohibit election officials from knowingly or recklessly making false statements “for the purposes of promoting misinformation and disinformation related to the administration of elections.”
- Prohibit anyone from having any contact with voting equipment or devices that are to be used in election.
- Add whistleblower protections for people who report election law breaches.
- Prohibit any elected official or candidate for office in a political subdivision with more than 100,000 people from accessing a room with voting equipment if they are not accompanied by at least one other person who is authorized to have access to that room.
- Create a grant program for counties to comply with the requirements of the bill if they cannot afford to do so on their own.
- Call for district and supreme courts, if necessary, to expedite enforcement of the election code when actions are brought in a district court.
“If you do these things, and you abuse your position of power as an election administrator, this bill increases penalties to hold you accountable,” said Fenberg. “…I don’t think it’s too much to asked to say if you’re running our elections, you can’t lie about elections.”
Peters and Knisley are both due back in court at the end of May after they made their first appearances last week and posted bond after spending a night in jail.