Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams received a round of applause from county clerks and their staffs when he said he opposed the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to classify election systems as “critical infrastructure.”
“While we appreciate the support and the assistance we receive, I join many secretaries of state in saying that is not something the federal government needs to take over,” Williams said, in his his address to the Colorado County Clerks Association at its winter conference in Colorado Springs last week.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams received a round of applause from county clerks and their staffs when he said he opposed the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to classify
He referred to a DHS decision in the waning days of President Obama’s administration because of security concerns over elections.
The secretary discussed a variety of topics, from 24-hour ballot boxes to repeated hacking claims raised during the 2016 election to two voter initiatives that will change how Colorado conducts primary elections and presidential primary elections. He urged clerks to keep in touch with their lawmakers, as elections issues will be debated during the ongoing session.
“We will continue to provide the support you need to make sure your elections go off well,” Williams said. “That’s my commitment to you as your secretary.”
The conference kicked off Wednesday and concluded Friday, with presentations by various SOS staffers, including elections director Judd Choate and information technology director Trevor Timmons.
The theme of this year’s conference after last year’s wild election season was “Rejuvenate. Recharge. Relax.” In between seminars on elections and motor vehicles and other topics, clerks and their staffs painted, hiked, performed yoga and played trivia.
Williams addressed the continued conversation in 2016 that the elections were somehow rigged.
“I have never been interviewed so many times to say exactly the same thing as I was during this election,” he said, repeating comments to reporters. “‘Our elections systems are not connected to the Internet. You cannot hack them remotely. This is true in all 64 counties in this state. They are kept in locked rooms. They are kept with security locks. They have security seals on them.'”
Williams said that new clerks sometimes question all the security procedures, and that his staff continually hammers the point of not using “password” for a password or logging them on the Internet under “My Passwords.”
“But we do it so we can tell people our elections are secure,” he said. “Could you if you were Tom Cruise in ‘Mission Impossible’ break in at night … under the surveillance cameras with a mask of somebody else, using a cut off finger for a fingerprint? I mean, yeah, maybe.”
He also pointed out that the Department of State’s crack IT staff, led by Timmons, is available around the clock to clerks, even if the computer problem involves areas the SOS doesn’t have jurisdiction over, such as Motor Vehicles or Recording.
“If you get hacked, if you get held for ransom, contact our team so we can help you,” Williams said.
He urged clerks to consider installing ballot drop boxes, which are so popular in some counties that’s how voters return more than 70 percent of the ballots. He said they are especially beneficial for voters whose work schedule prevents them from dropping off their ballots at voter service and polling centers, which is another issue under review.
The Bipartisan Election Advisory Commission that Williams formed last summer is reviewing changing how many centers counties are required to have, especially the first week of early voting.
Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane at a meeting earlier this month said so few people voted in the first week that the cost per ballot that week was $52 because the counties must provide equipment and judges.
Williams also addressed two election-related ballot measures that voters passed in November. Proposition 107 created a presidential primary and allows unaffiliated voters to participate without choosing a party. More worrisome, he said, is Proposition No. 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections without choosing a party. Critics predict the new voting method will be costly and confusing.
The secretary said when he appeared before the Joint Budget Committee he requested that the state help pay for the presidential primary because there will be no other local elections on the ballot to help defray costs — counties, municipalities, school and special districts and such reimburse counties for their portion of issues on a ballot.
“This is not my biggest concern right now because it is a few years away … 108 is coming up much more quickly,” he said.
“There were some folks who said you don’t have to worry about that, it’s a year and a half from now,” Williams said. “How many of you walked into your commissioners’ office the day before the election to tell them how much it was going to cost?”
He added that the state is working on rules and regulations so clerks will better know what to expect for the 2018 primary.
The association also elected new officers. Logan County Clerk Pam Bacon succeeded Crane as president, while Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell is the president election.
Colorado Springs also will be the site of the 2018 and 2019 winter conferences.