Secretary Williams, others, concentrate on election security in Philly

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, center front, with some of the nation’s secretaries of state, including Colorado’s Wayne Williams, back right. She spoke to the National Association of Secretaries of State about election security at NASS’ conference in Philadelphia on July 14.

Election security once again dominated the conversation — and Colorado once again proved to be a leader — when the National Association of Secretaries of State gathered in Philadelphia for its summer conference.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams outlined for the group the steps his office has taken when it comes to cybersecurity — moves that that led Colorado to be named a finalist for the fourth time in five years for a NASS award that recognizes innovation.

“Elections only work if people trust them,” Williams said.

Four Coloradans with a seat at a high-powered elections security meeting in Philadelphia; Judd Choate, elections director for the Colorado secretary of state, Sarah Ball Johnson, clerk for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Amber McReynolds, elections director for Denver.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the director of the Department of Homeland Security, reinforced to secretaries of state and election officials that one of her top priorities has been to enhance the resilience of the nation’s election infrastructure.

“As I see it,” she said, “election security is national security.”

And the day before NASS kicked off its conference, Williams and other members of the Election Infrastructure Subsector Government Coordinating Council met at the same Philadelphia hotel to discuss the security of election systems.

The group oversees how the Department of Homeland Security works with state and local jurisdictions to implement its designation of elections systems as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

“At one point there were 27 people around the table — including members of DHS, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and other national groups – four of those 27 were from Colorado,” Williams said. “Colorado’s commitment to election security is so strong.”

The other Coloradans at that meeting were Judd Choate, the elections director for the Colorado Secretary of State, Sarah Ball Johnson, the clerk in Colorado Springs, and Amber McReynolds, Denver’s elections director.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is flanked by North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, left, and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, right, at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Philadelphia. (SOS photo)

In her speech to NASS, Nielsen mentioned Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“There was a lot of confusion about what happened, with many unfortunately trying to politicize the issue. Mischaracterized, misunderstood and blatantly false information was floating around, but the fact is — and this bears repeating — no votes were altered,” she said.

“What we did see, though, is without a question concerning: Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, second from left, reads through documents at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference. To his right is SOS Jay Ashcroft of Missouri. To his left are West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. (SOS photo)

Williams has reiterated that sentiment in the months since the election. A headline in Colorado Politics in January 2017 read: “Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams: Russia didn’t tinker with the vote even if it interfered  with election.”

Nielsen told the secretaries that her agency’s focus is on “supporting you by sharing actionable intelligence information, providing technical assistance, developing and sharing best practices and guidance, and maturing our partnerships to enhance our collective security efforts.”

Afterward, she met with the National Association of Secretaries of State’s executive board, of which Williams is a member.

“In the last year we have made significant progress in our relationship with Homeland Security on these important cyber issues.  In Colorado we have availed ourselves of resources from DHS and continue to lead the way in protecting Coloradans’ right to vote,” Secretary Williams said. “That’s why The Washington Post  wrote about ‘How Colorado became the safest state to cast a vote.'”

Mindy Moretti of electionLine, Trevor Timmons of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office and Jennifer Morrell, formerly the elections director for the Arapahoe County clerk and now with Democracy Fund, at the closing reception for the National Association of Secretaries of State summer conference in Philadelphia. (SOS photo)

Two workshops at the conference were moderated by Coloradans. Gary Zimmerman, chief of staff for the Colorado Secretary of State, oversaw “Ways to Work with the Small Business Administration.” Jennifer Morrell, the former elections director for Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane and now with Democracy Fund, moderated “Post-Elections Audits Shared Practices.”

In addition, the National Association of State Election Directors, or NASED, meets at the same time as NASS. Trevor Timmons, the information technology director for the Colorado Secretary of State, sat on a NASED panel “UOCAVA Ballot Delivery and Return” along with David Beirne, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program for the Department of Defense, and Justus Wendland, HAVA administrator for Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Wendland had just been in Denver to observe the Colorado Secretary of State’s risk-limiting audit following the June 26 primary election.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, the new president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. (SOS photo)

Other workshop topics included trademarks, U.S. Supreme Court cases affecting elections and business ID theft.

The new president of NASS, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat, reappointed Williams, a Republican, to the executive board. Williams, who was the secretary, is now an at-large member of the board.

“I’ve seen firsthand how Wayne Williams has worked across the aisle to bring people together,” Condos said in making the announcement on Monday, the final day of the conference.

“Wayne works with both Democrats and Republicans to protect our nation’s elections and to ensure the right to vote. That why I asked him to serve again on the NASS executive board.”

In addition, Colorado Secretary of State staffer Deanna Maiolo became vice president of the Administrative Codes and Registers section of NASS. She has been a member of the group for the last seven years.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and staffer Deanna Maiolo with life-sized statues at Signers’ Hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during the National Association of Secretaries of State Conference. (SOS photo)

During the conference, the secretaries and their staffs visited some national landmarks in Philadelphia, the birthplace of America.

At one event they posed with life-sized statues of signers and framers of the U.S. Constitution.

The National Association of Secretaries of State gathers twice a year: in the winter in Washington, D.C., and a different location every summer. Williams will be hosting the 2020 NASS summer convention in Colorado Springs.

Founded in 1904, NASS is the oldest, nonpartisan professional organization of public officials in the U.S.