Colorado SOS participates in Homeland Security election exercise

Two Colorado Secretary of state staffers, Trevor Timmons, left, and Rich Schliep, right, flank two Dominion Voting Systems staffers, Donetta Davidson and Kay Stimson, after a Department of Homeland Security tabletop exercise Monday. (SOS photo)

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office and other agencies participated Monday in a virtual exercise aimed at election preparedness.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sponsored the tabletop exercise with some 20 states as the general election looms and concerns continue about election security issues.

“They posed scenarios and asked, ‘How would you approach this?’” said Trevor Timmons, chief information officer for the Colorado Secretary of State.

Timmons and other SOS officials, along with members of the Colorado National Guard, the Governor’s Office of Information and Technology and DHS officials based in Colorado participated in the table top from the Secretary of State’s conference room.

Additionally,  Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, recognized as a leader in election security, appeared today on a national public radio program to talk about election security.

“You have to have processes in place that people can have confidence in. That’s why Colorado has some of the highest voter participation rates in the country,” he told The Takeway.

Secretary Williams invited two officials from Dominion Voting Systems — Donetta Davidson and Kay Stimson — to participate in the tabletop because the company’s voting machines are in 59 of 64 Colorado counties.

“It’s very important for Dominion to be involved in these cyber security talks,” Williams said. “Counties run elections.”

Colorado’s new equipment allows for paper ballots and post-election risk-limiting audits, part of why the state is lauded for its security. The Washington Post on May 10 explored “how Colorado became the safest state to cast a vote.”

Davidson is a former Colorado secretary of state who once served as a U.S. Election Assistance Commissioner. She works part time for Dominion as a public policy resource. Stimson is the former communications director for the National Association of Secretaries of State  and now is the vice president for governmental affairs for Dominion.

“I thought it was really good,” Davidson said of the virtual exercise. “We picked up some new ideas. Everybody learned something.”

This is the fourth tabletop exercise focused on election practices in which Colorado has joined, but the first national table top exercise. “For states where this was the first event, I think it was really enlightening,” Timmons said.

Lt. Col. Isaac Martinez with the Colorado National Guard said the respect other states and security experts have for Colorado was apparent when the SOS’ chief information security officer, Rich Schliep, fielded questions as part of the table top.

“The staff that is engaged for the secretary of state is well developed. There are some very knowledgeable people and you can tell they are respected throughout the community. Every time Colorado spoke, everyone was intrigued,” Martinez said.

The National Guard has had a relationship with the Secretary of State’s and the state OIT office for about five years while doing exercises on critical infrastructure. The Colorado National Guard was present at the 2017 off-year-election, the 2016 general election, and will be back at the SOS offices on Nov. 6.

“Our relationship,” Martinez said, “has been based on trust.”