In town this weekend for the Club 20 debates, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams stopped by the Sentinel Friday to make a pitch for an endorsement.
The Sentinel won’t make endorsements until closer to when ballots hit mailboxes in October, but the record that Williams is running on is certainly worth mentioning at a time when election security is foremost on the minds of voters anticipating the midterm elections.
“Colorado has been called the safest place to vote in the country,” Williams told the newspaper editorial board. “There are at least two sources for this. One is the Washington Post and the other is Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen. There’s not much that the Washington Post and Trump’s security secretary agree on, but the fact that Colorado is the safest is one of those few things.”
Indeed, Nielsen told an audience of Colorado election officials that other states could benefit from Colorado’s preparedness. “We’d love to continue to use you as an example of what other states can adopt,” she said Thursday as part of a cyber-security and disaster exercise in Denver.
When Williams became secretary of state in 2014, he began a process of trying out new voting systems. Mesa County was part of that pilot program. In the 2015 election, the pilot sites tested four different vendor systems. As a result, Williams’ office required Colorado clerks to use a voter-verifiable paper ballot. Even if voters use machines, the system spits out a paper ballot, eliminating reliance on computer memory cards to store electronic votes.
Paper ballots allowed Colorado to implement the nation’s first “risk-eliminating audit” — a process in which randomly selected paper ballots are compared to the record of votes cast by a bipartisan team of judges.
“Mesa County and every other county in the state passed that risk-limiting audit,” Williams said. “The fact that I can say with statistical certainty that no one changed any votes means I can say that nobody in Moscow or Beijing or anywhere else changed a vote in Colorado.”
Nielsen’s department wants all 50 states to conduct postelection risk-limiting audits by 2020. Safeguarding elections remains one of Homeland Security’s biggest priorities, though Nielsen said no threats have been detected so far that match the scale of the 2016 effort by Russia to interfere in the election.
“Part of the Russians’ attempt wasn’t just to influence the election, but to diminish confidence in the election,” Williams said. “My job is to have systems in place so that Colorado voters have the assurance that their vote is going to count.”
Colorado also has the highest percentage of registered voters in the country, Williams said. About 85 percent of eligible people are registered to vote thanks to system interfaces with state agencies that automatically register people unless they decline.
These are excellent things for Colorado to lead the nation in. Now if we can just make some headway on per-pupil funding for schools.