Griswold: Secretary of State office’s job is to ‘run a great election’
Mesa County mess, battling disinformation are priorities
Perhaps the biggest part of a secretary of state’s job is coordinating elections. That job is usually complicated, but it’s more than that these days for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
On a swing through the Western Slope this week, Griswold took some time to stop by the Vail Daily to talk about election integrity, battling misinformation and, of course, the current curious case of Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters.
Griswold earlier this month replaced Peters as Mesa County’s chief election official. Peters is accused of allowing an unauthorized person access to the county’s secure voting machines and leaking passwords to those machines. The allegations are being investigated by the District Attorney for Mesa County, the FBI and Griswold’s office. Two other employees in the office have been barred from election work.
Peters remains the elected clerk and recorder, but the county’s election this year will be administered by former Mesa County Clerk and current Mesa County Treasurer Sheila Reiner, a Republican, to oversee the coming election. The Mesa County Commissioners, maintaining they have the authority to appoint an election supervisor, have picked former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, another Republican, for the job.
In a Tuesday interview, Griswold said Williams and Reiner are currently working well together. An Aug. 25 Denver Post story reported that the Mesa County Commissioners are saying the same thing.
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“It’s not about politics; it’s about residents having a great election,” Griswold said.
‘Proud’ of state system
Griswold said she’s proud of the election system in Colorado, which is run by the county clerks in all the state’s 64 counties and administered by the state.
“We’re considered the gold standard of election access and security,” Griswold said, noting that each county has bipartisan audits of balloting. In addition, no one person has “all the keys to the castle,” Griswold said, referring to security passwords.
Griswold, who was elected in 2018, said ensuring election integrity has become more difficult over the past couple of years.
“Confidence is getting worse,” Griswold said, adding that the inside security breach alleged in Mesa County may be the first of others to come.
Griswold, a Democrat, said many Republicans running for Congress in 2022 are “spreading the lie” that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
That allegation has led some to threaten election officials around the country. Griswold said people in her office have been threatened.
Locally, Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien said neither she nor her employees have been threatened. But, she added, she’s aware of threats against state employees and other county clerks.
Beyond partisan allegations of election irregularities, Griswold said there’s been foreign interference in elections.
In a March 16, story, the Voice of America news service reported that an unclassified report found Russia, Iran and “a handful of other countries and groups,” sought to influence the outcome of the 2020 election. None of those efforts involved attempts to compromise voting system, instead focusing on misinformation.
Griswold said her office has set up a counter-disinformation office called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyberunit.
That office has set up monitoring of foreign disinformation, Griswold said. Countermeasures include responding on social media to disinformation.
Griswold added that there was “high” interaction with the social media efforts.
“People were hungry for the information,” Griswold said.
Another part of the state effort is alerting people where to get trusted information, Griswold said, adding that the same efforts are being used to disseminate information about the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s important to not think the loudest voices are the most voices,” she said.
“We won’t be intimidated,” she added. “We want to ensure that every eligible voter can have their voice heard.”