DENVER — A bill aimed at tightening security around Colorado’s elections passed a big vote on the House floor Wednesday night after several hours of debate.
Senate Bill 22-153, otherwise known as the Internal Election Security Measures bill, is aimed at preventing insider attacks to the state's voting system.
Here’s a quick preview of what the bill would do:
- Require clerks and recorder office employees, election officials and others to take a certification course on things like election law, risk-limiting audits and election security within a set amount of time.
- Prohibit someone from serving as an election official if they have been convicted of any election offense or other crimes like sedition or treason.
- Puts more parameters around who can have access to voting machines and how the machines must be stored.
- Requires 24/7, year-round surveillance of voting machines and stipulates that the footage must be stored for 25 months.
- Bans the imaging of hard drives without the state’s written permission.
- Offers money for the state and counties to assess potential election risks.
- Stipulates that anyone who tampers with or facilitates unauthorized access to electronic voting machines is guilty of a class 5 felony.
- Requires the use of electronic voting equipment in most circumstances and limits the use of hand counts.
- Sets out rules for what would happen if a county won’t certify an abstract of its votes by the deadline.
Many parts of the bill a direct response to the actions allegedly taken by Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters.
“We want to make sure that people have comfort to know that their vote was counted and that it matters," said Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, referencing the Mesa County allegations. "We can't allow this to continue or happen again if we want to have voter confidence."
Peters had not completed the certification course and is facing felony charges for allowing unauthorized people to image the county’s voting machines while the cameras were off. Those images and the passwords eventually ended up online.
“I hope it bolsters voters' confidence that their elections are safe and secure,” Lontine said.
Wednesday night’s floor debate was largely led by Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Chaffee, who has repeatedly questioned the results of the 2020 election. During the discussion, he questioned the security of the voting machines repeatedly and accused China of trying to intervene.
“Elections belong to the people," Hanks said. "These systems are not secure. They’re not secure in any sense of the word, and they ought to be."
Those claims, however, have been repeatedly disproven by election officials on both sides of the aisle from across the country.
Hanks also questioned whether certain parts of the bill will make it more difficult for public scrutiny over elections and defended voting equipment imaging, saying one person’s crime is another’s duty to preserve information.
Other, more moderate Republicans, also questioned the necessity of certain portions of the bill and accused it of centralizing some of the election power with the Secretary of State’s office.
“To me, that’s the question we are here to answer— does this bill do a better job at creating trust, being open and transparent and dedicated to constant improvement? And I would say no,” said Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Larimer. “I feel like it fall short of that. It brings some of that transparency back into a more central location.”
Because of that, McKean worried the bill would mean counties would lose local control and people who live away from Denver would not be able to check in on their election systems.
In the end, both sides agreed that they want the elections to be secure, they just disagreed on how to do it.
Over the course of the night, Republicans suggested a number of amendments — ranging from stating that dead people cannot vote and banning ballot harvesting to requiring voter role audits and removing people from voter roles who respond to jury duty requests saying they don’t live in the area. Democrats contended that those changes weren’t needed and are already in statute.
None of the amendment suggestions passed in the end.
Despite the calls for amendments and filibuster, Democrats remained unwaivered on the bill’s language and were able to pass it just before midnight. It now requires one more vote in the House, which could happen as soon as Friday.