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Three counties are now facing questions and investigations by the state over election security

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Posted at 7:09 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 21:20:52-05

DENVER — A third Colorado clerk and recorder is being investigated by the Secretary of State’s Office for a possible breach in election security protocols.

Douglas County Clerk and Reporter Merlin Klotz has been asked to answer questions from Secretary of State Jena Griswold about some images he allegedly took of election equipment servers.

The investigation comes roughly seven months after Griswold opened an investigation into Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters for allegedly allowing an unauthorized person to access election equipment, and less than a month after an investigation was opened looking into Elbert County Clerk and Reporter Dallas Schroeder for allegedly giving copies of election system hard drive images to two attorneys.

“There is one major distinction. In Mesa County, the county clerk compromise voting equipment trying to prove conspiracies. We do not have evidence that that happened in Elbert County or Douglas County. What we are investigating is a breach of election security protocol,” Griswold said.

The Secretary of State says she has no evidence to suspect, at this point, that the Douglas County election equipment was compromised, but she wants to figure out what happened and why.

Former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who was hired to supervise Mesa County’s elections temporarily, says clerks are allowed to make copies of election systems for a backup under the law. However, they are not allowed to give those copies out to anyone who is unauthorized.

“So one of the questions that has to be asked at any time that someone acquires an election record is are they authorized to have it,” Williams said.

So long as no one was given a copy or image of the election system who wasn’t supposed to have it, Williams isn’t sure that Klotz actually did anything wrong.

“It is my hope that they have followed the law, they have kept the copies, like all election records, secure. If you don't, there's some risks,” Williams said.

Lawrence Norden, senior director of the elections and government program at the Brennan Center, has been paying attention to what’s happening in Colorado with the various investigations. He says while Colorado’s elections are the gold standard, all these instances highlight a renewed need to look at election security protocols.

“With these recent things that happen in Colorado and elsewhere, we do need to double-down and are thinking about how to protect from insider threats,” Norden said. “There's clearly a concerted effort going on to get election officials to provide unauthorized access to the systems. That's the lesson from Colorado.”

The good news, Norden says, is that there are already a lot of security measures in place to protect votes. However, there is always a risk that someone gaining access to these systems could result in a machine malfunction or tampering.

There are tests the machines go through to make sure they are working properly, though, so Norden believes the bigger danger is that these instances can undermine confidence in our elections.

“My big concern in all of this is that it's another avenue to make people doubt the integrity of the election system,” he said.

Election law attorney Mario Nicolais is also worried about the effects these instances could have on our democracy.

“It's maybe not irony so much as a self-fulfilling prophecy, that you're talking about people, who are saying that we have an election problem, are the ones who are creating the problems,” he said.

Nicolais made it clear that he’s not supportive of everything Griswold has done in her tenure as secretary of state. He believes there are times when she has been too partisan for the office she holds. In this instance, however, even with three Republican clerks being investigated, Nicolais believes Griswold is well within her lane to investigate and question these clerks.

He is also worried about these three instances snowballing to cause not only some Republicans to question election integrity but everyone else as well.

“This is dangerous. This is the kind of thing that we cannot have in our state, and calling these election officials to task for that because otherwise, we truly are bordering on the brink of a very dangerous situation,” Nicolais said.

Douglas County’s clerk now has one week to respond to the Secretary of State’s questions.