Last week, ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine spoke with Brandi Bantz, director of elections for Mesa County, Colorado, and the Mesa County designated election official (DEO) for the 2022 elections, on the latest episode of Ballots and Bagels. In May, a Mesa County Judge granted the Colorado Secretary of State’s (SOS) request to appoint Bantz DEO after barring Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from serving as the DEO through the end of 2022, the second time Peters has been removed from this role. The decision stemmed from a January lawsuit filed by the Colorado Secretary of State after Peters said she would not comply with the secretary of state’s conditions for Peters to oversee elections again. Peters has been indicted by a grand jury in relation to her alleged tampering with election equipment last year.
Brandi and David talked about preparing for and administering Colorado’s June 28th primary, strengthening the security of electoral infrastructure against both internal and external actors, and improving trust in future elections.
Listen to the full interview above. Below are the key takeaways:
Establishing A Strong Process for Tracking the Movement and Control of Election Equipment and Materials Is Vital for Securing Election Systems and Mitigating Insider Threats
Despite having one of the most secure election systems in the country, Colorado found itself in the run up to the primary fending off efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of its elections by election deniers and other bad actors. The state has forwarded more than 500 threats against election workers to the United States Department of Justice Elections Threats Task Force since it was established last year; investigated multiple insider threats against election security from local election officials, in addition to the Peter situation; and spent countless hours combatting unfounded election fraud allegations from people running for higher office in Colorado.
Despite these challenges, Colorado’s primary was safe, secure, and accurate, thanks in large part to the work of state and local election officials.
In May, Colorado adopted two new laws aimed at protecting the state’s elections and election workers: HB22-1273, which makes it a crime to threaten election officials or publish their personal information online to harass them, and SB22-153, which requires new security measures for election systems. The latter legislation, which codified much of a directive the Colorado SOS issued in February, was inspired, in part, by Tina Peters’ case.
Bantz touted these legislative efforts, noting how some of the requirements in the legislation—such as requiring 24-hour video surveillance of voting system components and the installation of key-card access for rooms where equipment is kept—can help protect against security breaches and inspire confidence more broadly by showing “when we [election workers] entered the room and when we exited.”
And Mesa County has gone beyond what is required by this new legislation to further improve its security practices, Bantz shared. For example, Colorado’s new legislation prohibits most elected officials from having access to or being present in a room with voting equipment without at least one other authorized person present. Mesa County extended this buddy system to nearly all election tasks—a step similar to a recent recommendation from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “There’s a number of processes in place to have a chain [of custody procedures] to see who was where, and when,” Bantz explains. All these measures, “give people the added sense of security that not just one person can be in the back, touching election equipment.”
- States that have not already done so should consider adopting legislation to mitigate insider threats. Such legislation should aim to establish minimum levels of physical security needed to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive election data from voting equipment, voting systems, and other IT systems used by election officials.
- State and local election officials should seek to take additional steps that enhance their election security and protect their IT systems. This can include ensuring that voting equipment, voting systems, and other sensitive IT systems are always in locked rooms that log visits, have continuous video surveillance, and are accessible to two or more authorized people at a time.
Transparency and Verification Are Crucial to Restoring Trust in Elections
Colorado has one of the safest election models. Despite this, Colorado found itself at the forefront of disinformation campaigns and sabotage efforts following the 2020 election. “I can confidently say we do have the most accurate and secure elections,” Bantz says. “But people are being fed information that is just not true, and it’s really hurting…It’s causing doubt in people’s minds.”
To restore election trust, Bantz emphasized the importance of transparency and showing people how the election process works. “I can tell people over and over again what our processes are,” explains Bantz. “But seeing is more believing, than just listening to me tell you.” Mesa County now opens its facilities for comprehensive tours for new voters and other interested parties that “start at the front office from voter registration and walk them through each step, so they could see how we handle things in the election department,” says Bantz.
For voters who may harbor doubts about the election process, Mesa County also takes time to show them their transaction history in a state-wide voter database, which shows voters their previous voting history and the election worker(s) associated with their previous transactions. This transparency and confirmation “helps [voters] understand and realize that the misinformation that they are given is not accurate,” Bantz says. “They leave with confidence.”
- Election offices should continue to seek ways to make their voting processes as transparent as possible—such as by opening their facilities for educational tours or making voter records more accessible—without compromising the security of their election equipment, processes, and workers.
- Election officials should not be afraid to acknowledge when their offices have previously made mistakes, particularly when those mistakes have served as an impetus for subsequent improvements to their election operations. Such efforts not only improve the security of an election office but can give confidence to those the office serves.