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Wayne Williams: Colorado elections run smoothly, with a little help from the National Guard

Author: Ernest Luning - November 10, 2017 - Updated: November 10, 2017

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National Guardsmen and staffers with the Colorado secretary of state's office monitor network performance data at an election security center at the secretary's office on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Courtesy Colorado Secretary of State via Facebook)
National Guardsmen and staffers with the Colorado secretary of state’s office monitor network performance data at an election security center at the secretary’s office on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Courtesy Colorado Secretary of State via Facebook)

Colorado’s 2017 election went off without a hitch, Secretary of State Wayne Williams said Thursday — a remarkable feat considering nearly half of the state’s counties were using new election equipment — but if any problems had arisen, the National Guard was on hand to help resolve them.

“We just believe it’s important to have that added level of security and support,” Williams said, noting that since last year the Department of Homeland Security and Colorado National Guard have helped make sure the state’s election runs smoothly and safeguarded against any threats.

“Overall, this election went very well from the standpoint of administration,” Williams continued. “The clerks and their election judges were able to ensure that everyone who wanted to vote was able to do so. The fact that it went well was particularly significant because half the counties are using new machines, which provide for a more accurate adjudication of voting and a paper record.”

Through Thursday, 1,190,953 ballots had been received by election officials, out of 3,233,532 sent to registered voters for the off-year coordinated election, according to the secretary of state’s office. While there wasn’t a statewide measure on the ballot, for the first time since 2009, voters elected mayors, city council members and school board members, and decided ballot questions in more than 100 municipalities and school districts.

The secretary of state’s election systems security team trains regularly with the National Guard and also works with Regis University’s cybersecurity program, said Rich Schliep, the secretary of state’s chief information security officer.

“We set up a working group and train ahead of time, so if anything were to ever happen, they would be familiar with our networks and able to respond,” he said. “On Election Day, we set up a security operations center at the secretary of state’s office with volunteer staff and the National Guard, where we can look at any issue and watch the network.”

National Guardsmen review data at an election security center at the Colorado secretary of state's office on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Courtesy Colorado Secretary of State via Facebook)
National Guardsmen review data at an election security center at the Colorado secretary of state’s office on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Courtesy Colorado Secretary of State via Facebook)

Election officials have been on high alert since last year, when DHS informed states that hackers had attempted to breach some election systems. Just months ago, federal officials revealed that Colorado was one of 21 states that had been targeted during the 2016 election by Russian hackers — but stressed that the hackers didn’t get into the state’s electronic voter data system.

Schliep said the security team monitors network performance around the state — county clerks are in constant communication with the secretary of state’s central computers to check voters registration and perform other election tasks — and can respond quickly if a network issue crops up.

“We did not see anything besides the same light activity we see every day,” Schliep said. “We didn’t have any network issues or outages or any cyberecurity events.”

In the event of an emergency, he added, the whole operation can move seamlessly to alternate operation centers maintained Denver and the state’s information technology office.

At 36.8 percent, turnout was up slightly this year from the 2015 off-year election, when 35.7 percent of voters returned ballots. Six of Colorado’s 64 counties — Cheyenne, Dolores, Grand, Hinsdale, Mineral and Washington — didn’t hold elections because there were no contested races within their borders. Records show voters flock to the polls in much higher numbers in even-year elections, when federal, state and county offices are on the ballot.

Nearly as many Democrats cast ballots this year as Republicans, a big change from typical off-year elections, when GOP voters participate at higher rates. According to ballot return figures released Thursday, Republicans returned just 7,000 more ballots than Democrats out of 1.19 million total votes.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


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