STATE ELECTIONS CHIEF DEFENDS VOTING SYSTEM
Speaking in Boston, Colorado’s secretary of state adamant “that vote’s going to count.”
BOSTON» A Wisconsin lawmaker took the microphone and aimed a pointed question this week at Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams: What is the state doing to protect its voting systems against internet hackers and election manipulation?
It’s become a familiar one for the Republican elections chief, and he told a conference for state lawmakers Monday in Boston what he has tried to tell President Donald Trump and others who continue to question the integrity of the nation’s election system.
“Thanks for the question,” started Williams, a featured speaker at the annual summit for the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. “Colorado is very aggressive at protecting the online voter registration database.”
The exasperation in Williams’ voice is thinly veiled after more than a year of answering questions on the topic, most of them in response to Trump’s accusations, and he doesn’t seem to relish the role.
“The frustrating part is when people hear the election was hacked and what they mean is they hacked the (Democratic National Committee) server for information — that’s very different from saying the elections machines were hacked,” he said in an interview afterward.
“The frustration most of us in the election community have … is if you tell people their vote is at risk of being hacked, they are less likely to vote. And we want people to feel confident when they cast that vote, that vote’s going to count.”
Williams went to great lengths to make his case — offering littleknown details about how his office worked to prevent cyberattacks in the 2016 election that drew 2.9 million votes in Colorado.
But he still faced skeptical questions from lawmakers, many of whom emphasized the need for laws requiring voters to show identification to vote — a proposal Williams favors — and expressed concerns about same-day registration.
On the security question, Williams made one point clear: The voting tabulation machines are not connected to the internet and not easily accessible to hackers. And the voter registration database is closely guarded — with more security than ever in 2016 after the FBI discovered that a Russian hacker accessed the Arizona voter list.
Two teams of three cybersecurity experts from the Colorado National Guard spent Election Day at the secretary of state’s office in Denver monitoring who ac-
cessed the voter registration database and a portal for intelligence-sharing established with help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. A local FBI special agent who focuses on election issues spent the day on the phone with the office focusing on cybersecurity, more so than the traditional voter suppression concerns, said Trevor Timmons, chief information officer at the secretary of state’s office.
The Guard offered the help as part of its training, and Williams accepted.
The state’s voter registration went dark for 29 minutes on Election Day after becoming overloaded with traffic, but Williams said it was not related to a hacking attempt. And he said he implemented new testing procedures to make sure it won’t happen again.
Williams also emphasized Colorado’s conversion to new election machines, now being put in place in 54 of the state’s 64 counties, that creates a paper record. “Even if you say you can hack something, we still have a paper ballot record of how you voted,” he said.
He also defended his decision to comply with a request from the presidential advisory commission on election integrity, noting that he only provided data that is publicly available — and used by the lawmakers in their campaigns.
He cautioned lawmakers not to rush to make the data private in response to the commission’s request, saying it will only create concerns about elections being held “in secret.”
“It’s a key part of transparency and openness,” he said. “It is important that we be able to say, ‘Yes, 1.3 million voted in the election, and these are the people who voted.’ … We are not saying, ‘Trust us, we are the government.’ ”