Faced with ‘insider threats’, Colorado steps up training program for county clerks and election workers

An election security bill signed by Gov. Jared Polis last week codifies the certification program curriculum that county clerks and election workers must follow, a move that leaders hope will ensure the expertise of court clerks and contribute to the professionalization of the industry.

“These certification programs really help build the knowledge, skills and abilities of people who work in elections. In Colorado, this is the next step for that,” said Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association in an interview.

SB22-153 was touted by lawmakers as an attempt to limit “insider threats” to the election, such as the one Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters allegedly posed by facilitating a security breach in the Elections Office of his county in 2021. The law includes provisions such as physical security requirements and restrictions on who can access voting materials.

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It also enshrines certain certification program programs in law and requires clerks to complete the program, which is administered by the office of the Secretary of State, within six months of taking office or before they supervise their first election. Before, they had to pass the program in two years.

Specifically, the law mandates courses in general election law, the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, professional development, voter registration and list maintenance, accessibility, coordinated elections, voting by correspondence and the in-person voting process, testing of voting systems, risk-limiting surveys and audits. These courses are the “floor, not the ceiling” of what should be offered, Crane said. Many topics are covered in the existing curriculum.

The CCA played a role in shaping the legislation and ensuring that the clerks’ priorities were met.

“After what we saw in Mesa County, we saw someone who I would classify as a weak information clerk fall prey to half-truths and lies about the electoral systems that existed, not knowing that she could completely invalidate those claims on her own,” he said.

Mesa County Clerk and Colorado Secretary of State candidate Tina Peters attends the Western Conservative Summit in Aurora on June 4, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Peters has frequently spread the baseless claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen due to voter fraud, which has been debunked by experts, courts and election officials from both parties. The Republican, running for secretary of state, is a hero among conspiracy theorists who believe there is widespread voter and voter fraud in Colorado.

“It was a mind-blowing moment – ​​like, how could she not know that?” says Crane. “And that’s when we looked at requiring people to be certified before they held their first election. We don’t think it’s unfair to expect people to know their job before they do it.

For most clerks, certification is not an issue.

“I started taking some courses after winning my elections. The reason I started taking them so early is because I found the content so helpful and valuable,” Boulder County Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, a Democrat, told Newsline in an interview. She says she has taken most of the approximately 30 courses offered.

For Fitzpatrick, it is essential that clerks know as much as possible about how elections work – from the high-level overview to the details of list management – ​​in order to combat misinformation and help skeptical voters. to trust the process.

“The more information they arm themselves with early on, the better they will be able to provide quality service to voters, and they will be able to know the reality and the truth of what the election looks like here in Colorado,” a- she declared.

Colorado’s training program began in 2006 to equip clerks and election workers to understand their often complex duties, as some county clerks come with election experience while others have no experience. Over the years, the program has evolved to be job-specific, with tracks for roles such as administrators, IT professionals, public outreach coordinators, and general managers.

We don’t think it’s unfair to expect people to know their job before they do it.

– Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association

El Paso County Clerk Chuck Broerman, a Republican, said the program, while broad, only scratches the surface of what a clerk needs to know. It is fortunate that the new law expands and codifies the subjects.

“For the average citizen, they think an election is just printing ballots, mailing them out, receiving them and counting them. But we really have hundreds and hundreds of layers of steps and procedures and checks that we have to do,” he told Colorado Newsline.

In addition to state certification, Broerman said he also holds national certification in election administration.

What the training program covers

Core courses in Colorado are online courses with a quiz at the end, which requires a score of 85% to pass. Clerks and staff must also take six electives and two in-class training sessions, although they can also replace one in-class training with another elective. The courses are updated annually by the Secretary of State’s Elections Division and are always available except when the office is actively updating them.

Last May, the certification program was as follows, according to documents from the Secretary of State’s office:

  • Emphasis: Voter registration, secretariat, administrative support, mapping, other county departments
    • Basic Core Course: Elections 101, Election Security, Voter Registration Issues, Overseas and Military Voting, Advanced Voter Registration and List Maintenance and Accessibility for People with Disabilities (Part 1)
    • Suggested Electives: Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (Part 2), Address Privacy, Beginning Ballot Access, Navigating Election Laws
  • Emphasis: training and/or recruitment of electoral judges, communications, public relations, voter education
    • Core Courses: Elections 101, Election Security, Voter Registration Issues, Overseas and Military Voting, and Observers and Observers
    • Suggested Elective Courses: Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (Part 1), Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (Part 2), Service to Electors and Organizing and Managing the Polling Center
  • Emphasis: IT, data, security, voting materials, operations, supplies, warehouse
    • Core Courses: Elections 101, Election Security, Voter Registration Issues, Overseas and Military Voting, Logic and Accuracy Testing, Voter Service, and Voting Center Setup and Management
    • Suggested Electives: Accessibility for People with Disabilities (Part 1), Accessibility for People with Disabilities (Part 2)
  • Emphasis: Managers, Prospects, Multitasking
    • Core Courses: Elections 101, Election Security, Voter Registration Issues, Overseas and Military Voting, Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (Part 1), Navigating Election Laws
    • Suggested Electives: Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (Part 2), Address Privacy, Beginning Ballot Access, VSPC Setup and Management, Advanced Voter Registration, and List Maintenance

Online courses examine the inner workings of the subject, while in-class trainings provide hands-on experience and networking with other local election workers.

Some of these in-person courses include Ballot Design, Advanced Election Security, Ethics, Voting History, and Media.

Another popular classroom training is the Election Readiness for Infrastructure and Cybersecurity (EPIC) event, which was first hosted by former Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Chuck Broerman is the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder. (El Paso County)

It’s an armageddon-like exercise that puts election workers in a simulation of Election Day where anything that can go wrong happens: cybersecurity issues, snowstorms and a global pandemic, for example. Participants then brainstorm and develop contingency plans to organize a successful election under these conditions.

“They’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you that day, and that’s something that was new to us but was very valuable to us as these threats come up,” Broerman said.

It is also an opportunity for clerks to share best practices with each other. A rural county can learn from an urban county, and vice versa.

“It was a good opportunity to practice what you would do, as well as network with some of the other counties and their staff to figure out how we can collaborate in the future, understand what they do, learn from that and improve our own procedures,” Fitzpatrick said.

Professionalism and the fight for credibility

Colorado has always been a leader in professionalizing the election industry, Fitzpatrick said, and a strong training program is part of that.

“The professionalization of the industry and a strong association is extremely important because we are able to go there together rather than going there alone,” she said, referring specifically to the rise of misinformation and electoral denial.

We welcome that. We want to be held to a high standard.

– Chuck Broerman, El Paso County Clerk and Recorder

Through not only training, but also advocacy for legislation, collaboration and maintaining a dialogue, poll clerks can get a better sense of how voters are experiencing elections and work to find solutions that benefit the greatest number.

Of course, training also guarantees competence.

“We welcome that. We want to be held to a high standard. It’s not something we resist,” Broerman said. “It’s important for all of us to be the best at what we do and, quite frankly, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to take these courses and demonstrate to our citizens that we are professionals.”

With this skill comes credibility, and poll clerks can better communicate with voters about the free and fair election process. As false claims about the legitimacy of the electoral process swirl on social media, clerks’ offices may be the first place people turn to for answers.

“Being able to get accurate information to them quickly is very important, especially in this day and age when there is so much misinformation and misinformation people are seeing online or hearing in their community,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want people to know that we are a reliable source of information.”

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