A last-minute amendment to an election security bill led the legislation’s final passage through the state House just after 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
Sponsors view Senate Bill 153 as a response to alleged security breaches in Mesa and Elbert counties, where county clerks allegedly made unauthorized copies of computer data.
Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, who has been indicated by a grand jury for her role in that alleged security breach, denies all allegations. Peters earlier called the bill a power grab and an effort to keep her from running for secretary of state.
Elbert County Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder earlier admitted to making copies of two hard drives of the county’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment, receiving instructions from two non-election staffers on how to do so, and admitting giving a copy to two private attorneys, including his personal counsel. Schroeder defended his actions, saying he made the copies out of his belief that he has a “statutory duty” to preserve election records, that by doing so he was complying with instructions from the secretary of State to back up election data and that he feared a “trusted build” might “erase or alter electronic records of the November 2020 election.”
Schroeder delivered the two copies he made of his county’s election hard drives to the Attorney General’s Office last week.
SB 153 increases basic security measures, such as requiring 24/7 surveillance and key card access to rooms where election equipment is stored.
In any county with a population over 100,000 residents, the bill would prohibit an elected official or candidate from having key card access to a room with voting equipment or devices without being accompanied by someone else with authorized access. For smaller counties, the bill sets up a $1 million grant to pay for the round-the-clock surveillance or key card access.
Included in the amendment in the last-minute amendment is a suggestion by county clerks that “strongly encourages” Secretary of State Jena Griswold to obtain the same training that county clerks are required to take. Griswold had no background in the operations or administration of state or county elections prior to her election in 2018. Before taking office, Griswold’s experience in the political arena came as a voter protection attorney for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, as well as director of former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Washington, D.C. office.
SB 153 had been awaiting its final vote since last Thursday, following a 10-hour debate on May 4. House Republicans pushed 13 amendments during that debate, seeking to strip out language making it a misdemeanor to refuse an order or an “acceptable use policy for statewide voter registration” from Griswold’s office, disallow a practice known as “ballot harvesting” and tighten laws around the use of paper ballots.
As the sun rose Tuesday with the House still at work, the third-reading amendment was adopted without debate.
SB 153 passed on a party-line 41-24 vote. It now heads back to the Senate for review of changes the House made.