Colorado Democrats look to crack down on insider election threats The legislation comes months after a Colorado clerk allegedly compromised her county's election machines while searching for proof of fraud in the 2020 election.

Colorado Democrats look to crack down on insider election threats

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A county clerk in a conservative part of western Colorado is under indictment for allegedly compromising her county's voting machines. She's accused of doing this while searching for proof of election fraud. Now, Colorado's Democratic-led legislature wants to head off future insider threats to the election system and crack down on misinformation. From Colorado Public Radio, Bente Birkeland has more.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Many parts of the new bill correspond directly to things clerk Tina Peters is alleged to have done, like directing staff to turn off video surveillance of voting equipment. This bill would require cameras stay on at all times. Copies of Mesa County's hard drives and voting machine passwords ended up at an election conspiracy conference. If this bill passes, those actions would now be a felony.

STEVE FENBERG: Handing out passwords or posting images of internal secure election system data, that's not right. That is wrong. And you should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

BIRKELAND: Colorado's Democratic Senate President Steve Fenberg is the bill's main sponsor.

FENBERG: If you undermine our elections, you are undermining everything we care and love about this country.

BIRKELAND: Supporters say the legislation is necessary to prevent other election officials from doing the same things Peters is alleged to have done. It would also require more training for election officials. Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold says Colorado is the first state to try to seek changes like this but hopes others will follow.

JENA GRISWOLD: I do believe that we'll see further insider attacks as a way to destabilize American elections and push disinformation. So every state should be getting ready for this evolving threat.

BIRKELAND: The Republican clerk Peters has long said she was well within her authority to investigate what she's come to believe was voter fraud in the 2020 election. Audits in Colorado and other states have debunked those claims. Here she is back in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TINA PETERS: You know, I tried to defend that we had pure and fair elections, and I can't unsee what I've seen. It's disturbing to me.

BIRKELAND: Peters has also participated in events hosted by prominent purveyors of false election claims. Her role in spreading misinformation is another thing lawmakers want to crack down on. The bill would ban those who oversee elections from knowingly or recklessly spreading false information about the process. Fenberg says the Association of Colorado Clerks pushed many of these changes, and they support the bill. The group is mostly made up of Republicans.

FENBERG: They don't want people that commit crimes and undermine their election system to be part of their club.

BIRKELAND: However, First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg warns the ban on spreading misinformation is highly problematic. Zansberg represents media organizations, including Colorado Public Radio.

STEVE ZANSBERG: I think it raises serious constitutional questions because of the ambiguity in how it could be enforced.

BIRKELAND: Republican lawmakers are also raising concerns. Matt Soper represents Mesa County at the state capitol. He says it's best to see what happens with the legal case against Peters before deciding what laws Colorado should change.

MATT SOPER: We have a criminal justice process that's actually working.

BIRKELAND: There are things in the bill he likes. But Soper believes election laws have become so polarized across the country, it'll be hard for his party to feel comfortable with a sweeping Democratic bill like this.

For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

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