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Election officials process ballots for the 2020 election at the Douglas County clerk's office in Castle Rock on Oct. 30, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

An emergency rule prohibiting outside groups from getting access to Colorado voting equipment would hinder a national nonprofit that wants to do “forensic” examinations of counties’ election apparatus. 

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold last week implemented the measure amid concerns about efforts to get county clerks to review 2020 election results. There has been a wave of citizen demands that clerks provide access to ballots and even voting equipment. Some of the demands have been accompanied by threats. 

“Some clerks are getting death threats,” Griswold, a Democrat, told The Sun. “Some counties are being called to do these third-party, unsecure sham audits.”

Under the new rules, a person must be an employee of a county’s elections office, the Secretary of State’s Office or the voting system vendor, or be an appointed election judge, to get access to voting equipment. They must also pass a background check. 

Some of the requests being made to county clerks appear to be driven by the ongoing review of 2020 election results in Arizona, said Griswold and Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association.

Republican state senators in Arizona hired a company with no election experience to conduct that review. It was promoted by false claims by former President Donald Trump that he beat Democrat Joe Biden in the state. Some of the funding for that audit comes from dark-money nonprofits. A dark-money group is one that doesn’t have to reveal its donors.

“We know that here in Colorado and across the country there are groups reaching out to local election jurisdictions, bypassing the state level, trying to solicit audits,” Crane said. “There’s a lot of disinformation out there. A lot of people unfortunately believe that and they act on it.”

President Joe Biden won 55% of the vote in Colorado, compared with 42% for Trump. There has been no evidence of widespread election fraud in Colorado that would have overturned the presidential election’s outcome in the state. Democratic and Republican elections officials have vouched for the veracity of the 2020 election and its results.

A conservative national nonprofit, the American Foundation for Civil Liberties and Freedom, is offering to examine voting equipment in some Colorado counties. The group lists “election integrity” among its top issues, along with ideological discrimination, “cancel culture,” forced vaccinations and “big tech censorship.”

Christopher Marston, chairman of the group’s board, said the organization is offering forensic examinations of election equipment free of charge. Ten Colorado counties were contacted, he said, but he wouldn’t identify them because it might “subject the county election officials to potential harassment by the SOS.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the World Arena in Colorado Springs on Feb. 20, 2020. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“We’ve approached 1,000 counties across the country, it’s not just in Colorado,” Marston said. 

The emergency rules likely would prohibit the American Foundation for Civil Liberties and Freedom from following through on its offer.

Colorado Republican Party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown on Friday issued a scathing missive about the new rule.

“It’s sad to see (Griswold) continues to use her taxpayer-funded office for a purely partisan agenda and performative rule-making,” the statement said. “All Coloradans, regardless of party affiliation, need to have faith in our electoral system.”

But Griswold told the Sun that Coloradans do have faith in the state’s election system.

“Just because some folks are loud, that doesn’t mean they’re the majority of Coloradans,” she said. “Coloradans love our system. We saw 94% of Colorado voters choose to use a mail ballot. There’s a coordinated attack to undermine democracy happening across the nation.”

Griswold noted that Colorado is one of a few states that conduct scientifically designed risk-limiting audits to verify election results before they are certified. At least one  county clerk ran an additional check on the 2020 results.

El Paso County hired ClearAudit, a company certified to work with the county’s Dominion Voting Systems machines, in May to verify the November election results. That review found minimal vote differences for candidates in various contests, all fewer than 10 votes. Spokespeople for that office did not return calls from The Sun.

Crane said some counties are getting requests from local citizens to review ballots or conduct additional audits.

“It’s heavier in some counties than others,” he said. “We want to be open and transparent. We want to have conversations with people.”

El Paso and Pueblo counties both posted anonymized images of all 2020 election ballots online for the public to download and inspect. 

Griswold said her office is preparing a one-page explainer  on the new rules for clerks to give to constituents. She also noted that it is too late to change the results of the 2020 election. 

“It’s an unofficial recount,” she said of any additional examination of 2020 ballots. “The election has already been certified.”

Crane said it’s disappointing that some Coloradans believe disinformation about the election. 

“There are some people who are just hell bent to believe there was a ‘kraken’ running around in the election system.”

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...