Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks during a news conference about the the state's efforts to protect the process of casting a vote in the upcoming general election Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in downtown Denver. (David Zalubowski, AP Photo, File)

By Margery A. Beck, Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. — A Nebraska man was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison for online threats he made against Colorado’s top elections official, in one of the first cases brought by a federal task force devoted to protecting elections workers nationwide from rising threats.

Travis Ford was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, where he lives, after pleading guilty earlier this year to sending threats to Secretary of State Jena Griswold on social media.

It was the first guilty plea obtained by the U.S. Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force, which was launched last year after the 2020 presidential election, citing the potential effect on democracy of threats against election officials and workers.

Griswold is a national advocate for elections security who has received thousands of threats over her insistence that the 2020 election was secure and that former President Donald Trump’s claims it was stolen from him are false.

After serving his prison term, Ford must complete a year of supervision. He must report to a federal prison that will be named later on Jan. 11.

Federal prosecutors had sought a two-year prison sentence for Ford, saying “there is a genuine need for general deterrence here.” Investigators discovered that Ford made the threats of violence numerous times last year over an Instagram account started by his brother to which Ford had gained access. Prosecutors also noted in their sentencing request that Ford had also used the account to make death threats against President Joe Biden and “a CEO of a major technology company.”

Prosecutors said Ford sent Griswold a series of threatening messages over Instagram in August. One read, “Do you feel safe? You shouldn’t.” Another read: “Your security detail is far too thin and incompetent to protect you. This world is unpredictable these days … anything can happen to anyone.”

Federal officials said there was little to explain why Ford resorted to making the threats, noting he has a loving relationship with his immediate family and fiancé, that he is in good health and had earned a good living until his prosecution.

“Although the government does not currently have reason to believe that defendant will commit similar offenses here in the future, threats to elections workers across the country are an ongoing and very serious problem,” prosecutors said in their sentencing recommendation.

They added that one recent survey found one in six election officials have experienced threats because of their job, and 77 percent have said that they feel the volume of these threats has increased in recent years.

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