What should state election officials do if voters’ personal information is hacked?
Or if a security breach is discovered at a county voting center after a fire alarm gets pulled?
Or if the heater in a vote-counting room goes out on Election Day, and the repair crew doesn’t have security clearance?
More than 100 county and state election officials wrestled with answers to those questions, and numerous others, at a training event in suburban Denver on Thursday.
“It's impossible to prepare for a specific exact scenario,” said Colorado’s Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican. “But being prepared generally, having awareness of what the resources are and how you might want to respond, is absolutely critical beforehand.”
Kristi Ridlen, public information officer for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder, started in her position only three months ago. She said she's thought a lot about what she needs to prepare for in advance of November’s midterms.
“They said that today is kind of 'your worst election day that you could ever possibly see.' So keeping that in the back of my mind is a sigh of relief,” Ridlin said. “To say that, 'oh my goodness, we're not going to have all of this going on in the same day.' “
Even old hands in the election business said they learned new things at the event. Bent County Clerk and Recorder Patti Nickell, who’s run elections there for 32 years and plans to retire in January, said she’ll push to add more security cameras at the county courthouse.
"It's very important for voters to know that our elections are secure,” she said.
The event drew a crowd from across the country, including Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, a Vice News camera crew and election advocates from Washington, D.C.
"This is a really remarkable event,” said David Becker, executive director for the non-partisan Center for Election Innovation and Research in Washington, D.C. Becker said Colorado has earned its reputation for being a leader in election access and security.
He credits three things for that: Colorado’s mail-in ballot system that offers voters flexibility, its use of paper ballots, and its new risk-limiting post-election audits.
"There is no state that does better audits,” Becker said. “There are several states that are moving in the same direction as where Colorado is. But Colorado is the leader."
Williams, the secretary of state, said his office will continue to work on issues of access and security. He expects more challenges in the future, whether they deliberate attacks or acts of nature.
“We want to have our election officials ready,” Williams said. “By time we finish today, they are going to be in a lot better shape."