The suspect who made threats against Secretary of State Griswold is the first guilty plea for US election task force

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold at a Denver Elections Division drive through ballot-drop-off station on Primary Election Day June 30, 2020.

DENVER (AP) — A Nebraska man has pleaded guilty to making death threats against Colorado’s top elections official in a what officials say is the first such plea obtained by a federal task force devoted to protecting elections workers across the U.S. who have been subject to increasing threats since the 2020 presidential election.

Travis Ford, 42, pleaded guilty in Denver federal court to sending threats to Secretary of State Jena Griswold on social media. 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 that it was stolen from him are false.

Thursday's plea was announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado and was first reported by The Denver Gazette. Ford, a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, faces up to two years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 6.

It's the first guilty plea obtained by the U.S. Justice Department's Election Threats Task Force, which was launched last year to investigate threats of violence against elections workers, the office said. FBI agents in Colorado and Nebraska investigated the case.

“Threats of violence against election officials are dangerous for people’s safety and dangerous for our democracy, and we will use every resource at our disposal to disrupt and investigate those threats and hold perpetrators accountable,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

According to the announcement, Ford sent Griswold a series of threatening messages over Instagram in August. “Do you feel safe? You shouldn't,” one read. Another read: “Your security detail is far too thin and incompetent to protect you.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this month renewed a threat advisory warning of possible violence, particularly for elections officials, workers and other targets by individuals or small groups motivated by conspiracy theories and “false and misleading narratives.”

Griswold, a Democrat, told Colorado lawmakers earlier this year that she and other elections officials have received thousands of threats that have prompted many local clerks to quit or take security training so they feel safe in their public service work.

The Legislature passed bills to enhance security for Griswold and other statewide office-holders and to add protections for all elections workers. Gov. Jared Polis has signed them into law.