Colorado counties take steps to safeguard elections processes in the face of misinformation and threats

Listen Now
2min 17sec
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopéz has coffee at Pete’s Kitchen on Colfax Avenue. Feb. 28, 2023.

Under pressure from the forces of election misinformation and increased intimidation of election workers, clerks in Colorado’s two largest counties — Denver and El Paso — are rethinking how much they share with the public.

Their actions appear to be opposite, but they have the same goal: to protect the voting process.

Denver will no longer livestream video of its ballot processing online, in order to protect elections workers, who face increasing threats nationwide. Meanwhile, El Paso County is launching a new livestream of ballot drop boxes to try to boost residents’ confidence in the election system.

Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez said his office originally started letting people watch ballot processing on its website in 2020 to help assure voters that the election system is safe, secure and accurate.

“The fact that we were able to livestream that I thought was pretty novel,” said Lopez. “And especially given 2020, where folks were at home because of the pandemic, and folks who were getting a whole bunch of misinformation about what happens during the elections process.” 

But three years later, he’s ending the practice because of “threats to elections officials — threats to doxx them, to identify them, to intimidate them,” Lopez said.

The livestream shows people’s faces, and Lopez worried for all of his staff, especially Republican election judges. Colorado requires judges work in bipartisan pairs on tasks like sorting ballots and checking signatures.

“There have been efforts to discourage particularly Republicans from being election judges or to intimidate them,” he said. 

His concerns are both practical and ethical: Denver, like all counties, has to have equal numbers of judges from each major political party. Additionally, Lopez said he doesn’t want the judges’ information posted online, or for them to be harassed.

“Folks are coming in here to do their civic duty, and part of that is making sure that, as they're performing the work of the people, [the] work of the elections, that the security is taken into account.”

Election security was also on the mind of El Paso County’s newly elected clerk when he decided to add a new livestream option for his county. People can now see video feeds monitoring all of the county’s 39 ballot drop box locations, which the majority of voters use to return their ballots. 

“Our citizens here in El Paso County can actually sit at the comfort of their own home and pull this video footage up and take a look for themselves,” said El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Steve Schleiker. 

He said the county’s new cameras are solar powered and will store all of the data in the cloud and make it accessible. It’s part of his effort to fight election disinformation, specifically false claims that people are stuffing drop boxes with potentially fake ballots.

“When folks are sitting there talking about ballot harvesting… you know what? Hey, show me. The information's now out there,” said Schleiker.

El Paso County has been an epicenter of mis- and disinformation over false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Activists in the area helped lead efforts in multiple Colorado counties after the 2020 election to canvas and attempt to perform a grassroots audit of the election results. There was also an unsuccessful effort to try to replace the county’s Dominion Voting Systems machines. 

Schleiker said he understands why Denver is no longer livestreaming the ballot processing room. El Paso County doesn’t livestream ballot processing and doesn’t plan to. 

“Folks that are stepping up to be election judges and also my staff, their safety is first and foremost the number one priority to me. And they are very concerned in regards to actually sitting in the ballot processing room or even in the signature verification room, knowing that they're being livestreamed.”

State lawmakers have also recently taken steps to increase safeguards around Colorado’s election systems. They passed a law mandating full-time video monitoring of elections equipment, increasing penalties for security breaches, and requiring additional training for staff. A separate law allows election officials and workers to remove their personal information from public records.

Matt Crane, a Republican former clerk who now heads the Colorado County Clerks Association, said that heading into the 2024 cycle there’s higher turnover among clerks, from term-limits, attrition and the increased hostile environment that election officials face.

Clerks have been targeted with everything from “intimidation to outright death threats — the whole nine yards — doxxing, their information being put online, people showing up at their house, knocking on their doors, demanding to know about election fraud,” Crane said. 

Next year, he expects those pressures to ramp up. 

“The people that keep talking about the Big Lie and pushing that are still there. They continue to talk about those narratives and lie about what happens in our elections. And so we know that's not going to go away.”