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Progressive study finds Colorado voters can have highest election confidence in the entire country

April 18, 2022, 2:46 pm

Voters in Colorado can have the highest confidence in the country that elections are free and fair in the state, according to a new study that assessed election accountability ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Colorado, Maryland and Washington received the highest scores in a study from the Democracy Initiative Education fund released April 13, with the Centennial State coming in first. Nine states and Washington, D.C., earned the distinction of a “high confidence” rating. The DIEC is the nonprofit arm of the progressive advocacy coalition Democracy Initiative.

“We’re always happy to see when we’re recognized for our system. They’re not telling us anything we don’t already know,” Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz, a Democrat, told Colorado Newsline. “For me, it’s going to be three elections this year. We see what’s happening in our systems because we’ve done it before and see that it’s safe.”

Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi were among the lowest-confidence states.

“DIEF findings indicate that voters in high-ranking states should have the fewest concerns about participating in the 2022 election as their states’ measures encourage and support voter participation with fair and transparent processes,” the study summary reads.

“I am proud that the Secretary of State’s Office continues to deliver secure and accessible elections for Colorado voters. Living in a democracy should mean equal access to the ballot box no matter if you live in a big city or rural town, how much money you have in your bank account, or your political affiliation. As Secretary of State I will always stand up for Colorado voters’ right to make their voices heard in free, fair and secure elections,” Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said in an emailed statement.

The study was conducted in response to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 and various state legislatures that have passed restrictive, far-reaching voting measures since.

“On January 6, 2021 we all witnessed a mob storm the U.S. Capitol in an effort to disrupt a national election. But what came before and after was a storm of a different kind, with our election process disrupted by anti-voter, anti-democratic moves made by legislators in numerous state capitols,” DIEC Executive Director Charly Carter said in a statement.

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The study looked at voters’ experiences in 2020, any state legislation passed since then that affects the voting process, and how ballots will be processed in 2022. It ran a state’s electoral process through a 10-point index that scored variables like voter registration, early and at-home voting practices, logistical barriers to voting, voting equipment security and external or partisan interference.

Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López, a Democrat, said that practices like ballot status updates via text message, robust voting system testing and the signature verification and cure process increase voter confidence.

“People in Denver have an established trust in our ability to administer a fair, secure and a transparent election and to claim otherwise is simply foolish,” he told Colorado Newsline. “We’ve been doing it for a while. We see a lot of participation, and that’s because of faith in the system.”

Colorado scored “high” in eight of the 10 indices. It received those top-level marks for its automatic voter registration, non-strict voter ID law, early voting policy, at-home voting system, low ballot rejection rate, paper-trail audit system, reduced barriers to physically voting and independent election administration.

“We want voters to participate. We don’t want them to sit on the sidelines. We want them to trust the system and use it to its full ability, either by mailing (their ballot), dropping it off or showing up to a polling center. That’s why we created those options,” Ortiz said.

Colorado received a “medium” score for external interference in voting, with the study concluding that voters did not have confidence in 2020 election news coverage. It also noted that state law “does not address voter intimidation and false election speech, weapons, or police presence at the polling sites.” Gov. Jared Polis signed a law in March, however, that bans people from openly carrying firearms within 100 feet of a polling location.

Colorado did not receive a rating for the index assessing the role of government and politics in voting because the governor, secretary of state and attorney general are all Democrats.

Confidence in the face of election denialism

While most elected leaders tout Colorado as a “gold standard” of election administration — and this study is another example of national kudos — there is a persistent faction of Republicans who insist the state’s elections are not secure and that voter fraud is rampant.

That is the primary message from multiple statewide candidates, including Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, who is running for secretary of state and is facing multiple felony indictment charges related to her alleged role in a 2021 election security breach. At a recent rally headlined by election conspiracy theorists, Peters said “we’ve got to fix what happened in 2020” before moving forward.

The study notes that there are 20 candidates across the country who are running for secretary of state with a platform that questions the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

“Voters enter the 2022 election season surrounded by widespread conspiracy theories, false claims of voter fraud, disinformation campaigns, and election maps that more often reflect partisan gerrymandering rather than the fair representation of all voters,” the study reads.

Three reports published by Peters and her allies claiming to show evidence of fraud have been repeatedly debunked by elections officials and experts. Dozens of legal challenges against the results of the 2020 election have been thrown out by courts.

“The critical error that some of these election deniers are making is that they are underestimating Colorado voters. Colorado voters know exactly how to vote. They know that our system is secure, that there are no problems. When they bring in this thought of the ‘big lie’ in Colorado, it doesn’t make sense. Voters are not foolish in Colorado,” López said.

“It’s actually insulting that some of these folks think they can bring in an outside issue like that, that’s a complete fantasy based off of somebody not accepting the fact that they lost and then think that we’re going to be beaten into thinking that way,” he said.

U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Ron Hanks, who was present at the Jan. 6 insurrection, also spreads those debunked theories of election fraud under the guise of “election integrity.” Peters and Hanks both earned top-line spots on the ballot for the Republican primary.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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