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During 2024, Coloradans are set to vote, vote, and vote some more. The election year will include a presidential primary in March, a statewide primary in June, and the general election in November.
“It really is a year of voting with three election cycles,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold says. “I hope people are motivated [to vote].”
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Much like in 2020, though, the casting of ballots is clouded by controversy about the integrity of America’s election system. Former President Donald Trump continues to claim he was the real winner of the 2020 election, fomenting support among election deniers who say there has been widespread fraud in recent contests. In December, the Colorado Supreme Court also ruled that Trump was disqualified from the Centennial State’s Republican primary for his role in the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. (The former president will remain on the primary ballot after the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the Colorado ruling.)
Ahead of the important election cycle, we chatted with the woman who oversees Colorado’s elections, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, about the controversy surrounding Trump, election security, and what Coloradans can expect when they vote this year.
Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
5280: Former President Donald Trump is on the primary ballot in Colorado. For those that might be confused, especially after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled he was ineligible, why is that the case?
Secretary Jena Griswold: It is a little confusing. The Colorado Supreme Court did rule that Trump engaged in insurrection and under a provision in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution was thus barred from being on the ballot. But they also said in that same decision that if an appeal was filed before I certified the ballot, he would be on it until or unless the United States Supreme Court took some type of other action. So yes, they did kick him off, but said he would be on if there was an active appeal in front of the Supreme Court. There is an active appeal in front of the Supreme Court, so he is on the ballot. The Supreme Court could go on to say he’s on the ballot or they could go on to say he is disqualified.
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in an appeal of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision on February 8. What happens if they rule he is disqualified?
At this point, Trump’s name will appear on the ballot no matter what. But the question would be: Is he a qualified candidate on the ballot? So we have seen situations where candidates, for example, drop out after their names are already printed. That happened in 2020 with candidates like Senator Amy Klobuchar. We did not count the votes that were cast for those candidates because they no longer were an active candidate in Colorado. So that’s really the bigger picture: Will votes for Trump count toward his election in the primary or not?
Do you think Trump should be disqualified from the ballot?
I do think that the Colorado Supreme Court got it right. Only two courts in this entire country have looked at the question of whether Trump engaged in insurrection and they both determined that he did. I agree with them. And, you know, the former president wants to argue that even if he did engage in insurrection, that provision of the Constitution doesn’t apply to him. I fundamentally disagree with that. I don’t think there should be carve-outs in the Constitution for the presidency.
Colorado Republicans have talked about using a caucus system, instead of the primary, if Trump is disqualified from the ballot. Is that possible? What is your role in allowing that to potentially happen?
I think something to point out, which is a little interesting, is that this original lawsuit [to disqualify Trump] was brought by six Republican and unaffiliated voters in the state of Colorado, because they only wanted qualified candidates on their ballot. The Colorado Republican Party has threatened to get rid of the Republican primary. That is not actually something they can do under law for a presidential primary. There’s not much more to say than that. We will have a Republican presidential primary.
For the presidential primary, Coloradans will vote on March 5, which is Super Tuesday. Is it a good or bad thing, in your eyes, for Colorado to be on that prominent day?
I think it’s a really good thing. Under state law, the governor can choose, I believe, between three dates in March, in consultation with me. And I thought it was really good that the first presidential primary that we had had in some time, in 2020, was on Super Tuesday. It allows us to have a bigger role in shaping national decision-making and the national narrative. It helps maintain Colorado as an important state for presidential hopefuls to visit, which I think is really important for making sure that [candidates] hear about the issues facing everyday Coloradans.
As election deniers continue to claim there has been widespread fraud in recent elections and issue threats of intimidation (I know you have received death threats), are there plans to amp up or adjust security?
We’ve actually adjusted security a great deal over the last couple of years. I led legislation that now makes it a crime to threaten or dox election workers. We made it a felony to compromise voting equipment and provided whistleblower protection. We also provided a million dollars to the counties to make sure they are increasing their physical security. And then we made it a crime to open carry close to a drop box or voting center where ballots are being processed. It is definitely not a perfect system, but it is different than it was in 2020.
During the 2020 election, you were thrown into the fray, having to defend mail-in ballots. Here you are again, in 2024, having to explain to the country what is going on in Colorado with the Trump ballot questions. Have you learned any lessons from all those experiences about how to communicate with the public about election issues?
I think one of the big lessons learned is how deeply Coloradans and Americans care about democracy. Regardless of party affiliation, people want a fair system. It’s been, initially, really surprising to be in the middle of national conversations. But I think it’s really important because it allows us to promote how Colorado is getting so much right in the election space. It also helps give hope to people who are living in places like Georgia, who can expect to wait in 10- or 12-hour long lines to cast their ballots. It gives hope to people, who are seeing their elections run by election deniers, that they can get through this hurdle that we’re at in American history. What we do in Colorado when it comes to democracy and elections really does matter because we are the nation’s leader.
Are there things that are new with the voting process here in Colorado that people should be aware for this year? We will, of course, have the same mail-in ballot system, but are there small tweaks?
Well, they should be looking out for even more drop boxes and even more voting centers. We’ll have more than 150 voting centers available to voters for the presidential primary and 418 drop boxes open. That’s a significant increase from previous years. We also plan to have some more announcements coming soon.
Anything else Coloradans should have on their radar for all of this voting?
Remember the key dates: The presidential primary is March 5, the statewide primary is June 25, and the general election is November 5. For the primaries it is good to remember unaffiliated voters will get two ballots—for the Democratic and Republican primary—but they can only vote in one. That’s really important. In 2020, we rolled out statewide ballot tracking, so Coloradans can see from when their ballots are sent to when they’re counted. This is an incredibly important election cycle, as I think people understand, and we need to make sure that our voices are heard on local issues all the way up to the presidency.