Jena Griswold, Colorado’s newly elected secretary of state, said she’s already made strong headway on her three campaign promises in just one year in office. But still, there’s plenty of work to do, she said.
Griswold, speaking to about 30 people at a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon at Durango Community Recreational Center, said she set out to expand automatic voter registration, make it easier for people to vote in Colorado and fight dark money in politics.
Though started by her predecessor, Wayne Williams, state legislation was passed this year that expands opportunities for Colorado residents to automatically be registered to vote, such as when someone renews or gets a new driver’s license.
Griswold said her office has looked to other areas of opportunity for automatic registration, outside the Department of Motor Vehicles.
She said her office has also made it easier for Coloradoans to vote, by adding drop-boxes and polling centers in more locations. She said having these options on public universities, for instance, will increase voter turnout and get younger people involved in elections.
As for addressing “dark money” in campaigns and politics, it’s an uphill battle, Griswold said, but one her office has made strides in fighting.
“Money in politics, I think, is corroding our democracy,” she said. “What we see at all levels of government is corporations and special interests attempting to buy politicians and their votes.”
In the 2018 election, for instance, $83 million was donated to independent expenditure committees, Colorado’s equivalent of a super PAC – money that is not easily traceable when donations come from nonprofits or groups that don’t reveal donors.
“How do we instill confidence in our democracy when we don’t know where this money comes from?” Griswold said.
The Clean Campaign Act of 2019 was passed this year by the state Legislature, which Griswold called “one of the largest money-in-politics reforms in the nation.”
The act has stopgap measures so donors can’t anonymously funnel money through organizations, requires corporations to disclose donations for ballot initiatives, closes foreign money loopholes and strengthens campaign enforcement rules.
Durango resident Carolyn Hunter commended Colorado’s use of paper ballots, which experts say secures election systems by leaving a paper trail, unlike the electronic machines some states use that are more at risk of being hacked.
Griswold said Colorado is the safest state in the country to cast a ballot, a sentiment recently reiterated by The Washington Post and other election experts.
“I hope more states follow,” Hunter said.
Kathleen Adams, also of Durango, asked what Griswold’s goals are for the next few years.
Griswold responded by saying it takes constant vigilance to make sure people are not disenfranchised from voting, citing the example of the Trump administration recently proposing to leave the Universal Postal Union, which could have made it harder for U.S. citizens abroad, like military, to vote.
Trump ultimately dropped the idea this past week.
“My job is to make sure we’re not putting up barriers to voting,” she said.
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, also in attendance, said the state legislation made great strides this past year on issues like climate change, equal pay and full-day kindergarten. She half-jokingly told those in attendance that might be because of the amount of women in the Legislature.
“For the first time in history we have a majority of women,” she said. “And women get stuff done.”
McLachlan said the current Legislature better represents Colorado’s diverse population.
“The Legislature looks like Colorado now,” she said. “It’s nice to hear so many voices.”