Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, speaks at a rally in support of legislation to grant public-sector workers collective bargaining rights at the state Capitol on Feb. 10, 2022. (Courtesy of Jim Darling for Public Workers United)
A controversial provision in a Colorado election security bill that would have prohibited election officials from spreading misinformation was stripped from the legislation during a Senate floor debate Thursday.
“I am sad, to be totally honest, that we can’t all agree that an election official shouldn’t lie to their constituents,” said Senate Bill 22-153 sponsor and Senate President Stephen Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder.
“With that said, because I want to focus on the pieces of the bill that are important and are not just about value statements … I am more than willing to remove this section to make sure we can focus on what is important here,” he said.
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The Senate passed SB-153 on second reading Thursday with the amendment striking the misinformation provision and two other amendments. It will need to pass on third reading before heading to the House of Representatives.
As originally introduced, the bill’s misinformation provision said that no designated election official should “knowingly or recklessly” spread any “false statement for the purposes of promoting misinformation or disinformation related to the administration of elections.”
Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters, a Republican recently indicted for her role in allegedly facilitating an election system security breach, has repeatedly spread false claims that there was widespread voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. Many parts of SB-153 specifically address actions Peters is alleged to have taken to enable copies of the county’s election system hard drive and sensitive passwords to get leaked online.
Fenberg said the misinformation provision was based on existing law that prohibits anyone from knowingly lying about a ballot measure or candidate.
“Of course we have all seen many lies about ballot measures and candidates and nobody has ever used that section of statute as the truth police to say that they need to be punished,” he said. “Meaning, I think it’s a value statement and not something that is all that enforceable. That is why I’m okay taking it out.”
Opponents of the bill argued that the misinformation provision made it unconstitutional. During a press conference at the Capitol on Monday, Peters said the bill “criminalized speech” and urged her followers to contact their state legislators in opposition to it.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Douglas County, urged passage of the amendment but said he still doesn’t support the bill in general.
“I agree this is the most likely section that people who have said ‘unconstitutional,’ that is probably the primary place they have been looking at in the bill,” he said.
Other provisions in the bill are aimed at reducing insider threats to election security by increasing physical security measures like security cameras and key card access for rooms with election equipment. It also adds details to the training that county clerks must complete and specifies that clerks need to be certified in that training before running an election.
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