Transformative Leadership in Partnership with the Blind: Colorado Raises Expectations for All Blind Americans; Jena Griswold, Colorado Secretary of State; Louisville, Colorado

MARK RICCOBONO: That's what I figured! Thank you for your work and overview and for your carrying out our priorities in the voting realm. So keep up the great work. Keep pushing them! And we'll look forward to your updates very soon. 
Okay, we need to move to our next presentation. Because this individual also has a short window to be with us, and we're glad that she is here. This is Transformational Leadership in Partnership with the Blind. You heard Eve talk about Colorado raising expectations for all blind Americans by enacting a law which we heard in the roll call, it's also been repeated in Hawaii. She has the distinction of being the 39th Secretary of State for the great state of Colorado, also apparently the youngest Secretary of State in the nation currently. She's bringing new perspectives to the work in Colorado, and she has demonstrated herself as a true champion for equality for the blind through her work to offer electronic delivery of voting. And now with the law in Colorado, electronic return. So here for some remarks about leadership for the rest of the nation to pay attention to is Colorado Secretary of State, from, let's see, Louisville, Colorado, Jena Griswold! 

(Colorado Rocky Mountain High by John Denver playing).
I've seen it rain fire in the sky.
The starlight is softer than a lullaby!
Rocky Mountain high! 

JENA GRISWOLD: Good afternoon, thank you for having me here. I'm Jena Griswold, and the song you played is very on point, we're in the Rocky Mountains now breathing the fresh air, and so happy to join you. Thank you, President Riccobono, and everyone at the National Federation of the Blind for having me. In Colorado, we're so fortunate to work with Scott LaBarre and his team, including Dan Kirk and Curtis Chung. It's an honor to be speaking at your 81st convention. My office oversees all state wide elections, ensuring all 64 county clerks work together to make sure elections are secure and smoothly run. Colorado continues to be among the nation's leaders in voter registration and turnout. In last year's general election in the midst of the pandemic, over 3.2 million Coloradans cast a ballot, more than any before in state history. Our turnout rate was an impressive 86.5% among registered voters. While 2020 was an excellent continuation of voter turnout, it was not a coincidence. We work hard to make sure that voting is as easy as it can be. I'm proud that Colorado is the nation's gold standard. We utilize vote by mail for all, in which every voter is mailed a ballot that they can return by mail or in any of our nearly 400 dropboxes drought the state, and 94% of voters choose to vote by that ballot. We have early voting, where voting centers open 2 weeks before an election. We have automatic voter registration and same day registration, enabling eligible voters to register even on Election Day. 

All of these really come down to one key simple tenet: Access. Colorado's election standards are the gold standards because we allow many methods by which to cast ballots while maintaining security, and when casting a ballot is easy, voters will enthusiastically participate. But access means a lot of different things to people, and in Colorado we work to make sure every voter has an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy. I'm provide that by working closely with the National Federation of the Blind, Colorado continues to set the standard in voting for Americans with no to low eyesight. 

This past legislative session, the state legislature passed a bill that was a collaborative effort with the NFB chapter in Colorado that revolutionized technology for voting Americans with low to no eyesight. Starting in 2019, blind and visually impaired voters were able to receive a ballot electronically. The problem was, after receiving their ballot, voters had to print it out, sign it, and physically return it to the county clerk. This latest legislation removes the final hurdle of physically returning the ballot by allowing voters who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise unable to manipulate their ballot, to return their ballot using a similar method to the ones overseas military voters currently use. We're also committed to security. Colorado has been recognized by the Department of Homeland Security and Washington Post as the safest state in which to cast a ballot today. Colorado overwhelmingly uses a verified paper ballot. None of our equipment is collected to the internet. And after the election, we conduct a risk limiting audit that determines to a high degree of certainty that the results are correct. What increases the security of electronic ballots is the fact that we use a secure transfer portal which is encrypted. This is similar to the technology that allows military voters stationed overseas to have their voices heard, and now to have blind voters have their voices heard as well. Our access also extends to the technology we developed to make voting easier, and once again, NFB has been an essential partner. This last fall, we implemented ballot tracking capability statewide, informing voters via text or e-mail of the status of the ballot from when they're e-mailed to when they're received by the county clerk. 

The results were extraordinary, with over 1.7 million voters using the system to track their ballot. That's 53.8% of all ballots returned. We're currently working with the NFB Colorado chapter to make the system work even better by optimizing mobile accessibility features. Tracking ballots is an invaluable way to add transparency to elections by removing all doubt that a voter's ballot has been received. Colorado has also implemented a mechanism by which voters can address discrepancies on their cell phone. In a vote by mail system, a voter signature is what the clerks and election judges tend to use to determine a ballot belongs to the right person. If a signature on a ballot doesn't match a signature on file for the voter, the voter is given a chance to fix the discrepancy before the vote is not counted last election, 8,000 votes that would not have been counted were fixed using this technology. We worked with NFB in Colorado to improve this feature and will continue to improve it to suit the needs of blind voters. NFB plays an important role in how we conduct in-person voting as well. Colorado has solicited and received important feedback on accessible voting devices. These feedbacks have in turn been forwarded to our developers and implemented in elections. These developers can take what they learn in Colorado and implement changes nationwide, improving accessibility for blind voters from coast to coast. What we achieve together in Colorado truly has an impact that makes tangible improvements for voters nationwide. 

Colorado also has a voter accessibility independence and privacy task force, comprised of local and national disability advocates, that keeps us improving and making sure we have elections that work for everyone. The National Federation of the Blind is a leader on this task force and their input into our elections is a key reason that we can call ourselves the nation's gold standard. Benjamin Franklin once said without continuous progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning. What we have achieved up to this day is stagnant if we don't build on it, and if there's one thing we learned in the past year is it that one of the greatest risks to democracy is complacency. As Colorado's chief election official, I'm committed to creating a Colorado for all people, but in order to reach that commitment for a more perfect union, we all need to make sure that people regardless of zip code, color of skin, or affordability, can cast a vote. I urge you to contact your voting officials to encourage early voting for all and accessible elections for all Americans. Democracy is only as strong as our ability to participate in it, and together we can build a democracy that works for all Americans. 

Thank you for your work and continued partnership, and thank you again for having me today. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary. We appreciate your leadership, and anything you can do to influence the other secretaries of state, we'd really appreciate it, and we're really glad to have you as a champion along with our Colorado affiliate to show other states how to do accessibility, security, and voting all in one package. So thank you for being with us at this convention. 

JENA GRISWOLD: Thank you so much, and you got it, Colorado's the nation's gold standard for a reason, and everybody looks to us, so we'll cross our fingers that they learn something from our partnership. 

MARK RICCOBONO: We're sending them all your way, so keep up the great work!