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'War Games, Election-Style': Colorado's County Clerks Prepare For Election Night

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)- The Colorado Secretary of State's Office calls it "war games, election style."

County clerks from across Colorado were put to the test with a first-of-its-kind disaster drill aimed at protecting the 2018 election from hackers.

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Secretary of State Wayne Williams organized the exercise that comes in the wake of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (credit: CBS)

"It's not that we haven't had issues before but the level of issues, the magnitude that we're having on a large scale as opposed to a local issue, triggers a different type of reaction, different type of training."

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The drill included Homeland security, the FBI, and 200 Colorado election officials from 63 of the state's 64 counties.

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"Because we're a closely divided state it makes us a target," says Williams. "People say hey, I think I could influence things."

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd interviews Secretary of State Wayne Williams (credit: CBS)

Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane among those who participated. He says the 2016 election has made election officials hyper-vigilant and the disaster drill helps prepare them for worst-case scenarios.

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"It's a really good test for us to be able to pivot and be flexible and move quickly and make sure we can address the issues as they come up," said Crane.

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The scenarios ranged from hail destroying a voting center to a security breach at TransUnion Credit Bureau. Adams County Clerk Stan Martin says hackers try to penetrate state and local databases every day.

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"We know a lot of the attempts come from out of the country," said Martin.

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Nathan VanDiggelen, 26, of Denver, Colorado fills in his ballot while voting at the Denver Elections Division offices on Nov. 8, 2016. (credit: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

He says the exercise helps Colorado election officials stay one step ahead, "We'll certainly be ready to go 61 days from now for the election."

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In addition to the preparedness training, Secretary of State Williams has also implemented procedures like the nation's first audit of ballots. Election officials compare the electronic readout of randomly selected ballots with the paper ballot to make sure they match.

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Voters in Denver cast their ballots at the Denver Elections Division Building on November 4, 2014. It was the final day that voters could cast and drop off a ballot in a mainly mail-in ballot election year in Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Colorado was recognized by the Washington Post as "the safest state to cast a vote."

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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