The Fallout of Trump’s Colorado Victory

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At about 10 a.m. on Monday, the eve of Super Tuesday, the Supreme Court released its unanimous decision that former President Donald Trump was eligible to appear on the 2024 Colorado election ballot. Shortly after this news broke, Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, posted on social media that she was “disappointed” in the Court’s ruling, and that, in her view, the justices were stripping states of their authority to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Sitting in her downtown-Denver office yesterday afternoon, Griswold showed me some of the DMs she’d received over the previous 24 hours. “Well, one of the things—you probably don’t want to print this—is I’m being called a cunt every two minutes,” she said.

Griswold read a selection of the messages out loud—a mixture of angst, anger, sadness, and resolve in her voice. “Karma will be a bitch … Build gas chambers … We are on to you … Reap what you sow … Hope you choke and die … Fuck you, ogre bitch … I’m coming … Resign now before I get you … Kill yourself in the name of democracy … Set yourself on fire ...”

Her eyes wide and intense, she was the image of a person on high alert: Strangers had been able to get ahold of her personal cellphone number. Messages of this nature had been coming in for a while. In one saved voicemail from her office line that she played for me, a caller told Griswold that he hopes “some fucking immigrant from fucking Iran cuts her kids’ heads off” and “somebody shoots her in the head.” His monologue lasted more than a minute and a half and concluded with a warning: “I’ll be seeing you soon.”

Griswold is in the last two years of her second and final term (her position is term-limited). Secretary of state is the first public office she ever sought, and she refused to say whether she’d run for a different position in 2026. Griswold, who was a relatively unknown Democrat in a purple state, was elected when she was just 33. She has been outspoken in her belief that Trump is a danger to democracy, but her job, by design, has a certain neutrality to it. At least, it once did.

Although statewide elected officials have always faced harsh public criticism and intense scrutiny, the vile tenor of the Trump era has changed the reality of the role. Yesterday, Griswold said that the Supreme Court ruling, while technically the “conclusion” of the Trump Colorado-ballot affair, will likely not mark the end of the threats and harassment she’s facing. If anything, the Court’s decision bolstered the notion that Trump is above the law, and may have even emboldened his cultlike supporters to continue to act out. Last night, Trump vanquished his final Republican challenger, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, in all but one of the Super Tuesday states. Haley dropped out of the race this morning, clearing the path for Trump altogether.

Trumpism isn’t going anywhere. And calling Trump a threat to democracy, or expressing her displeasure with the Supreme Court ruling, may well open Griswold up to more vitriol. Like other state-level bureaucrats, she has had to figure out in real time how to respond to the threat of Trump and his extremist followers.

“Those who do not speak up when they’re in positions of power become complicit,” she said. “Those who do speak up do not automatically become partisan. And I think that’s an argument from the far right: that speaking out for democracy is in some way partisan.”

As Super Tuesday kicked off, Griswold met me at a ballot-processing center in Jefferson County, a blue suburban and rural area about half an hour west of Denver. Wearing an Apple Watch and blue blazer, she was trailed by aides and one security official as she walked through the front door. Her focus, at least in that moment, was to show me how safe and secure she believed Colorado’s elections had grown under her watch—even if she, herself, was now more at risk.

Griswold told me that a local news outlet, The Colorado Sun, had recently conducted a poll and that, in the category of “trust,” those who “administer elections and count ballots in Colorado” outperformed every other civic category. She also said that, as of the last processing, an overwhelming majority of voters, no matter their party, had used a mail-in or drop-box ballot. Nevertheless, a common MAGA-world talking point is that anything other than old-school, same-day, in-person voting is tantamount to voter fraud. In Jefferson County, between 95 and 98 percent of all voters, regardless of party affiliation, opt to use ballot drop boxes or to vote by mail in lieu of using traditional voting machines at polling stations.

I rode the elevator with Griswold’s group and the Jefferson County clerk down to the basement of the facility for a look at the various ballot-processing procedures. We wandered long concrete hallways and toured several windowless rooms that required key-card entry: the ballot-casting room, the signature-verification room. In one area, ballots zipped through a massive machine that workers had nicknamed “HAL.” The basement was filled with election judges wearing colored lanyards denoting their political affiliation and mingling pleasantly with one another. Many of these short-term contractors are older, retired people—Griswold shook their hands and thanked them. Wherever we went, individuals stopped to take notice of the roving entourage, though it was unclear how many recognized her.

In Colorado, as in other states, ballot-counting and all related procedures are carried out by a politically diverse pool of workers. But back in 2020, Griswold told me, certain conservative election judges in the state underwent “alternative training” by Republican-aligned groups for their roles and improperly rejected “huge amounts” of legitimate ballots. In another recent scandal, former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters was hit with 10 charges on allegations related to a voting-systems breach. Peters maintains that she was looking for evidence of voter fraud or manipulation in the machines, which were built by Dominion Voting Systems, the same company at the center of last year’s historic Fox News settlement. (Some of the threats Griswold receives invoke Peters’s name as if she were a martyr.)

Early this morning, Griswold’s spokesperson told me that yesterday’s Super Tuesday primary went “very smoothly” and that “no major problems were reported.” What chaos might have happened had the Court ruled the other way? Would two sets of ballots have been floating around out there, like alternative Super Bowl–victory T-shirts for both teams? Griswold told me that, in the unlikely event that the Court deemed Trump ineligible, all the votes cast for him would have simply been “rejected.” She compared this outcome to that of other erstwhile Republican candidates, such as Vivek Ramaswamy, who is no longer in the race but whose name is still on the Colorado ballot because her office didn’t receive his paperwork to formally remove it. Of course, had Trump’s more than half-a-million Colorado primary votes been “rejected,” even by law, something akin to another January 6 might have taken place. Griswold acknowledged this.

“We unfortunately contingency-plan for a lot of things,” she said, “including, by the way, in 2020. Everything that Trump was threatening—sending federal law enforcement to polling locations, pulling out the voting equipment, federalizing the National Guard—I took every single thing he said very seriously.”

Griswold grew up in tiny, unincorporated Drake, Colorado, not far from Rocky Mountain National Park. In what sounded a bit like a phrase she’s often repeated, Griswold told me that she lived “in a cabin, with an outhouse outside, on food stamps.” She is the first member of her family to go to a four-year college. She eventually went on to law school at the University of Pennsylvania, and has more than $200,000 left in student debt. Still, as with everything about her personal experience she shared, she was wary of being perceived as weak, or helpless, or unduly complaining.

“I think the amount of threats and harassment coming in, if you were to internalize all of that—would be very hard to do this job,” she said. “I don’t want you to take away from this that I’m super sad and everything’s going bad.” She told me that the harassment campaign had, in a way, been galvanizing. “It’s very motivating to try to stop those guys.”

The threats began to trickle in after Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election. But they accelerated last September, when Griswold found herself as a co-defendant in the lawsuit alleging that Trump’s seditious actions in the final weeks of his presidency prevented him from holding office ever again.

In the months since then, Griswold has received thousands of gruesome messages and threats—she showed me a white binder of documentation nearly two inches thick. She receives intermittent physical protection from the Colorado state patrol but, much to her consternation, does not have 24/7 government-funded security. (In lieu of a round-the-clock state-patrol detail, Griswold occasionally carries out her job with private security in tow, which she pays for out of her department’s budget.) As with former Vice President Mike Pence, people at rallies have called for her hanging. A man in the Midwest called her office warning, In the name of Jesus Christ, the angel of death is coming to get you. “They didn’t know who he was; they just knew the phone he called from,” she said. “And then that phone started to move. The guy drove into Colorado. So, that was really unnerving.”

Griswold told me she believes that certain people, including Donald Trump and Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert, “opened up these floodgates.” But the problem is much more insidious, she said. “It’s every single Republican election-denier in Congress. It’s every single moderate Republican who refuses to stand up to Donald Trump or to call out the conspiracies or political violence.”

Late yesterday afternoon, back in her office, I asked Griswold if she had spoken about her situation with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who in 2020 drew Trump’s wrath and likewise received threats.

Raffensperger, Griswold said, had indeed “opened the door about his experiences” in a private conversation with her that she wouldn’t divulge on the record. “Not many people live under a constant threat environment, including not many secretaries of state,” she said. “It’s not all secretaries of state continually going through this. And so there’s not a lot of people who can relate to what it is to live like this.”

She told me that she believed the threats against her weren’t being taken seriously enough by certain government officials, perhaps because of her gender.

“I’m not telling you I don’t get upset,” she said. “I don’t think I’m avoiding it. I think I’m not allowing it to debilitate me, and that’s a big difference.”

Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which represented the Colorado plaintiffs in the Fourteenth Amendment case, told me that, even in defeat, he believed that this suit had proved Trump engaged in insurrection. The six Coloradans at the center of the matter, Bookbinder added, were not extreme liberals or “Washington people,” and offered that they had “risked a lot putting themselves forward” in challenging Trump. “These were people who were active in Republican communities and really had some resistance from people they know. And they put a lot on the line to do what they thought was the right thing for the country,” he said. Heroes, in other words.

Griswold’s place in this chapter of electoral history might be less clear. I asked her how she squares her anti-Trump posture with the need to remain neutral as an election official. “I think that, No. 1, standing up for democracy is not partisan,” she said. Nor, for that matter, is standing up against those who attack our democracy, she added, “even if they’re a front-runner for the Republican Party, and even if they’re president of the United States.”


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