Duties and functions

Colorado election workers could soon get new threat protections

Threatening a Colorado election worker for the purpose of preventing them from doing their job or in response to performing their official duties would be a crime under a bill introduced by Democrats in the state Legislature .

House Bill 1273 would also prohibit people from publicly posting the personal information — such as their address, phone number or photo — of an election official or their immediate family if doing so poses an imminent and serious threat. for the safety.

“The reality is that we need to have this conversation, given what has happened in the country over the past two years,” said Senate Speaker Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill. law. “I think it’s important to be very clear that we have additional protections for people who work to keep our democracy running.”

The bill comes amid a years-long effort by the legislature to create new protections for government employees, whether elected or public health officials, from threats and doxxing. It also comes amid a push by state lawmakers this year to provide more security for Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat who has been the target of death threats stemming from conspiracy theories about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

In fact, secretaries of state and election officials across the United States faced a sharp increase in threats following the last presidential election.

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The General Assembly has already approved money to allow Griswold to hire private security guards and monitor threats in the coming months, and now lawmakers are expected to pass Senate Bill 133, a measure bipartisanship that would cost around $800,000 and order the Colorado State Patrol to provide security services. to the Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and Attorney General similar to the protection they already provide to state legislators.

“The intentional spread of election conspiracies has fueled unprecedented violent threats against election officials, who show no signs of stopping,” said Griswold spokeswoman Annie Orloff. “These threats are not ‘business as usual’ and sitting in elected office should not require signing threats of violence without support.”

Orloff sent the Colorado Sun screenshots of recent social media threats against Griswold, including those calling for his hanging or execution for treason.

In this June 30, 2020, file photo, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold makes a point during a press conference at a mobile polling location in Denver’s Swansea neighborhood. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

At a recent rally in Colorado by a far-right group embracing 2020 election conspiracies, a speaker said, “If you’re involved in voter fraud, then you deserve to be hanged.”

There is no evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential election that would have overturned the results. President Joe Biden has won the presidential contest in Colorado, as well as nationally.

“The current statutes are narrow”

State Representative Emily Sirota, a Democrat from Denver who is also a lead sponsor of House Bill 1273, said the current threat environment is exactly why her bill is necessary.

“I think it’s essential that everyone who participates in elections can do their job without fearing for their safety,” she said.

She said her bill, which is backed by the Colorado Municipal League, would create a “clear path for prosecutors seeking to pursue these types of threats,” and thus make the pursuit of criminal charges more likely.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of R-Douglas County said he agrees with the spirit of Bill 1273, but questions whether it is necessary. Colorado already has laws against threatening or intimidating individuals and elected officials.

“It may be a bit of a bill,” he said, “but I agree that elected officials should not be threatened.”

Sirota points out that his bill would protect election workers and unelected judges in addition to elected election officials. And she says the measure would provide broader protections for election workers.

“While threatening to use violence against people in general is already a crime, current laws are narrow,” she said.

The Colorado County Clerks Association is asking for amendments to House Bill 1273. Its leader, Matt Crane, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

House Bill 1273, whose main sponsors also include Democratic Rep. Monica Duran and Democratic Senator Brittany Pettersen, would make threatening a poll worker a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days. jail time and/or up to $750 in fines. Doxxing an election worker by publicly posting their personal information would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

The measure would include a presumption that the release of the personal information of an election official or their immediate family poses an imminent and serious security threat if a federal, state or local law enforcement agency has issued a warning of security that applies to the election official. Last month, for example, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a threat alert warning that “domestic violent extremists” continued to spread false or misleading accounts of unsubstantiated voter fraud.

A number of other election-related bills are being considered by the leg this year.

Fenberg plans to introduce legislation in the coming days that would set clear boundaries for those who administer elections in Colorado and enact criminal penalties, possibly even criminal penalties, for people who “threaten the integrity of our elections or potentially manipulate the elections”. It would also require poll workers to undergo training on misinformation and disinformation.

The measure appears to be aimed at addressing the situation surrounding Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican who spread baseless conspiracies about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and is being investigated for being behind a security breach of his county’s electoral system.

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters speaks during the Truth and Justice Rally at the Old Mesa County Courthouse on Dec. 1, 2021 in Grand Junction. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“It’s about making sure people who want to serve as a designated election official meet certain basic criteria and standards,” Fenberg said.

State Rep. Ron Hanks, a Republican from Fremont County running for the U.S. Senate this year, unsuccessfully pushed Bill 1085, which would have required Colorado’s elections to be administered by paper ballot with countermeasures against electoral fraud, such as optically variable ink, holographic images and embedded images. /stealth dialing.

Hanks, who has embraced baseless allegations about the theft of the 2020 presidential election, is also a key sponsor of House Bill 1204, which would overturn Colorado’s mail-in voting system, would require that ballots be counted by hand and requires voters to have state-issued identification to vote. The measure was not scheduled for a hearing, but it is certain to fail in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

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