Colorado election officials are downplaying concerns about Election Day violence and insist voter intimidation has not been a concern, even as a handful of local governments have bolstered election-related safety measures in recent days.
Pitkin County officials beefed up election safety by hiring security guards and banning firearms from polling places. Denver officials are preparing for possible unrest in the days after the election. In Douglas County, law enforcement has formed an 84-member “strike force” to handle safety and security in the days surrounding the election.
There is national context for the local concerns. Armed men dressed as security guards showed up outside a Florida polling place. In the Rust Belt battleground of Michigan, the secretary of state attempted to ban the open carrying of firearms at polling places, but her order was struck down by a state court.
In remarks Friday, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said Coloradans can feel safe and secure in voting. She said the most high-profile instance of voter intimidation in the state to date occurred in Fort Morgan, where a landlord told residents he would double their rent if Joe Biden wins the election. That statement drew a rebuke from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
“I do want to underline that our elections are going very well right now,” Griswold told reporters. “In Colorado, Coloradans should feel confident in going to the polls. If there is an issue, we have contingencies and plans, and we’ll be able to act as fast as possible.”
Turnout has reached record levels in Colorado, perhaps in response to the tumultuous year leading up to Tuesday’s vote. In recent months, thousands have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice, and a pandemic and recession have rocked the nation. President Donald Trump, who remains a deeply polarizing figure, has sought to undermine confidence in the election and has on multiple occasions declined to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose this election.
But amid these broader concerns, Colorado officials say they are confident in the state’s election security. That’s partly because incidents at in-person voting locations are less likely in Colorado because the overwhelming majority of voters cast ballots by mail or submit them at drop boxes.
Adams County Clerk Josh Zygielbaum said his office has received some reports of intimidation incidents at drop boxes, but that they haven’t held up after investigation. All drop boxes in the state are made of steel, bolted to the ground and monitored by 24-hour surveillance cameras.
“Everything has been unsubstantiated when we’ve taken a look at our cameras,” he said.
Some inadvertent electioneering has occured at polling places but has not been an impediment to election safety, he said. It’s prohibited by state law for voters to wear any paraphernalia — shirts, buttons, hats, face masks, or the like — that support or oppose a candidate or cause within 100 feet of a building that includes a polling location.
“We’ve simply spoken with folks who have done it and they have moved along,” Zygielbaum said on the call with Griswold. “I anticipate that will continue to be the case as we approach the election here and even on election day. And in the event that something more serious happens, we do have a plan to keep our voters and our workers safe.”
That plan has included input from law enforcement, but, Zygielbaum said, “officers will not be in or around vote centers unless they’re absolutely necessary.” Adams County officials moved a polling place out of a law enforcement substation because its location could have made some voters uncomfortable, Zygielbaum said.
The story is similar in Fremont County, said Clerk Justin Grantham, who has reached out to law enforcement but does not expect any major issues. He said electoral backlash was less of a concern of Fremont County, which is “off the beaten path” southwest of Colorado Springs.
Like in Adams County, Grantham said he has seen a couple instances of unintentional electioneering from voters who have worn a political hat or mask into a polling location. In those cases, he said, most people have been “pretty nice” about removing their electoral paraphernalia when asked to do so by election officials.
But even though he doesn’t anticipate any issues, he has contacted police to make a plan for any issues that should arise around more serious voter intimidation.
“If something gets out of hand, and I can’t handle it myself, then they’re around,” he said.
On Friday, NAACP Aurora Chapter President Omar Montgomery said his organization was planning to meet with law enforcement, but said the NAACP was not asking police to be at the polls. Montgomery said he wasn’t expecting any major election incidents, and urged people not to be intimidated by any information they see in social media posts.
“We just want people to know their rights once they arrive at the polls,” Montgomery said. “And if there’s any type of intimidation, that it is taken care of as quickly as possible so that everyone can be able to exercise their right to vote.”