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Nicolais: Death threats to election officials threaten democracy itself

A recent investigative report details hundreds of violent threats made to election officials in the wake of the 2020 election

Earlier this month two reporters from Reuters documented the death threats and violent taunts aimed at election officials across the country — and the utter indifference often displayed by law enforcement. 

Make no mistake: this is the greatest threat our democratic system of government has faced since its founding.

Yes, we have fought two world wars. Our country has been riven over matters of civil rights, economic disparity and personal freedoms. We remain in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 650,000 Americans.

Mario Nicolais

But we have neve been confronted with so many of our own citizens willing to engage in the violent overthrow of our democratic institutions. Specifically, their aim is the electoral system and ensuring their preferred outcome results.

Even the Civil War never threatened to do away with elections. To the contrary, Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Provisional Government of the Confederacy by the people of the Confederate states.

As the Reuters report detailed, that is not the case anymore. Hundreds of threats have been received in election offices across the country. More than a hundred included death threats or other explicit violence. Harm to workers, sexual assault against family members, murder of children.

Many of those threats were made here in Colorado.

I have often publicly disagreed with and criticized Secretary of State Jena Griswold. I have accused her of grandstanding and disagree with her on several campaign finance policies. But I absolutely bristled as I read about the threats sent to her.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Whatever else I think of Secretary Griswold, I applaud her dedication to public service, her efforts to expand access to the ballot (particularly universal mail balloting), how her office handled the 2020 election cycle, and the swift, decisive action she took in the aftermath of the mess created by Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters.

And no matter what anyone thinks of her, she should never have to fear for her safety and wellbeing for simply doing her job. Nobody should.

I have spent two decades working with election officials across the state: local designated election officials, county clerks, state staffers within Griswold’s office. Generally, they are among the hardest working, most helpful, fair-minded government officials. Their jobs are hard enough without having to worry about vitriolic threats.

That is why each of these threats should be investigated and prosecuted — here in Colorado and across the country. If they are not, it is an open invitation for a surge in threats and actual violence across the country during the 2022 and 2024 elections.

It is not hard to imagine militias self-appointed to “protect against fraud” showing up at polling places in places like Maricopa County, Arizona, or Cobb County, Georgia. Or even in Denver or Arapahoe or Douglas counties.

Those groups may bear a striking resemblance to the one that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, many bedecked in tactical gear and armed with batons and projectiles. Or, worse still, with long guns slung over their shoulders and swaying prominently before them.

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It is that picture that drove me to question whether January 6th was just a “practice run” and to condemn calls for the execution of political opponents. It is that picture that makes me worry that we are headed down a path charted by authoritarian regimes across the globe.

If proper steps are not taken by the Department of Justice, the Biden Administration and state leaders across the country to bolster the physical security and infrastructure around our coming elections, we may court a collapse of the electoral system. This is particularly true as many Republican-controlled states undermine mail ballot voting and force people to vote in person at polling stations where they may be the most vulnerable.

Our democracy is under threat from a coming storm. If we do not board up and protect it, and the people who make it work, we are at great risk of watching it be swept away.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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