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Politics and Government

Colorado election workers could soon get new protections against threats, doxxing

House Bill 1273 would make it a crime to threaten an election worker in an attempt to prevent them from doing their job or in response to them performing official duties

Election officials collect ballots out of a ballot box in Gunnison County. Voters turned out for early voting in the parking lot of the Blackstock Government Building on Oct. 19, 2020. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Threatening a Colorado election worker in an attempt to keep them from doing their job or in response to them 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, telephone number or photo — of an election official or their immediate family if doing so poses an imminent and serious safety threat.

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“The reality is we do have to have this conversation, given what’s been happening in the country over the last couple of years,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill. “I think it’s important to be extra clear that we do have additional protections for people who work to make sure our democracy functions.”

The bill comes amid a yearslong effort by the legislature to create new protections for government workers, be they elected officials or those in public health, against threats and doxxing. It also comes during 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 workers across the U.S. have faced a sharp increase in threats following the last presidential election.

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The General Assembly already approved money to let Griswold hire private security guards and monitor threats in the coming months, and now lawmakers are slated to pass Senate Bill 133, a bipartisan measure that would cost about $800,000 and direct the Colorado State Patrol to offer security services to the secretary of state, state treasurer and the attorney general similar to the protection they already offer state lawmakers. 

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

Orloff sent The Colorado Sun screenshots of recent social media threats leveled against Griswold, including ones calling for her to be hanged or shot for treason.

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

During a recent Colorado gathering of a far-right group that embraces conspiracies about the 2020 election, one speaker said that “if you’re involved in election fraud, then you deserve to hang.”

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

“Current statutes are narrow”

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

“I think it’s critical that all those involved in elections can do their jobs without fearing for their safety,” she said.

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

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, said he agrees with the spirit of House Bill 1273, but wonders if it’s needed. Colorado already has laws against threatening or intimidating people and elected officials. 

“It may be a bit of a statement bill,” he said, “but I agree that elected officials shouldn’t be threatened.”

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

“While it is already a crime to threaten violence against people in general … current statutes are narrow,” she said. 

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

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

The measure would include a presumption that disseminating the personal information of an election official or their immediate family constitutes an imminent and serious safety threat if a federal, state or local law enforcement agency has issued a safety warning that applies to the election official. Last month, for instance, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a threat alert warning that “domestic violent extremists” have continued to spread false or misleading narratives about unsubstantiated election fraud.

Other election-related bills at the Capitol

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 people who administer elections in Colorado and enact criminal penalties, perhaps even felony ones, for people who “threaten the integrity of our elections or potentially manipulate the elections.” It would also require election officials to undergo training on misinformation and disinformation.

The measure appears aimed at responding to the situation surrounding Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican who has spread baseless conspiracies about the 2020 presidential election result and is being investigated for alleged being behind a security breach of her county’s election system.

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

“It’s about making sure that folks who want to serve as a designated election official follow some basic criteria and basic standards,” Fenberg said.

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State Rep. Ron Hanks, a Fremont County Republican running for U.S. Senate this year, unsuccessfully pushed House Bill 1085, which would have required that Colorado elections be administered through paper ballots with ballot fraud countermeasures, such as optically variable ink, holographic images and embedded/stealth numbering.

Hanks, who has embraced baseless claims about the 2020 presidential election being stolen, is also a prime sponsor of House Bill 1204, which would roll back Colorado’s mail-in ballot system, require that ballots be hand counted and require that voters have a state-issued ID to vote. The measure hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing but it’s certain to fail in the Democratic-controlled legislature.


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