I received my ballot last week and walked over to the nearest drop box, popped in my vote and went home. Safe, easy, secure. As far as I am concerned, Colorado elections are the best run in the country.

That is why I am so dismayed — but unsurprised — to find conspiracy theorists and militias have organized “ballot box watching” events in our state. It is unnecessary, anti-democratic and dangerous.

Joe Oltmann is a the grifter-in-chief for this particular exercise in voter intimidation. He is the head of FEC United, a group that fans paranoia among Republican activists and cashes in on their fears. Without any proof or evidence, he makes wild accusations only slightly less deranged than those spewed by Alex Jones.

Oltmann has recently replaced Dudley Brown as the Republican Party boogeyman. By whipping up the activist base until they foam at the mouth, Oltmann has helped to stack caucuses and influence Republican primary outcomes in the state legislature. He has had less success at higher levels. Notably, he endorsed the failed campaigns of Ron Hanks and Tina Peters, the two most prominent election deniers in last June’s GOP primary.

Like Brown, Oltmann likes to go full berserker against any opponents, particularly those within the Republican Party. Even as GOP candidate Pam Anderson attempts to unseat Jena Griswold in the race for Secretary of State, Oltmann rants against Anderson as a “radical leftist,” the “devil in disguise” and claims she “stole the primary from Tina Peters.” 

Peters lost by 88,000 votes, confirmed not once but twice.

Of course, that is at least less violent than the rhetoric he saved for our Jewish governor. Oltmann implied Gov. Jared Polis should be hanged and “stretch that rope” along with other people Oltmann believes should be hanged from gallows as traitors.

He may even have eclipsed Rep. Lauren Boebert as the foremost purveyor of bloodlust rhetoric in our political ecosystem. My guess is that Oltmann dons a Cheshire grin whenever that rhetoric leads to actual blood on the ground.

But here we are with Oltmann and his zombies lining up to spy on citizens exercising their civic duty.

He is not alone. In Maricopa County, Arizona, site of maybe the most scrutinized vote counting during the 2020 election, people have already set up cameras to record as ballots are cast in drop boxes.

At least they are not open carrying guns. Yet.

It seems to be only a matter of time until angry, uninformed and over-manipulated individuals show up at polling locations armed to “secure” the election. That is a direct path to violence and authoritarianism.

At least in Colorado the legislature had the foresight to ban open carry of firearms within 100 feet of any drop box or polling location. And to Oltmann’s credit, even FEC United tongue-in-check suggested that supporters should not hold a “class on gun-cleaning” while watching polls.

I do not doubt that many will be concealed carrying. And I will not be shocked if some decide to open carry a long gun at just beyond the boundary set by the legislature. 

That is a recipe for conflict, confrontation and danger. Voters, election workers, watchers, counter-protesters and law enforcement will all be at a heightened threat for violence as this election and the next draw closer.

After receiving my ballot, I spent a few hours “unboxing” it on Twitter, attempting to explain why Colorado elections were so secure, and how other voters could ensure their votes were counted. Democracy is better when more people engage in civil discourse and participate in civic duties.

I didn’t even think to look over my shoulder to see who might be zooming in on me with a camera. That is a reality we should all hope ends sooner than later. Our democracy will be better when it does.

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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