DENVER — With the 2022 midterm election just a few weeks away, Colorado county clerks and election officials are sounding the alarm about the dramatically increasing number of threats toward their personal safety and voting systems. Several held a virtual press conference Friday to ask voters to help combat disinformation.
According to reports from the FBI and Department of Justice, Colorado is among seven states that have seen a lion’s share of threats that are potentially criminal, based on analysis conducted this summer. According to the DOJ, about 46 percent of the threats have come through emails and 26 percent from social media posts. Importantly, almost half came from outside of the state of the targeted election official, showing just how far disinformation spreads.
“What the FBI is seeing is that these threats to election workers are more prevalent in states with recounts, audits or public election disputes,” said Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. “We had the secretary of state recount that went on, and as you know, Colorado has more than its fair share of election deniers who have started to export their lies nationally.
“We’re very cognizant that a lot of this language and inflammatory lies that’s out there, it could incite somebody to do something violent.”
A material effect of the threats toward election offices has been difficulty finding workers. Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes said staffing has been especially difficult for her this year, and many of the people who have stepped up to volunteer as election watchers and judges have been election deniers.
“This really does put us in a very tough spot,” Koppes said. “Obviously, we’re wanting to be open and transparent. We’re wanting to keep the security and transparency of our elections up and above board in every single county. And when we have people coming in with a known bias, who are trying to prove falsities that they have been believing, it becomes another extra internal item we have to advise our veteran staff to watch out for.”
Because of this, Koppes said a zero-tolerance policy is being adopted across the state for any who volunteer with the intention to spread disinformation or to impede the vote counting process in anyway.
“If we see something, we will be dismissing watchers or election judges and then having conversations with our local law enforcement, like our sheriffs, or with our district attorney’s offices to see if there is something we could possibly pursue with actions that they have done,” Koppes said. “Because we want to make sure that nothing happens that will continue to erode the trust of the overall general public.”
Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a law which makes it a crime to threaten or intimidate election officials, or to post their personal information online to harass them.