Colorado election officials enact security measures as state becomes target of election conspirators

Considered by many experts to be a leader in election security due to its up-to-date voting machines, its policy of recording every vote on a paper ballot and its rigorous post-election audits, the Colorado has been described by some election experts as the “gold standard for elections.” Yet despite its strong reputation, the state has recently been targeted by Holocaust denier groups as the center of baseless accusations that election officials helped steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump.

As a result, election officials and election workers in several Colorado counties have donned body armor and undergone active shooter training for their own safety.

Zygielbaum and other officials ABC News spoke to pointed the finger at Tina Peters, a beleaguered Mesa County county clerk, accusing her of being one of the leading figures fueling false conspiracy theories. and baseless that put Colorado in the spotlight.

Peters, who announced in February that she was running for Colorado secretary of state, has been under FBI investigation since November for her alleged involvement in a security breach of the county’s electoral system. Mesa, according to a statement from the Colorado attorney general. In March, she was indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of election tampering and misconduct, after authorities said the election software she was using for her county ended up in the hands of a consultant and that screenshots of the software had appeared on right-wing websites. .

“Using a grand jury to formalize politically motivated charges against candidates is a tactic long employed by the Democratic Party,” Peters said in a statement posted on his campaign website. “Using legal muscle to indict political opponents in an election is not a new strategy, but it’s easier to execute when you have a district attorney who despises President Trump and any constitutional conservative like me who continues to demand that all election evidence be made available to the public.”

In recent months, Peters has been joined by attorney John Eastman, a key architect of former President Donald Trump’s legal effort to overturn the 2020 election, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a confidant of Trump, at election denial events in the state.

“I came to Colorado today because you have here in Colorado the key to the whole nation,” Lindell said at a rally in April, “because you had a great county clerk, Tina Peters, (who) did his job.”

“For people who say we have to look forward, we have to fix what happened in 2020,” Peters told the crowd.

At a similar event in February hosted by FEC United, a conservative group with a militia wing, attendees including Peters and Eastman cheered as self-proclaimed Holocaust denier Sean Smith said he had evidence of the criminal electoral conduct of Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

“You might know me as Colorado’s most dangerous election denier,” Smith told the crowd.

The event prompted Griswold to report to the Colorado State Patrol after Smith said “if you’re involved in voter fraud, then you deserve to be hanged.”

“We are still seeing the effects of the 2020 election,” Griswold said in a statement to ABC News. “Extremist elected officials and right-wing political insiders continue to spread the Big Lie and election conspiracies.”

As election officials prepare for the upcoming midterm elections, “the potential for violence that we face is very real,” Zygielbaum said.

Concerns about the safety of their employees have prompted county officials to enact a variety of safety protocols. Zygielbaum told ABC News that employees in his Adams County office were asked not to take the same route home every day.

He said his county has also partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to review its facilities and is redesigning its election office “so that voters and people who are not employees” can’t get inside the building. building. Additionally, the county works closely with state, local, and federal law enforcement, and has a direct line to the FBI and Terrorism Task Force.

Secretary Griswold confirmed to ABC News that her office arranged for counties to receive a physical threat assessment from DHS, as well as a grant of nearly $130,000 to complete security upgrades.

In the city of Denver, City Clerk Paul López says he had to move his office away from a first-floor window because it was a security risk.

“I think people who think they can bully election workers and try to stop us from doing our job are absolutely wrong,” López told ABC News. “We will defend our democracy, and we will do so in a way that inspires people to come to the polls and does not scare them away.”

In Chaffee County, County Clerk Lori Mitchell has faced personal threats since 2020, with an incident over the summer that traumatized her to the point that she almost decided not to show up for court. re-election.

“I saw someone put their right hand on their left arm and shoot what looked like a gun at me,” Mitchell told ABC News. “And so I ducked into my car.”

“It ended up being a water gun,” Mitchell said. “But it was still one of the scariest days of my life.”

Now Mitchell and other officials in his office speak with voters through bulletproof glass. To prepare for the midterm elections, the county is working closely with law enforcement to enact additional measures to protect election workers.

“Colorado is one of the current epicenters of the Stop the Steal movement,” said Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. “And so we are concerned and very concerned about the influence and pressure being put on election officials. They are incredibly understaffed and overworked, and now they have to deal with the emotional toll that comes with knowing that you have to do things to protect yourself.”

According to Crane, the state has seen people “making open records requests for personal information about election officials and election judges.”

Crane said as the state prepares for upcoming terms, the attorney general and district attorneys have been working with law enforcement agencies to prepare for potential hostile situations against election officials.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have passed a bill that would ban the carrying of firearms at polling places and create new criminal penalties for people who threaten election workers.

A similar bill that is part of a legislative package aimed at increasing the safety of state and local officials was also introduced by a state legislative panel last month. That legislation also includes a bill to crack down on attempted sabotage of voting equipment — described by officials as a direct response to allegations against Mesa County Clerk Peters.

“No one should have to worry about their safety or that of their family when they’re an election administrator,” Griswold said.

“By protecting our election workers and officials, we are protecting our democracy,” she said. “We must do what we can to protect and retain our top quality election administrators at the state, county and local levels.”