Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold oversees several state functions — voting and elections being the most high profile among them. Griswold released a series of ambitious legislative priorities for 2022 in partnership with the Colorado General Assembly. One that stands out among the rest is The Vote Without Fear Act, signed by Governor Polis on March 30.
Under Griswold’s direction, the Colorado Secretary of State has undertaken a range of election reform work since 2019. Colorado has some of the most robust voting laws and election procedures in the country, encouraging voter turnout and creating a more efficient election administration process for county election officials. Yet, voter intimidation remains a real threat. In November 2020, two men were arrested for attempting to film voters delivering ballots to a dropbox in Littleton. One of them was openly carrying a firearm, prompting concern from state officials. Since then, similar incidents have occurred across the state.
Concerns Of Growing Appetite For Voter Intimidation
Incidents of firearms being brought to polling locations continued to increase since 2020. Voting procedures have become a contentious issue in recent years, divided into hyperpartisan lines. Such intense feelings towards dropbox voting have led to an increase in voter intimidation and threats of harassment. The sentiment is so strong that members of the Colorado Secretary of State, including Griswold, have received threats and requested a security detail.
No acts of gun violence have been reported at polling locations or dropboxes, but the presence of a firearm can lead voters to feel unsafe and walk away without casting their ballot. Colorado Secretary of State pushed the Vote Without Fear Act to the top of their agenda to ensure safer elections in 2022 and beyond.
Vote Without Fear Act
The Vote Without Fear Act prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling location, dropbox or election counting facility during any election. The law covers significant ground. In 2020, only 6% of voters cast their ballot in person, but the other 94 % used a dropbox or voted by mail. Additionally, it protects election workers.
Election officials are required to place a sign notifying people of the new law outside of any polling location, dropbox or election counting facility. Anyone found in violation of the law is subject to a criminal penalty ranging from a $250 fine to a year of jail.
“The Vote Without Fear Act will safeguard Coloradans’ right to cast a ballot without intimidation or interference. Every Colorado voter, regardless of their zip code, political affiliation or race, should feel confident in casting their ballot,” Griswold said in a statement.
The bill was sponsored by Colorado Senators Sonya Jacquez Lewis and Rhonda Fields and Representatives Jennifer Bacon and Tom Sullivan. It passed without any Republican support, citing an infringement of 2nd Amendment rights. It remains unclear if future election safety legislation will receive bipartisan collaboration. At least 10 other states have passed a similar law.
Ensuring Voter Safety In Colorado
The Vote Without Fear Act is an important step in protecting voter safety in Colorado. It also paves the way for the state to address other forms of voter intimidation. Voter intimidation ranges from spreading election misinformation, falsely posing as an election official or presenting false requirements for voter identification. It is most likely to affect young voters, BIPOC voters and voters whose primary language is not English.
“The sacred right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy, and it’s imperative that Coloradans can participate in our democracy without fear. We must ensure that voters who wish to make their voice heard at the ballot box feel safe to do so in Colorado, and this common-sense bill will implement critical protections to keep our polling places safe and defend voting rights throughout our state,” Fields said in a statement.
Learn more about The Vote Without Fear Act at leg.colorado.gov.