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Colorado Lawmakers Advance Bill To Protect Elections Workers

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado legislative panel advanced a bill Thursday to add protections for elections workers after hearing disturbing testimony about escalating threats that have prompted many to quit or take security training so they feel safe in their public-service work. State and local elections officials told the House State, Civic, Military, & Veterans Affairs Committee that their workers, from municipal front-office staff to county clerks to the state's highest-ranking elections officials, have experienced an escalation of threats since the 2020 presidential election.

The threats — delivered by email, phone, or by the posting on social media of home addresses of workers and their family members — have left some local authorities confronting staff shortages ahead of Colorado's June primaries and the November midterms.

The threats have also prompted some workers to wear bulletproof vests to and from work around elections time and add active-shooter training to routine elections training in several counties, said the bill's sponsors and several county clerks.

Colorado's elections workers "have truly faced unprecedented threats, especially over the past two years, simply for doing their jobs," said Democratic Rep. Emily Sirota, a bill sponsor.

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She lamented that public servants across the political spectrum are being "villainized" as conspiracy theories rooted in former President Donald Trump's debunked claims of fraud threaten to destabilize the transparent administration of elections.

"It is our hope that this bill will grant some peace of mind to some of our most vulnerable and hard-working officials," she said.

Crafted with the input of prosecutors and the Colorado County Clerks Association, the bill would allow elections workers to have their personal information, such as home addresses, redacted from public records that could be accessed by others.

It also creates a misdemeanor crime for anyone using personal information to threaten or influence elections workers, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term up to 364 days, or both.

Threatening or intimidating election officials while they are working or retaliating them because of their work would be punishable by a fine of up to $750 or 120 days in jail, or both.

The committee advanced the legislation for consideration by the full House on an 8-2 bipartisan vote.

It's part of a legislative package to increase security for Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Colorado's top elections official, and other top state officials and lawmakers.

The package also includes a wide-ranging bill aimed at cracking down on attempted sabotage of voting equipment -- a direct response to allegations against Tina Peters, a Mesa County elections clerk who has been indicted for allegedly plotting to breach voting system technology. Peters denies wrongdoing.

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Peg Pearl, elections director for suburban Arapahoe County, said her department has been hit an with unprecedented number of departures and retirements over the past 18 months and the loss of front-line office workers who interact with the public because of the increase in threats.
"We need about 500 temporary workers for the midterm in our county," Pearl said. "I don't know that were going to reach that number at all."

Customer-service training for those workers now includes violence? de-escalation technique and it's bolstered by training on how to react in situations where person starts shooting, Pearl said.

Elections officials are laboring in an "unprecedented threat environment that demands action from the General Assembly," said Deputy Secretary of State Christopher Beale, adding that he, too, receives a constant stream of threats. Passing the bill, Beale said, would allow prosecutors to better pursue cases against suspects.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in February issued a threat advisory warning of possible violence, particularly for elections, by individuals or small groups motivated by conspiracy theories and "false and misleading narratives."

By JAMES ANDERSON Associated Press

(© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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