New Colorado law bans people from openly carrying firearms near voting locations

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Linda Renford works at the curbside ballot drop off outside Arapahoe County Elections Division in Littleton on Election Day, November 2, 2021.

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law on Wednesday that bans anyone in Colorado from openly carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a voting location, unless their property falls within that buffer. 

The Vote Without Fear Act was a priority election bill for Democrats in charge of the state legislature. Supporters say the law is needed to prevent the harassment of voters and poll workers, arguing that the current intimidation law can be difficult to enforce.

It passed with no Republican backers, who argued it infringed on 2nd Amendment rights.

Supporters say the bill will help prevent voter intimidation

Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez attended the bill signing ceremony at the state capitol and recalled an incident that occurred on the eve of the 2020 presidential election. Two men came to the county’s administrative office in Littleton.

“Came in with cameras, filming voters, open carrying, and just trying to intimidate voters. And then they moved to the front of the building where every voter had to pass them to get to the voting center,” she said.

Lopez said people complained and the election judges were really “shook up.” 

“Even though the police were called and our attorneys were involved, there was nothing we could do at that point because they weren't violating any laws. Now it's going to be law and they won't be able to do this ever again,” Lopez said.

Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Bacon is one of the main sponsors of House Bill 1086. She said voter intimidation has a long legacy in the U.S, especially against communities of color. She said it’s part of her own family’s history when they lived in Jackson Mississippi.

“I want to thank the NAACP. We have been fighting for this for a century in this country to be able to vote without fear,” she said.

Opponents argued that since Colorado is an open-carry state (with a few exceptions), the bill infringes on Second Amendment rights, and could make people who openly carry a firearm feel less secure.

The new law is among several election security measures Democrats are putting forward this session. 

House Bill 1273 would make it a misdemeanor to threaten or intimidate state and local election workers for doing their jobs. It’s still awaiting its first committee hearing. It also would make it illegal to publish the personal information of election workers — a practice known as doxxing — and allow those workers and their immediate family members to remove their private information from open records requests. And it would increase the penalties for threats and intimidation.

Senate Bill 153 is in response to the security breach in Mesa county. Republican Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters and her Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley are facing multiple indictments for election tampering and misconduct. A federal investigation is ongoing.

It would add new security requirements for counties, requiring constant video surveillance of election equipment, stricter rules about who can access equipment and increase penalties for potential security breaches in an effort to try to prevent insider security threats. The bill cleared the Senate with Democratic support and one Republican yes vote.

Colorado is also putting forward Senate Bill 133 to provide security for statewide elected officials, which has passed its first committee hearing. Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold requested the legislation.

Colorado’s elected officials from across the political spectrum say they’re facing threats of violence and online harassment as they go about their regular work. Additional money and guidelines aim to streamline security requests to keep up with rising needs.