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Violence has no place in a democracy.

As the nation nears the November 8 general election, county clerks across the country continue to deal with threats to themselves, their families and their staff. Voters have been intimidated,  election-deniers are saying they won’t accept any results other than a win. Secretaries of State and county clerks, who run our local elections all across this nation, have sounded the alarm.

It is not happenstance that there are those who refuse to accept the results of a free and fair election are also those who planned, coordinated and instigated the violent Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. It appears to be no accident that more than 600 election-denying candidates running for offices at all elected levels across this country say they refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election, and unless they win in 2022, will refuse to accept this year’s results.

What they are saying is: they refuse to accept democracy

Ensuring elections are free from violence, threats and intimidation is a nonpartisan issue.

Ballot drop box in front of the Chaffee County Administration Office. AVV file photo.

Democratic countries debate issues in the open rather than resorting to violence, make decisions, and elect who leads them by voting. When the voting is done, they accept that the recipient with the most votes is the winner and get on with governance. There are those who are beginning to wonder if this may be America’s last truly democratic election.

On Saturday, Ark Valley Voice published the domestic terrorism alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and Capitol Police of the heightened threats to election workers, public officials, news media, and all those of us who are focused on conducting and reporting on the 2022 midterm election.

In fact, Sheriffs across the country have cited “an unusual number of threats” to election workers. The FBI and Dept. of Homeland Security named Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin as states with heightened threat levels. These are not idle threats. The normalization of lies and violence by the far-right is the opposite of democracy.

Wednesday, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold confirmed the FBI’s threat assessment and said she and Governor Jared Polis have received election threats, but so far there has been no indication of violence.

In some states, armed Trump supporters are camped out at ballot boxes and outside election offices.  Threats against our elected officials have risen 144 percent in just the past few years. Paul Pelosi, the husband of the U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who is in line for the presidency behind the vice president was violently attacked in their home last Friday.

“Violence cannot ever be part of our discourse,” said Republican Liz Chaney, who condemned those Trump supporters (and Trump himself) who have scoffed at the attack on Pelosi.

Political Violence as a Tool of Control

The actual definition of political violence is anything that controls or changes who benefits from and participates in political, economic, and socio-cultural life. Political violence is aimed at political ends and includes threats intimidation and harassment that impacts those who feel safe to participate; by voting, volunteering, or serving in public office.

“It’s disgraceful. It’s a sad state of our time that these things are happening. We’re talking about elected officials who go to work every day making sure that people have the right to vote,” said Colorado Clerks Association Executive Director Matt Crane (a Republican who used to be Arapahoe County Clerk). “The fact that they are dealing with death threats is disgraceful … The purposeful disinformation makes it more reprehensible.”

In Chaffee County, our own Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell and her staff have been threatened and intimidated:

“Before the Primary in June, I was notified by a colleague that there was an email circulating among an ‘election integrity’ group and it originated from someone in my county. It said something to the effect of, “we will be watching all the drop-boxes, and because we know Chaffee is an ANTIFA stronghold (what?) we will be armed.”

“My colleagues contacted the FBI and Homeland Security and I contacted my local law enforcement,” she adds.

The cover of the U.S. Election Integrity Plan Playbook.

Mitchell said the message came from an unknown person (who may be associated with the election integrity groups on which AVV has reported).  AVV is not aware of any evidence that “Chaffee County is an “Antifa stronghold.”

The term is used by the right as a slur inferring that those who oppose right-wing beliefs are somehow violent and evil. But, as AVV has reported, the term originates with those known as known as anti-fascists, or Antifa, who opposed fascist Nazi Germany.

The recent primary is only one of the latest in a string of regional incidents.

The Chaffee Clerk, her staff, and her spouse have been victim-shamed for trying to protect themselves. That protection has included bullet-proof glass in the Clerk and Recorder Office service area and working closely with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office.

Fremont County Clerk and Recorder Justin Grantham (a Republican) said he hadn’t seen the threats that other counties have seen now, but he has in the past. “There are national threats, but here in Fremont I haven’t had the threats like El Paso, Chaffee, and Pueblo [counties] have.”

Two years ago, Grantham had to outright demand that District 60 Representative Ron Hanks stop calling the work of his staff into question. “My trouble with Hanks was I offered for him to come in and see the whole thing, but you can’t be a judge when you’re on the ballot like he was.”

He credited a step he took after the 2020 election for the relative calm in his very red county. “I called a meeting and I explained every step of the process. I invited the elected officials to the risk-limiting audit. [Ron] Hanks didn’t accept, but Stephanie Luck did and I think that has made a difference.

Grantham says he’s only had one poll watcher for the 2022 election. “He had his doubts about the machines and connections to the Internet. But once he came in, he thought the process was good and said ‘nothin’ going on.'”

“I’m sick of them aiming at the county staff,” said Mitchell on Tuesday morning. “We have critical infrastructure to protect, we’re doing the work of the citizens of Chaffee County and we are going to protect that. I am tired of my staff being scared to come to work because of this threat-shaming.”

Mitchell was referring to the jabs taken at the Clerk and Recorders Office when county administration remodeled the offices to include bullet-proof glass. That improvement was done after threats during the 2020 election, including an incident in which a county resident aimed a realistic-looking toy gun at her through a car window.

“They have no idea what we’ve been dealing with,” added Mitchell. “This is not squirt guns. The Sheriff’s Office has bullet-proof glass and they have guns over there, so what is the deal about us having it installed when we’re facing what we have been facing?”

Mitchell recalled the violent rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election. “They sent a photo of my house with the caption, ‘we are camped in your town and we are not leaving until you give up Eric Coomer.’ It was posted to social media after the 2020 Election,” said Mitchell. “Something similar was posted to Commissioner Baker’s social media. And, the most terrifying part about it was that I was out of state and my wife was home alone.”

Democracy. Image courtesy of Fred M for Unsplash.

A message this past week by two sheriffs, one from a red, Colorado county, the other from a blue Massachusetts county represent law enforcement’s view of this:

“As sheriffs and Americans, we have two important messages. First, to anyone threatening or harassing election officials or voters: Stop. Second, to election officials, election workers, volunteers and voters: We have your back.”

“I take my security cues from law enforcement and Sheriff Spezze has been a great partner,” adds Mitchell. “Our motor vehicle staff has had weapons pulled on them more than once, so we took action so they can feel safe at work … We took oaths and we are professionals. We will continue to do the work for the citizens of Chaffee County, despite the victim shaming and intimidation.”

When the votes are counted, just as in a football game, someone wins and someone loses. As AVV has pointed out countless times, this is democracy. The evidence is mounting not just that the Trump MAGA people are delusional and continue to believe a lie about the 2020 election. Not just that they are poor losers. But that they do not and will not believe in democracy itself.

Calling attention to this deviant belief system that rejects democracy is not taking sides. It is standing for democracy.