Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In any other election (at least for the general election and party primaries before 2020), the hardworking county clerk and recorder offices’ work may have been taken for granted as has been the safety of our elections. But these days, with election deniers continuing their attacks on local officials, irrationally and without a shred of evidence saying that our democratic elections are rigged, the situation has become extreme.

“It’s almost a denial of service, the requests are broad, repetitive, meant to take up all our time,” said Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell. “It’s like they don’t want us to get anything else done that is actually our job. Combined with getting ready for the general election, and this latest recount, the office is already working like crazy.”

The latest recount she refers to was the fruitless statewide vote recount recently requested by Tina Peters, who lost her bid for the Republican Secretary of State candidacy in the June 28 primary.  Mitchell notes that her office wrapped up the vote recount on Thursday, and not a single vote changed for Peters, or for Pam Anderson, who won the Secretary of State Primary by a substantial margin. Only a single vote changed for the candidate that came in third.

“We completed the recount and no more than got done, when we and other Colorado counties just got sued a couple of times by Peters with these completely crazy claims,” added Mitchell. “None of it is true and none of it makes sense.”

Image of private voting booths. Photo Courtesy of KSHB.

What Mitchell did not add is that Peters is using her claims of election fraud to raise money to continue what appears to be part of a disinformation campaign, that is endangering our election officials.

Peters’ primary loss margin was so large, that state election laws require that she had to fund the recount herself. She raised a reported $500,000 after her announcement to demand the recount, which was estimated to cost at least a couple hundred thousand dollars.  (Peters will be arraigned at 3:00 p.m. today in Mesa County on the standing charges she is facing.)

Colorado County Clerks Association Executive Director Matt Crane (himself a former Arapahoe County Clerk and a conservative Republican) testified before a United States Senate hearing earlier this week, describing a situation occurring across Colorado and in hundreds of county clerk and recorder offices across the county; the flood of thousands of requests for information, for video copies, for records and information, the threats and intimidation being faced by small local offices.

Current Colorado County Clerks Association (CCCA) Executive Director Matt Crane and former CCCA Executive Director Pam Anderson. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Clerks Association. Both have fought election disinformation.

Crane asked senators to help make it easier for local election officials to learn about and to receive federal funds to help them protect themselves and their offices from security threats.

The situations are real and they are continuing. The Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force is prosecuting people who have threatened election officials. To date, the task force has investigated more than 1,000 complaints and has prosecuted five people.

County clerks and poll workers are being doxxed, threatened, and followed. During the hearing, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson described people descending on her home and yelling threats and obscenities into bullhorns while she was putting her young son to sleep. It was, she said an “omnipresent feeling of anxiety and dread that permeates our home,” and pleaded with senators to pass additional protections for her and her colleagues.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she had to leave her home for weeks under state police protection during the 2020 election cycle. She said she was “doxxed,” meaning her personal information was posted publicly. Her office was targeted with threats, some serious enough to refer to law enforcement, and social media trolling that parrots misinformation spread online.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who Mitchell also knows, testified before the committee and barely got two words out before tears began, after the opening video detailed death threats against her and her team.

The loss of the nation’s election officials’ institutional knowledge is real. One in five election officials reported in a recent national survey they are somewhat or very unlikely to stay in their jobs through 2024 due to the increased threats and political pressure.

Before the 2020 General Election, Mitchell herself was threatened in Chaffee County. Speaking to Ark Valley Voice after the incident Crane said, “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. The fact that they are dealing with death threats …”

“The claims are lies,” said Crane, speaking about the often wacky claims of satellites influencing voting machines in Italy, Chinese-made thermostats that change votes, machines that pick and choose candidates and dozens of other baseless claims. “The purposeful disinformation makes it more reprehensible.”

Mitchell described how local poll watcher Carle Linke created a scene at the voting location at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds without even entering the watcher area, claiming election fraud. (a polling site that had been published and covered by news organizations). She said the scene occurred in front of the balloting area, and Linke, who had demanded a sheriff’s deputy, then told the deputy she had a gun. The incident so unnerved two of the Republican-appointed election judges that they asked for a deputy to remain there.

But Linke, speaking to the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) during public comment this week provided a different viewpoint. Although she couldn’t name them she said “There are several laws being violated concerning our local elections, moving sensitive equipment, refusing Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests for videos and correspondence and many other infractions.”

She went on to ask the BoCC “Do you plan on upholding the law and the Constitution no matter what the pressures are from the state and local officials. (She didn’t elaborate on what she mean by “pressures”).

Commissioner Rusty Granzella asked what issues she was talking about and said that state statute designates recall elections to handle actual elected official misconduct.

Then she asked if the commissioners “are aware of the Chaffee County ordinances for removing county officials from office if they are guilty of breaking the law?” Specifically if they were aware of Chapter 87 of the Local Government Guide, because “If it came down to the matter of the law, that’s what the public needs to know that you would do.”

County Attorney Daniel Tom objected, telling commissioners not to answer because “I don’t know what statute that is referring to and I’d have to research it,” adding that the state has recall laws and recall election process.

(Linke appears to have referenced a Texas local legislative handbook) which has absolutely nothing to do with Colorado).

But commissioners reacted testily, if politely. “Yes, I already took that oath five and a half years ago,” said Commissioner Greg Felt.

“I took that oath four years ago,” added Granzella.

Former Chaffee Republican Committee Chair Alan Seeling preceded Linke and provided what he said was written documentation “things that happened with the election machines and the Dominion machine issued. Apparently there’s a big movement across the state to hold the county commissioners responsible for this stuff. So here — so you don’t get blindsided if something breaks … the last thing we need is for these to come at the county.”

Linke’s last comment reiterated what some might consider a veiled threat. “I pray that you really research the issues – like Allen said you could be held responsible- and we don’t want to see that. We need good leadership that will follow the Constitution and the law.”