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On Wednesday afternoon, March 30, Governor Jared Polis put his signature on HB22-1086, which will prohibit a person from openly carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling location.

For the Nov. 2020 election Chaffee County set up a voting booth outside the administration building to adjust based on COVID-19 pandemic realities. Photo by Dan Smith

Known as the “Vote Without Fear Act”, the bill was sponsored by Senators Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Sonya Jaquez-Lewis (D-Boulder County). The new law prohibits a person from openly carrying a firearm within 100 feet of any drop box, voter service and polling center (VSPC), or central counting facility while an election or any related ongoing election administration activity is in progress.

Its purpose; to ensure Coloradans can continue to cast their ballot without fear of intimidation.

“Participating in democracy should never be a scary experience. Every voter deserves to feel safe when exercising their sacred right to vote,” said Sen. Jaquez Lewis. “I’m proud to support legislation that further strengthens our elections by ensuring Coloradans can make their voices heard without fear of intimidation.”

That the bill is needed has become more clear over the past few years. In a state that now allows both conceal-carry and open carry of guns, and in a political environment where violence has been on the rise, the state is setting a marker that voter intimidation, as well as intimidation of election workers, will not be tolerated.

“It evens the score. Now voters can’t open carry guns up to a voting location, just like they can’t wear campaign buttons,” said Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell. “It goes to voter intimidation. There are other counties where there are a lot of vote centers in the places like schools. This evens it so you know what the rules are.”

“The sacred right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy, and it’s imperative that Coloradans can participate in our democracy without fear,” said Fields. “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 commonsense bill will implement critical protections to keep our polling places safe and defend voting rights throughout our state.”

During the 2020 election, voting location officials worried due to the extreme tenor of the rhetoric. County clerks across Colorado and the nation faced intimidation and threats from far-right members of the public, including Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell.

“It’s disgraceful. It’s a sad state of our time that these things are happening,” said Colorado County Clerk’s Association Executive Director Matt Crane, speaking last year about the rising incidence of physical violence toward county clerks and at voting locations. “We’re talking about elected officials who go to work every day making sure that people have the right to vote.”