For the clerks and other people trusted to oversee elections in Colorado, these are tense times.
Some face hostility, even violent threats, a trend that continues in Colorado two years after the 2020 election, when former President Trump and his supporters alleged widespread voter fraud. Those claims, which fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection, remain unfounded.
Yet in Arapahoe County, Joan Lopez, the clerk and recorder in charge of elections, says an atmosphere of intimidation lingers. She tells Colorado Community Media she has received a threatening, handwritten letter with profanity and referring to her race. The letter writer also claimed to know where she lives.
“You get concerned for your family and yourself,” said Lopez, a Democrat.
She said law enforcement officials are investigating the case.
The FBI says election officials across the country have reason to be fearful and says agents are committed to finding and bringing to justice those who would jeopardize the stability of free and fair elections.
Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, says election officials around the state are worried.
“Everybody’s bracing depending on how this election goes,” said Crane, a Republican former Arapahoe County clerk. “I think that if certain candidates don’t do as well at the ballot box as people think they should, then we expect threats to ramp up.”
In Weld County, Carly Koppes, a Republican county clerk, reported death threats in online messages during recent election cycles, along with messages from people “reminding me the military will come for me and I’ll end up in Guantanamo Bay.”
Several county clerks in Colorado have received death threats since 2020, according to Crane, who has also received death threats.
“When election officials stand up for truth, that’s when the threats start coming,” said Crane, who strongly pushes back against narratives that the 2020 election was stolen.
‘It just comes back’
Threats to clerks’ offices arrive in different forms: emails, phone calls and through social media.
More broadly, clerks’ offices are inundated with unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 election and other elections, Crane said.
Lopez said some of those appear to stem from coordinated campaigns by political operatives, where the same emails are copied and pasted and simply forwarded.
The barrage is a source of ongoing frustration.
“How many tours can we give, how many references?” Lopez said. “It seems like no matter what we do, it just comes back.”
Fraud accusations are not new, Crane said. What’s different is the involvement of prominent officials in pushing those claims.
“What we saw in 2020, though, was a completely different ball game because it came from the highest office in the land, the U.S. president, lying about an election and claiming ‘stolen election,’” Crane said.
Helping to fan the flames is a “well-funded and well-organized” network of people who keep repeating fraud claims for financial and political purposes, Crane said. With a purported “election defense fund,” Trump collected money from supporters after the 2020 election, Crane said.
When MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — a high-profile ally of the former president — held an election fraud-themed event last year, it seemed to cause an increase in calls to clerk’s offices in Colorado, just like a similar event he hosted this year, Crane said.
The atmosphere isn’t intimidating for clerks everywhere in Colorado. In Douglas County, clerk Merlin Klotz reports no recent threats or harassment. His office has contended with about a half dozen unfounded claims of election fraud in the last year.
“My perspective is very simple, and that is that we have in Colorado — to my way of thinking — the best processes of any state in the country,” said Klotz, a Republican elected in 2014.
He added: “Our biggest advocates are our (election) judges, and once someone works as a judge, they see how tight it is, and they’re our best salesmen.”
While stories of grassroots trust-building in counties are common, some incidents leave officials concerned. Election staff in Arapahoe County were shaken the day before the 2020 presidential election when two men — one openly carrying a firearm and wearing a tactical vest — showed up and filmed people near a ballot drop box at the county headquarters in Littleton.
“I know it was to intimidate voters, but they never say that,” said Lopez, adding that the men maintained they weren’t doing anything wrong and that the spot was public property.
State lawmakers this year passed the Vote Without Fear Act, which prohibits people from openly carrying firearms in any polling location or within 100 feet of a ballot drop box or any building in which a polling location is located, while an election or election administration activity is in progress.
After 2020, physical security has become a greater concern for clerks amid the spread of election fraud claims, Crane said.
“Counties have been much more proactive with building relationships with local and state and federal law enforcement to be able to both share information and have an incident response plan should, God forbid, something happen,” Crane said.
Crane says people with concerns about election integrity should know the systems are regularly tested.
“We don’t inherently trust systems either, which is why we have extensive testing before and after the election to (show) those systems work well,” Crane said. “What we’ve found is (they’re) incredibly accurate and do work well.”
In Colorado, there have been about 1,000 tests and audits since 2016, and the voting systems in use have never failed a test or audit, according to Crane.
Elbert County conducted a hand recount of the 2020 presidential race in the spring of 2021. That hand count confirmed the machine count, according to the Colorado County Clerks Association’s website. El Paso County ran its 2020 ballot images through Clear Ballot’s Clear Audit program, which again confirmed the machine count, the website says.
“Many other Colorado counties publish their ballot images and Cast Vote Records online for free,” the website added.
Crane and others emphasized the bipartisan nature of the elections process.
Klotz said a team with dissimilar party affiliation handles ballots, from picking up the ballots at drop boxes, post offices or polling locations up through the ballot opening and processing procedures.
Koppes, the Weld County clerk, said despite the threats she’s received, she continues to be vocal about election integrity.
“I will continue to speak the truth with the facts,” said Koppes.