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Election officials and lawmakers are responding to voter fraud narrative differently

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Across the country, some Republican state lawmakers are pushing for new election security laws in reaction to the false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Local election officials are also worried about security, but their focus is keeping themselves and poll workers safe. They say they continue to be harassed and threatened by people who do not accept that the election was legitimate. From member station KUNC, Scott Franz reports on how one county clerk is responding.

SCOTT FRANZ, BYLINE: Colorado Republican lawmakers like Ron Hanks say the state needs to switch voting machines and add holograms and other security features to ballots.

RON HANKS: We must begin serious discussions on removing threat vectors from our voting systems.

FRANZ: Hanks says election security is compromised because people can copy mail ballots.

HANKS: Ballots that cannot be copied and counted multiple times is the easiest first step.

FRANZ: But the state's bipartisan County Clerks Association says the current ballots are secure and a gold standard for the nation. They say they're not seeing any ballot fraud and oppose Hanks's ballot bill.

LORI MITCHELL: So this is our - obviously our Salida motor vehicle office. We have...

FRANZ: A hundred miles southwest of the state capital, in Hanks's district, Lori Mitchell is worried about a different kind of election security.

MITCHELL: My staff feels safer with this here. It's...

FRANZ: Mitchell is the clerk in Chaffee County, population 19,000. The Democrat is fortifying her office in its historic courthouse building.

MITCHELL: It's a bulletproof wall. And then the wall is bulletproof. And then we have glass here. That is bulletproof.

FRANZ: She stops frequently to unlock thick doors. And her staff are talking to customers through a small bubble of glass.

MITCHELL: You want to have that connection with your citizens. You want to be, you know, face to face with them. But yet, the other part was more of - I mean, I talked it over with them, and they feel better with this.

FRANZ: The upgrades are in response to threats Mitchell has been getting on social media and in real life, like an incident last summer.

MITCHELL: Out of the corner of my eye, I saw somebody lay their right hand over their left arm and pull what looked like a trigger to me. And so I ducked in my car. And it was a squirt gun, and it splashed on my window. And I was just really worked up about it for a number of days.

FRANZ: Mitchell says her job hasn't always been this scary. When she was first elected in 2014, elections were not controversial. But now threats about them are taking a toll on her mental health. After the squirt gun incident, she thought about changing careers.

MITCHELL: I didn't know if I would run again. I mean, it's upsetting. I thought, I don't want to live like this, you know? But then it's bigger than me.

FRANZ: Mitchell decided to run for a third term this November.

MITCHELL: And I'm not going to back down because then they win. I'm going to stand up. I'm going to do my job, and I'm going to do it well. And that's what I can guarantee for the citizens of my county.

FRANZ: Colorado Democrats have the votes to block Republican election bills. Their security measures would create new criminal penalties for threatening election workers and ban openly carrying guns within 100 feet of a polling place. Sponsor Jennifer Bacon.

JENNIFER BACON: We just want to show people that we have their back. And we want to show people who we are and that to be American is not to threaten people to execute on their utmost fundamental right.

FRANZ: The measures are advancing quickly and are on track to be signed by Democratic Governor Jared Polis as soon as this spring. For NPR News, I'm Scott Franz in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Franz
Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.