Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is advising voters of their rights amid the possibility of intimidation as they return their ballots at a drop box, following encouragement from an election denial group for their members to physically watch ballot drop boxes.

“There is no room for ambiguity when it comes to protecting every Coloradan’s right to vote without fear of intimidation of any kind,” an Oct. 21 statement from Griswold’s office reads. “Free and fair elections, without intimidation, are the cornerstone of American Democracy. Intimidation or harassment that interferes with voters’ right to make their voices heard, or that threatens Colorado’s election workers, will not be tolerated.”

In an email sent to supporters on Oct. 20, far-right activist group FEC United included a suggestion to hold “ballot box parties,” as first reported by the Colorado Times Recorder. FEC United was founded by election conspiracy theorist and Colorado podcaster Joe Oltmann.

The email suggests “best practices” to monitor drop boxes in order to deter crime, including having a group of at least seven people, pointing car headlights at the drop box, and staying 50 feet from the drop box, according to the Colorado Times Recorder. It instructs people not to wear Trump paraphernalia or talk to voters, which could be considered electioneering.

Some people who believe the lie that American elections are rigged have clung to a theory that drop boxes are locations ripe for wrongdoing, such as people stuffing them with illegal ballots or tampering with them in other ways to affect the election outcome.

A documentary released earlier this year and championed by far-right politicians, “2,000 Mules,” claimed that a contingency of partisan “mules” stuffed ballot drop boxes with fraudulent votes during the 2020 election. It relies on dubious evidence.

Recently there were reports of armed people in tactical gear watching a drop box in Maricopa County in Arizona, similar to the type of action FEC United is suggesting.

The email from FEC United does not include any guidance on whether to bring a firearm, though it cheekily suggests “not to have a class on gun cleaning” during a drop box watch party. Colorado law prohibits open carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a drop box, voting center, or ballot processing facility.

Boulder County Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said she was “disturbed but not surprised” by the events in Maricopa County.

“What we saw this past weekend was the cumulation of two years’ worth of extreme mis/disinformation that has led to violent threats against election workers and completely unsubstantiated claims that has led to distrust in our elections system. So far, most of the heat has been on election workers, and it’s painful to see this now extend to this extreme to voters,” she wrote in an email.

Fitzpatrick said that her office has already had conversations with local law enforcement so there can be a quick response to any possible voter intimidation.

El Paso County Clerk Chuck Broerman said he was aware of the FEC United email but has not seen any drop box watch parties or threats of intimidation in the county so far. He said the local Republican Party is focused on recruiting official poll watchers for polling locations and tabulation areas, not drop box locations.

“I guess it depends what they’re doing,” Broerman said of his office’s response to any potential drop box watchers. “If they’re just there and peacefully assembling, then we’re OK with that. But if they’re outside the bounds of good behavior, then that’s something we would have to address.”

Griswold’s office said that anyone attempting to intimidate voters by questioning, challenging or recording them at a drop box could be violating state or federal law. The office suggests reaching out to local law enforcement, the Colorado attorney general’s office, or the U.S. Department of Justice if a voter feels intimidated while attempting to vote.