Open-carry gun ban at drop boxes, polling centers advances in Colorado Legislature

Republican Rep. Ron Hanks proposed to make ballots more like bank notes

By: - February 15, 2022 11:17 am
Jennifer Bacon and Tom Sullivan

Reps. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, and Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, speak before the House State, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee on Feb. 14, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

A legislative committee hearing on four Colorado voting-related bills — most of them doomed from the start — became a microcosm of national partisan rhetoric around elections, lasting into the evening on Valentine’s Day.

Monday’s meeting of the House State, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee became an opportunity for outnumbered Republican state lawmakers and their allies to cast doubt on Colorado election security, and for Democrats, who hold the majority in both chambers of the Legislature, to champion voter rights as well as firearm restrictions.

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The first bill before the House committee on Monday was the only one sponsored by Democrats and the only strictly elections-related bill to advance that day. House Bill 22-1086 — sponsored by Reps. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat, and Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat — would prohibit people from openly carrying firearms inside a polling location or vote-counting facility, or within 100 feet of a ballot drop box location. The bill’s Senate sponsors are Sens. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Democrat from Boulder County.

HB-1086 would provide an exception for people owning private property within 100 feet of a ballot drop box, who would be allowed to carry firearms on their property. Similarly, on-duty peace officers would be granted an exception to the bill’s open-carry restrictions. Others found to have violated the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could face a fine of up to $1,000, up to 364 days in jail, or both.

Historically, firearms have been used to intimidate Black and Brown voters from exercising their right to vote, Bacon said. She described an incident in Mississippi after World War II when a mob of armed white men blocked Black veterans from voting.

“Just as we have had questions on where firearms can be from everywhere from schools to postal offices to airports, this is an important conversation for us to have,” Bacon said, “to ensure that all those who want to vote here in this state, regardless of ZIP code, should be able to do so without fear.”

ballot dropbox
A polling and ballot drop-off location at Pueblo Community College on Nov. 2, 2021. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Rep. Mary Bradfield, a Colorado Springs Republican, suggested that voters who felt intimidated by people carrying firearms still had the option to mail in their ballot or go to a different polling facility.

“But we also have employees that work there,” Sullivan replied. “That’s where these people work. That’s where they volunteer.” He added that election workers’ “civic pride” was being taken away from them by acts of intimidation at the polls.

HB-1086 passed on a vote of 7 to 4, with the committee’s four Republicans — Reps. Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins, Bradfield, Patrick Neville of Castle Rock and Dan Woog of Erie — opposed. The bill now heads to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Organizations supporting the Democratic-led bill include Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, both of which are national advocacy organizations, and Colorado Common Cause, a statewide organization that promotes public participation in government and advocates for voter rights. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a statewide organization that lobbies for gun rights; Weld County; and the think tank Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University are among those opposing HB-1086.

National standards for voting systems

House Bill 22-1078 would have required state voting systems and voting equipment to meet the latest standards issued by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Baisley of Roxborough Park, failed in the House committee on Monday.

Congress established the Election Assistance Commission in 2002. The commission develops voting system standards, known as Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, and it helps state and local election officials certify and accredit voting systems as well as the laboratories used to test voting systems. Though some states have passed laws requiring participation in the commission’s Testing and Certification Program, the program is voluntary.

Baisley told the committee that the bill wasn’t inspired by a documented issue with the state’s voting systems but by concern from his constituents about election fraud.

“When you say that this really isn’t driven by a problem that you’re seeing with the voter equipment that’s out there … How do you justify the cost to the counties?” Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat who chairs the House State, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, asked Baisley.

That’s “got to be as easy as asking, ‘Why do you have health insurance?'” Baisley replied. “I think we could forgo an awful lot that we spend money on (to pay) for a system that is compliant that would give (voters) that kind of level of trust that they deserve to have.”

It would have cost counties between $150,000 and $1.5 million to implement the bill’s requirements, depending on a county’s population, according to a fiscal analysis of HB-1078 by nonpartisan legislative staff.

“Colorado leads the nation in security standards for our voting system,” Hilary Rudy, deputy director of the Colorado Department of State, testified to the House committee. Rudy said the bill would “force the state to make an immediate shift” to new standards that would result in the necessity to hand-count ballots during the transition.

Baisley’s bill was opposed by Colorado Common Cause, the Colorado Democratic Party and America Votes, a national progressive advocacy organization. The House committee voted 7 to 4 to postpone the bill indefinitely, with Republicans opposed.

Removing people from voter rolls

Sponsored by Rep. Andy Pico and Sen. Dennis Hisey, both Republicans from Colorado Springs, House Bill 22-1084 would have provided a new mechanism for purging state voter rolls. The House committee voted 7 to 4 to postpone the bill indefinitely, splitting again along party lines with Democrats voting to postpone.

HB-1084 would have required the state court administrator to provide the secretary of state with the names of Coloradans who report they’re ineligible to serve on a jury because they are not a citizen or do not reside in the county where they’re summoned for jury duty. The secretary of state would forward the state court administrator’s report to county clerks, who would then be required to cancel the voter registration of any person on the list.

Any U.S. service member who is absent from the county where they are registered to vote because of active duty would not have had their voter registration canceled as a result of HB-1084.

Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat, said HB-1084 and other Republican-led elections bills played into the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. “That really bothers me,” Amabile said, “because we do have safe, fair elections here in Colorado, and I would like for us to assure our citizens that that’s the case, rather than to sow seeds of doubt.”

“There is no ‘big lie’ in this,” Pico countered. “That is not what this bill is about. This bill is about … bringing additional information to ensure that the voter rolls are maintained in a fair, accurate and good measure.”

Colorado Common Cause, America Votes and the Colorado Democratic Party opposed HB-1084.

Making paper ballots more like bank notes

Rep. Ron Hanks, a Cañon City Republican, sponsored House Bill 22-1085, another bill that failed in committee on Monday. The legislation would have required paper ballots to have certain “fraud countermeasures” similar to those used for bank notes, such as holographic images, embedded numbering and optically variable ink, which displays different colors depending on the angle from which it is viewed.

Despite repeated claims by Trump and his allies of election fraud on a scale that swayed the 2020 presidential election in President Joe Biden’s favor, there is no credible evidence that illegal voting of any kind — intentional or unintentional — is widespread enough to change the results of an election.

HB-1085 would have allocated funding for the secretary of state to reimburse county clerks for the costs of complying with the bill’s requirements. The bill was opposed by Colorado Common Cause, America Votes and Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, which advocates for people with disabilities. Supporters include the Centennial Institute.

The House committee voted 7 to 4, along party lines, to postpone Hanks’ bill indefinitely.

Changes for vacancy committees

One Republican, Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs, did find success in front of the House committee on Monday. Williams’ bill, House Bill 22-1044, passed on a vote of 8 to 3, with Bradfield, Woog and Rep. Alex Valdez, a Denver Democrat, opposed. HB-1044 would change the process of selecting a replacement for a lawmaker who leaves elected office early.

Current state law dictates that when a lawmaker resigns or leaves the Legislature before finishing their term, the central committee for that lawmaker’s political party appoints members of a vacancy committee, which selects a new state senator or representative to fill the vacancy and finish out the term. HB-1044 would require certain people from the political party to be included in the vacancy committee.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.

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