Politics & Policy

Breaking CO-4 Dispute: Markey Campaign Alleges Intimidation at Polling Centers by Law Enforcement Officers, County Points to Voters ‘With Guns to Kill People’

Steve Moreno, the Weld County Clerk and Recorder, issued this press release defending his decision to place uniformed law enforcement officers at four county vote centers on November 2, due to a past history of voter intimidation–from fellow voters. The campaign of Rep. Betsy Markey, Democratic party representatives, and one other allied group had objected to the placement of uniformed law enforcement officers as presenting a form of intimidation “to certain voters”:

On the afternoon of October 6, 2010, Sheriff John Cooke, County Attorney Bruce Barker and I met with the Campaign Manager for Congresswoman Betsy Markey, with the Executive Director of the Colorado Democratic Party, with representatives of the Weld County Democratic Party, and a representative of the Voter Protection Group of Washington, D.C. The topic of our discussion was my decision to post a uniformed Weld County Sheriff’s deputy at each of four Weld County vote centers during the General Election on November 2, 2010. The representatives expressed their opinion that the presence of uniformed law enforcement officers at polling places is intimidating to certain voters.

As Weld County’s Designated Election Official, I am sworn to provide the citizens of Weld County with safe, fair, accurate and secure elections. It is my authority under Colorado law to determine whether I believe circumstances warrant the posting of Sheriff’s deputies at certain Weld County vote centers on Election Day in order to ensure the safety of voters who exercise their right to vote at those centers. The four vote centers involved are the Greeley Ice Haus, Tozer Elementary School, theUniversity of Northern Colorado, and the Weld County Training Center.

The reason for my decision is that on Election Days in 2006 and 2008, we had situations at certain vote centers where law enforcement was needed. In each instance, persons threatened to return to the vote center “with guns to kill people.” My staff and I evaluated these instances and determined that it will be best for the 2010 General Election to have Sheriff’s deputies posted at certain high-volume vote centers. Each of the four vote centers named above is expected to have high-volume. We are not expecting delays at those vote centers; however, lines are typical at high-volume times on Election Day. The deputies will be present to keep the peace; not to interfere with voting. Sheriff’s deputies will not have access to the names of voters and will not be involved with the actual process of voting. They will not be checking identifications. I believe that the presence of uniformed officers at these vote centers will have the effect of preventing persons from trying to interfere with the exercise of voting privileges by registered electors. Additionally, the posting of a deputy at Tozer Elementary School was requested by the School’s Principal.

NewsRelease-LawEnforcementatVoteCenters

Some complaints surfaced in September 2008, as Latino voters claimed to experience insufficient Spanish-language assistance and intimidation from “beefy uniformed cops” in the 2006 midterm election:

 

[…] Even so, Ulibarri recalls that in some counties in 2008, “Our seniors prefer getting their instructions in Spanish, and they were given the cold shoulder.” The worst case by far is in rural Weld County, perhaps the richest agriculture district in the country east of the Rockies, but with a fast-growing Hispanic population estimated at over 25 percent. But because of a technical loophole – the county had a tiny Latin population in the 2000 census – the county hasn’t yet been required to obey federal civil rights laws requiring Spanish language outreach. But when the latest census results are released early next year, they will, in theory, be required to provide Spanish-language materials and assistance.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for compliance. During the last federal election, beefy uniformed cops manned the check-in desks at some polling places in Greeley, the county’s biggest town.

Those claims resurfaced on Election Day in 2008.

Amy Oliver, a local blogger and radio show host, cited an email issued just 39 minutes by Governor Bill Ritter’s legal counsel after polls had opened on November 4, 2008:

 

Sean believes the Governor’s office may have overreached when Ritter’s Chief Legal Counsel Trey Rogers emailed Weld County Clerk and Recorder Steve Moreno at 7:39 a.m. (a mere 39 minutes after the polls opened) on election day with a subject line: Please give me a call ASAP…

The following is the text of the email Rogers sent to Moreno.

We’ve had calls here about Weld County Sherriffs [sic] posted outside vote centers.   I spoke to Commander Spaulding there and learned that this is the case–deputies have been requested by your office at five centers for the entire day.   In light of some tactics in play this year (e-mails sent to voters saying they will be arrested if they try to vote and have unpaid parking tickets or bench warrants, etc.), couldn’t his [sic] cause intimidation? Please give me a call to discuss.   Thanks. [emphasis added]

Attempts made late Friday to contact either Markey’s campaign or that of her challenger, Cory Gardner, were unsuccessful.

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