An attempt to enshrine a ban on the open carry of firearms at ballot boxes and polling stations in Englewood's municipal code failed after a split council vote Oct. 17, weeks before the Nov. 8 General Election.
The ordinance, which would have aligned the city with Colorado's Vote Without Fear Act — a state law passed by Democrats in March that bans carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a voting location — received a 3-3 vote, failing to clinch a majority.
Englewood Mayor Othoniel Sierra, District 2 Councilmember Chelsea Nunnenkamp and Councilmember At-Large Jim Woodward voted in favor of the ordinance. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Ward, District 3 Councilmember Joe Anderson and Councilmember At-Large Rita Russell voted against it.
Cheryl Wink, Englewood's other at-large council member, was absent.
Since the 2020 General Election, threats and intimidation around voting have increased nationwide, according to the Justice Department. The issues concern not just voters, but election officials as well, with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security identifying Colorado as one of the top states for threats to poll workers, according to AXIOS Denver.
Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez, the night before the Nov. 3 2020 election, reported two men — one of whom was carrying a gun — standing outside a ballot drop box in Littleton filming voters.
“He was very hostile any time somebody approached him and said what are you doing,” Lopez said of her staff’s attempts to speak with the men during a previous interview with Colorado Community Media.
State law still empowers local officials to enforce the open carry ban and the Englewood City Attorney's Office has asked the county clerk's office to post signage of the ban at the county ballot box near the city's civic center building.
But without a formal alignment of city code with state law, Deputy City Attorney Victoria McDermott said “it’s possible" the city could still encounter issues around open carrying of firearms near voting sites.
"We don’t want to run into an issue where there is a question of whether or not this is in fact prohibited or not," McDermott said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to ensure that voters aren’t intimidated at the ballot box."
Councilmembers who voted against the ordinance did so on grounds of what they said were possible infringements of constitutional rights.
“I personally don’t support the open carry of firearms in general, most especially at polling locations," Ward said. "However, I have trouble exercising government authority in a case where our Constitution, as long ago as it was written, explicitly grants certain rights."
Russell said she has "never seen an issue" with open carry while she voted and added, "I really don’t want to vote in any way to limit the constitutional right."
Nunnenkamp, whose day job is chief of staff for Unite America — a nonprofit political organization that campaigns for electoral reforms to better support democracy — said she has seen a “rise of intimidation, an uptick in questions around the voting system."
“Our constitutional rights are very important. One of the greatest is our right to vote and the right to vote without fear and intimidation,” Nunnenkamp said.
Lopez, the Arapahoe clerk and recorder, said she respects Englewood council's decision.
"However, federal and state law govern elections," she added. "We will continue to follow this law just as we do others regulating elections, like those that prohibit electioneering."
Lopez said her office has not been aware of any violations of the law since it went into effect before the June primary.
Update: This story has been updated with comments from Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez
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