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KUNC is a member 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.

Colorado lawmakers pass bill to ban open carrying of guns at polling places

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Colorado residents would be banned from openly carrying firearms within 100 feet of polling places if Gov. Jared Polis signs the Vote Without Fear Act.

When a man with a gun on his hip approached the drive-thru voting station in Salida last November, Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell said many people nearby were concerned.

“You can just feel the tension from the election workers, from my staff, from the other voters, and I just don’t think that’s right,” Mitchell said last month as she recalled the incident.

These reports of armed voters around the state have motivated Democratic lawmakers to pass the Vote Without Fear Act. It will ban people from openly carrying firearms within 100 feet of a ballot drop-off location or polling center.

“Voters deserve the basic American right to cast a ballot without a man looking over them with a gun,” Sen. Sonja Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, said before she voted for the legislation Monday morning.

Supporters of the new law are also citing a 2020 incident where police in Littleton responded to a report of an armed man filming voters at a ballot drop box.

At least 10 other states have banned the open carrying of firearms at polling places.

People who break Colorado’s new law will face penalties ranging from a $1,000 fine to a year in jail.

Republicans oppose it, with some blasting it as an unnecessary, “feel-good bill.”

“So we’re taking values, perspective of the world from the metro Denver area, maybe the Boulder area, and applying them statewide,” Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said. “Why? I don’t know. It’s a very small population of voters who actually go to polling places.”

The bill is now heading to Gov. Jared Polis. It includes exemptions for police officers and residents with concealed carry permits.