DENVER — More than a third of Colorado’s local election officials have left their jobs in the last three years thanks to term limits and harassment-fueled fatigue, sparking concerns ahead of next fall’s presidential contest.
The departures mean that nearly half of Coloradans live in a county with a new clerk overseeing elections, according a new report released Tuesday by Issue One. The national bipartisan reform group, based in Washington, D.C., studied election worker turnover in 11 Western states and found that in all, the region has lost more than 160 top local election officials in the past three years.
Twenty-four of them were in Colorado, producing turnover in 38% of its counties. Those counties are home to about 48% of the state’s residents.
While several clerks have left office because of term limits for county clerk and recorders, many have departed early. A chief reason, observers said, has been the threats and harassment levied at election workers since the 2020 election, which thrust the often-mundane elected position into the center of conspiracy theories stoked by then-President Donald Trump and his supporters following his loss to Joe Biden.
“It’s the inevitable outcome, as we warned about, when lies and disinformation and death threats have become somewhat of a way of life for election officials,” said Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. “So you see a lot of people who were experts in their field say, ‘I don’t need this. I’m going to go home to my family and get out of this craziness.’ ”
Though neighboring states lost a higher proportion of their local election officials than Colorado, the report says, those who departed office here took with them 314 years’ worth of election experience, more than any other Western state.
Before last year’s midterm elections, county clerks told The Denver Post that they had been threatened and were bracing for continued election denialism.
Crane says he expects the fall 2024 election to be worse and more conspiracy-laden than 2020. That makes him concerned about so many new clerks being thrust into such a challenging environment.
The clerks association has offered training and connected new clerks with veterans in other counties as mentors to get them up to speed. But it usually takes a full four-year cycle for a clerk to become fully comfortable with election processes, Crane said, and “it’s a tough time for on-the-job training.”
The heightened outside scrutiny gives new county clerks and their teams little leeway, said Michael Beckel, the research director for Issue One. Clerks who increasingly have been inundated with lawsuits and records requests must now become experts in misinformation and security, in addition to their standard election duties and day-to-day county records work.
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