Citing concerns for election officials, Pitkin County bans guns in county buildings and polling places for election and holidays
Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously banned all firearms from county buildings and polling places until the end of the year.
Janice Vos Caudill, the county’s clerk and recorder, requested the ban because she said she fears her staff and election volunteers might be confronted with aggressive and possibly violent behavior during the course of the election and the holiday season.
“I’ve experienced the meanness that comes out (during those times),” she told commissioners at their bimonthly regular meeting Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s reasonable for staff to have to deal with this, and I’m very concerned for their safety moving forward.”
Commissioner George Newman wondered why guns currently were allowed in county buildings ever, and suggested making the ban permanent.
“Why not just ban firearms in county buildings moving forward?” he asked.
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said the board legally could take such action. However, county manager Jon Peacock and other board members said a permanent firearms ban would require more discussion and public hearings before it could be enacted.
“It’s worth a discussion down the road,” Newman said.
Vos Caudill said she’s hired security guards for Election Day polling places at the Aspen Jewish Community Center (435 W. Main St.) and the Basalt Regional Library (14 Midland Ave.). The county’s third voting spot — the Snowmass Village Town Hall — is 20 yards from the town’s police station so no security guard is necessary, she said.
Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies and Aspen and Snowmass Village police officers will make regular appearances at the polling places as well.
The firearms ban includes the Aspen Jewish Community Center, the Snowmass Village Town Hall, the Basalt Regional Library, the Aspen-Pitkin County airport, the county’s satellite office building in Basalt at 123 Emma Road, the main Administration Building on Main Street in Aspen, the landfill, the library, the public works facility near the Aspen Business Center, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s maintenance and bus barns in Aspen and Carbondale, the Ambulance District building across from Aspen Valley Hospital and the Health and Human Services Building next to it, according to the resolution.
The firearms ban and Election Day security were partially prompted by a community member who called Vos Caudill with concerns about guns at polling places on Election Day, she said. In addition, some election judges from 2016 told her they didn’t want to return this year because of negative experiences four years ago, which added to her concerns.
Vos Caudill said she wanted the ban to last until Dec. 31 because she’s noticed over the years that people take out holidays-related stress and aggression on her staff during November and December.
“I’ve noticed the trend increase each year,” she said.
It’s heartbreaking to watch staff members who’ve been traumatized by mean, condescending or threatening behavior from customers, Vos Caudill said later in a phone interview.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, who is in her first term and previously served as the county’s elections manager, said she could attest to clerks having to deal with “a lot of aggression.”
“It can be scary at times,” she said. “I have seen it.”
The ban goes into effect immediately after the first reading, unlike most resolutions passed by the county board that don’t take effect until a second reading and public hearing. Ely said the board could pass the temporary firearms ban on a one-reading basis that wasn’t considered an “emergency” resolution. Police officers are excluded.
Board Chairman Steve Child said he doesn’t anticipate any Election Day violence in Aspen or Pitkin County, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it elsewhere. Coupled with threats to poll workers, he said it makes the United States look like a “banana republic dictatorship.”
“We need people to be able to feel safe when they go vote,” he said.