She believed the election system was full of fraud. Her clerk set out to win her trust

Listen Now
4min 50sec
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Fremont County eletion judge Kay Hunsaker in Cañon City’s central voting center. Oct. 27, 2021.

As you walk into the vote center in Canon City, Kay Hunsaker is hard to miss. The 68-year-old sits at a table wearing a bright American flag sweater, with purple streaks in her short white hair, and purple-framed glasses. 

She smiles warmly as a voter walks through the door. 

Hunsaker is the Republican half of the bipartisan election judge team volunteering at this site. 

“People consider this an honor. I considered it an honor to be chosen to be an election judge and a great responsibility,” she said. 

But Hunsaker didn’t always feel that way. She grew up in Wheat Ridge and spent about a decade living in Los Angeles, where her husband was a police officer. That’s when Hunsaker said she started getting involved in politics, and became increasingly concerned about voter fraud. She worried that people who’d managed to cross the border illegally might be finding ways to vote illegally too.

“I've trusted the elections whichever way they went. It never crossed my mind that we had real problems until the last decade,” she recalled.

Early last year, she moved to Fremont County, drawn in part by its conservative politics and gun-friendly culture. She also loves the people.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Fremont County election judge Kay Hunsaker in Cañon City's central voting center. Oct. 27, 2021.

“It's a throwback where kids opened the doors for you. ‘Yes. Ma'am,  here, let me get the door for you. Thank you.’ Polite kids,” she said. “I get pleasantly surprised almost every day here by the kindness and the friendliness. When you’re driving down some back street and there's a man walking his dog and he waves at you. Haven't seen that since I was a kid.”

But when it came to how the county’s elections are run, she said she was alarmed to discover that the county clerk’s father was running to be a county commissioner. 

“I was like, OK, here we go. What, we got some family dynasty going on, you know? I just thought this was typical.” 

She wrote a letter in the conservative paper, the Fremont County Crusader, urging the clerk, Justin Grantham, to step down from overseeing the 2020 election —  something state law doesn’t actually allow. Grantham said it was rough that people believed he would, or even could, subvert the election. 

“There was rumors out there that I was going to try and rig it,” Grantham, a Republican, recalled. “And I'm like, ‘You know what, come see me. If you really think that I'm going to do something, come see me, come take a tour, come see how it works.’”

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Fremont County Clerk and Recorder Justin Grantham sits in his Cañon City office. Oct. 27, 2021.

Hunsaker admitted that while she went into the meeting a bit confrontational, she was quickly disarmed by his willingness to talk through her concerns. 

Grantham had a proposal for her: Become an election judge and see election safeguards firsthand. Hunsaker took him up on it for last year’s primary and general election and said she found a secure system.

“We balance every single ballot at night and in the morning. The number doesn't change,” she noted. “That reassured me. And I was able to check signatures and see how that process was done, what the scanning involved.... And watching those ballots, I know there was no fraud.” 

For his part, Grantham said it can be a little bit draining to continuously defend the safeguards that exist to ensure an accurate and fair election.

But he thinks it’s important to keep reaching out to skeptics and winning them over one at a time if that’s what it takes.  

“We have the information, we have the proof and paperwork to back it up,” said Grantham.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Fremont County Clerk and Recorder Justin Grantham points out voting centers under his jurisdiction on a map in his Cañon City office. Oct. 27, 2021.

Hunsaker has also been telling local Republicans why she thinks they can trust the election system in Fremont County. But her faith is mostly limited to what she’s directly experienced. She still doesn’t trust how other states handle their elections.

“I do not believe the 2020 election was right. There were too many middle of the night changes to sit well with me,” she said. She’s particularly concerned about Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan — states key to President Joe Biden’s victory.

Audits and hand counts in those states have not uncovered significant irregularities and confirmed that Biden did win. But Grantham said with different election laws and rules in all 50 states, some people, like Hunsaker, may doubt the larger results, no matter what their election officials do to reassure them closer to home.