Voting rights resolution leads Colorado lawmakers to argue over Jan. 6th, election integrity

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican House Minority Leader Hugh McKean on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, during the opening day of the Colorado General Assembly’s 2022 session.

When Colorado Democrats introduced a resolution to support their party’s national push for new voting rights laws, House Republicans responded with a mixed set of their own messages.

On one hand, Republican leaders accused Democrats of trying to relitigate the 2020 election for political purposes. On the other, some Republican rank-and-file representatives introduced amendments that again attempted to undermine the 2020 elections.

In a debate that lasted more than two hours, right-wing members of the House GOP caucus proposed a series of amendments to question the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election; support Tina Peters, the Mesa County Clerk being investigated over a security breach in her office; and thank some of the people who marched on Washington, D.C. last January 6th.

“We all could agree — those that didn’t break the law, those who acted honorably, we should thank ‘em, even if we disagree with them,” said Rep. Dave Williams, arguing that protesters were exercising their First Amendment rights. Williams’ amendment specifically mentioned Rep. Ron Hanks, who attended the rally but says he did not participate in the Capitol breach.

The Republican amendments were doomed to fail, since Democrats control the chamber, and instead were meant to send a message. They won the backing of most but not all of the House Republicans.

One failed amendment would have flatly declared that the state legislature “call(s) into question the legitimacy of Joseph R. Biden to be President.” The various counter-proposals also called for more auditing of election results and the removal of dead voters from election rolls. Colorado already requires county clerks to conduct risk-limiting audits after each election, in which they check random paper ballots against the machine tallies.

The leader of the House Republicans, Rep. Hugh McKean, took a different approach from most of his caucus. While speaking on the resolution, he underlined that Biden won the election, while arguing Democrats were unnecessarily drawing the state into federal politics.

“Our election systems here in Colorado work — let’s not turn how we run our elections in Colorado into yet another partisan issue,” he said.

Republicans also argued that the election laws being debated in Congress amount to a federal takeover of state election procedures.

Democrats said that the federal proposal was important because it responds to bills proposed in Colorado and elsewhere that would reduce polling sites, voting hours and mail-in voting. 

The Democratic resolution reads, in part, that lawmakers “(o)ffer Colorado's premier electoral system as a model for states across the country to adopt in order to increase voter participation while ensuring electoral integrity; and (call) on the United States Congress… to protect the fundamental right to vote, which has been the cornerstone of our democracy since the founding of our republic.”

House Majority Leader Alec Garnett said the amendments from Republicans showed the need for federal action.

“Your ability to vote is under threat. Go pull those records of who voted for those amendments. This couldn’t be more serious,” he said in a speech that at times had him shouting from the lectern.

The resolutions in support of the federal voting legislation passed in both chambers along largely party lines. Colorado’s U.S. Senators, Democrats John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, already support the bills up for debate.