False claims about 2020 election front and center as Tina Peters clinches spot in GOP secretary of state race

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican candidate for Secretary of State, at the Colorado Republican State Assembly Saturday, April 9, 2022.

The issue of voting integrity, and untrue allegations that the 2020 election was stolen, were front and center at Saturday’s Republican State Assembly, even as the topic continues to divide the wider GOP.

Three of the most vocal candidates on the issue won enough support to move ahead to the June primary in their races. Delegates also passed a resolution supporting limits on Colorado’s all-mail ballot voting system. 

Election integrity even came up in the running of the assembly itself, as some participants launched an unsuccessful, last minute attempt to force organizers to use paper ballots to tally votes for the candidates, instead of electronic clickers. 

Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters received some of the loudest cheers of the assembly during her nomination speech, and secured a spot on the primary ballot with 60 percent of the delegates, the highest percentage of support in any of the contested races.

“This arena is full of constitutional conservatives who believe our elections are not yet secure,” Peters told the crowd. She accused Democrats — who hold the secretary of state’s office and majorities in the state legislature — of snatching control of Colorado’s election tools and claimed they’ve attempted to silence her to “spook voters.”

Peters has been indicted on multiple counts over her role in a security breach of Mesa county’s voting machines. She has claimed she was trying to uncover evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election. A federal investigation is ongoing and could result in more charges. Audits and hand counts in Colorado and other states, have confirmed the accuracy of the election results.

After Peter’s arrest, the head of the Colorado Republican Party, Kristi Burton Brown, called on her to suspend her campaign, a request Peters defiantly ignored.

“They made me sleep on the concrete jail floor for 30 hours, because I protected your election data,” said Peters referring to the time she spent in jail after her arrest. 

“I’m not afraid and you shouldn’t be either. I’m still fighting for you. And I’m still standing.”

Peters won’t be the only candidate in the Secretary of State’s race who is running on claims about the fundamental validity of Colorado’s elections. Political newcomer Mike O’Donnell, who talked about voter fraud, also won enough support to qualify for the primary. They will face former Jefferson county clerk and recorder Pam Anderson, a strong defender of the state’s election system, who petitioned onto the ballot.

Governor, Senate candidates also voice support for false election claims

Peters was clearly a star for the grassroots activists who made up the bulk of delegates to the assembly, and her name came up in speeches throughout the day. 

Former Parker mayor Greg Lopez, who gained top billing in the governor’s race, even made her part of his pitch to delegates. He said that should he become Colorado’s next governor, he would stand by Peters.

“It’s time we go back to counting all ballots by hand, and get rid of the Dominion machines,” said Lopez. “And if Tina Peters should be falsely accused — as governor, I will pardon her.”

Lopez and CU Regent Heidi Ganahl were the only candidates to make it to the primary ballot in their race. Ganahl was one of the few candidates not to bring up election integrity in her speech. 

Some of the most potent — and yet unsubstantiated — conspiracy theories about the 2020 election focus on Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, with supporters of former president Trump claiming the company somehow switched votes to Joe Biden. Dominion is used in most Colorado counties and more than half of the states in the country, including swing states like Georgia.

The bipartisan Colorado County Clerks Association categorically denies any issues with Dominion machines and supporters of this theory have offered no credible proof in numerous court cases. 

However, delegates threw their support behind first term statehouse Rep. Ron Hanks, who has made false claims about Dominion Voting Machines a centerpiece of his campaign for the U.S. Senate (Hanks also attended protests in Washington D.C. on January 6th but has said he did not enter the Capitol). 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican state Rep. Ron Hanks, a candidate for U.S. Senate, at the Colorado Republican State Assembly Saturday, April 9, 2022.

“I’ve been fighting this issue since day one, not just in the last few weeks when some candidates for Senate heard the thunderous crowds and decided it was a winning issue,” Hanks told the attendees.

He was the only one of the six Senate candidates at the assembly to get on the primary ballot, with 38 percent of the vote.  

Hanks will face businessman Joe O’Dea, who petitioned onto the ballot and is holding a separate campaign event on Sunday. O’Dea has said he believes Biden won the election.

At least one candidate who didn’t intend to talk about election security got drawn into the topic. 

Attorney General candidate John Kellner is the current district attorney in Colorado’s 18th judicial district. Shortly before his speech, a woman took the podium and informed the crowd that she had asked Kellner whether he would investigate Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold for election crimes, and he refused.

There were loud boos. 

When it was his turn to speak, Kellner diverged briefly from his prepared remarks to refute the woman’s allegations. 

“That’s not true,” he said. “What I said is, I do not have jurisdiction as the district attorney. That is true.”

Kellner secured a spot on the ballot with roughly 57 percent of the vote. He could face political newcomer Stanley Thorne, who was nominated from the assembly floor. Thorne said he is still in the process of getting his law license transferred from Texas to Colorado.

To become attorney general, a candidate must be a licensed attorney “in good standing” with the state supreme court.

Election fraud a potent issue for many delegates

For first-time delegate Gina Daly of Douglas County, a deep belief that the 2020 election was stolen is what motivated her to get involved with politics. 

“The information needs to get out and it's not getting very far. It's not getting past just the Republicans that are interested in it. And it needs to get to the general public,” said Daly.

Daly supports Peters’ actions and said she was watching closely to see what other candidates had to say about the issue.

“A lot of the candidates seem to be avoiding that subject. And I want to know, do they, or do they not, feel that the election was stolen in 2020?”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election was never far from many people’s minds at the Colorado Republican State Assembly Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Similar views led Art Evans from Elbert County to vote against sitting Republican Congressman Ken Buck at the 2nd Congressional District Assembly. Buck, who refused to join Republican objections to the 2020 election certification, made it onto the ballot, but failed to win enough support to secure top billing. He now faces a primary challenge from Bob Lewis, a real estate broker from Elbert County.

“I think (Buck) showed his true colors” with the certification vote, said Evans. “He's a nice guy. He did a good job for quite a while. I like the man. He's a good man, but I think he's decided to be more of a politician than a representative of his constituents.” 

When Buck, who until last year was also the head of the Colorado Republican Party, addressed the crowd, he appeared to allude to the intra-party divisions.  

“This is a family we’re going to have a family fight now and then,” said Buck. “But we’ve got the energy because of what they’ve done to us. We’re mad as hell and we’re going to take care of business in November.”

Colorado Springs City Council member and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams said he believes there is a limit to how much support believers in election fraud can attract in Colorado.

“I feel confident they will not go with someone for secretary of state who has already been found by a judge and confirmed by the Colorado Supreme Court that she is untruthful and does not follow the law,” he said about Peters. Williams was one of two officials chosen to oversee Mesa County’s elections after a judge barred Peters from performing those duties.

And Williams fears that if Hanks does become the eventual Senate nominee, his views would hurt the party’s ability to attract the moderate and unaffiliated voters necessary to defeat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. 

“I do not believe trying to convince the 56 percent of the state that had voted for Joe Biden that they didn't vote for him (is) a viable strategy,” he said.

Colorado Democrats wasted no time in attacking Peters for her unsupported election claims — and Lopez for saying he'd pardon her. They also referred to Hanks as an “out-of-touch” insurrectionist.

“This choice confirms that the Colorado GOP has nothing but extremism to offer Coloradans,” the party said in a statement.