Colorado Election Race Tests Republican Acceptance of Conspiracies

A handful of curious voters mingled on a brewery patio in suburban Denver one recent night when Pam Anderson told them she could restore professionalism to the Colorado secretary of state’s office.

Anderson rattled off her résumé (former county clerk, head of the state employees’ association, and ardent supporter of Colorado’s mail-in voting system), making it clear that she fit the profile of the kind of technocrat Republicans used to back for the most important electoral position in Colorado. .

“I am the only person in this election, including the primary, who has a real record of electoral integrity,” Anderson said.

Anderson was attacking his best-known main rival, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who has become the leading exemplar of the GOP’s new approach to conducting elections.

A grand jury earlier this year indicted Peters for his role in disrupting his own county’s electoral system during a search for evidence of conspiracy theories fueled by former President Donald Trump. A judge already barred Peters from running in last year’s local elections because of the controversy and this week also barred Peters from running this year’s. Still, she has become a hero to those who do not believe in the real results of the 2020 election.

“I’ve taken his best shot. They made me sleep on the concrete floor of the jail for 30 hours because I protected their election data,” Peters told a crowd of 3,000 Republican activists and officials at the party’s state convention last month. “They know who to be afraid of.” Sixty percent of attendees voted to place her at the top of the ticket for secretary of state in the June 28 primary.

For nearly a century, American elections have been based on a kind of partisan truce. They are run by thousands of local officials, often chosen on partisan races, and usually overseen by secretaries of state who run statewide along with candidates for hotly contested positions like attorney general and governor. But by and large, the electoral administration itself has been done in a nonpartisan fashion, and those running for the jobs that oversee it are more technocrats than crusaders.

That is changing after Trump’s 2020 loss. The former president is recruiting a class of partisan secretary of state candidates who repeat his lies about losing the election due to fraud and argue that he should have remained president. The contest between Peters — last week he joined Trump at his Mar-a-Lago headquarters in Florida — and Anderson is perhaps the GOP’s toughest battle between those traditions.

The two candidates will square off in a debate Thursday night in suburban Denver, along with the third Republican in the race, businessman Mike O’Donnell, another election denier.

There is no question that the election deniers are winning the battle within the Republican Party. In Michigan last month, Kristina Karamo, a Trump-backed community college professor, won the GOP nomination to run for secretary of state after raising suspicions about the 2020 election results. Similar-minded candidates are running. in Republican primaries in every swing state, including for secretary of state in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada.

An Associated Press-NORC poll from last year found that two-thirds of Republicans doubt that Biden was legitimately elected president. Trump continues to fuel the myth that massive voter fraud influenced the election. He and his supporters have lost more than 60 court cases trying to prove such fraud. His own Department of Justice’s, along with numerous other investigations and audits, found no significant fraud.

Although Trump’s electoral denial has resonated with the party’s rank and file, many GOP strategists fear it will backfire on them in November. In Colorado, some Republicans fear the idea of ​​Peters on the general election ballot.

“The Democrats will love it and will go to great lengths to make every GOP candidate look like they have the same DNA as Tina Peters,” said Scott McInnis, a former Republican congressman who is now on the Mesa County Commission.

McGinnis and other Republican Mesa County commissioners have long clashed with Peters. The local district attorney, a Republican, is overseeing his prosecution. McGinnis predicts that Anderson will win the primary.

“I don’t think Republican voters are going to vote for someone who has nine felony charges,” McGinnis said of Peters.

Still, enthusiasm for Peters in some parts of the GOP is considerable. He raised $158,000 in the eight weeks since he announced his campaign, compared to $50,000 for Anderson, who reported only $5,000 left at the end of April. At the state Republican convention, one of the gubernatorial hopefuls won enough votes from the crowd to secure a place on the primary ballot simply by promising to pardon Peters if he was elected.

“I agree with what he did. I don’t think she did anything illegal,” said Pam Utterback, 67, an ordained minister who beat a drum appreciatively as Peters spoke at a pre-convention rally in Denver.

Peters flew to the rally with MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, at whose election conspiracy seminar he spoke last year after the data breach at Mesa County voting machines. That data soon appeared on election conspiracy websites, and Lindell insists it proves the massive international fraud that put President Joe Biden in office. He told reporters that he paid $800,000 to Peters’ legal defense fund.

Peters’ legal risk extends beyond grand jury charges of identity theft, attempt to influence a public official and criminal identity theft. She was also arrested after kicking a police officer who was attempting to serve a search warrant on her iPad to see if Ella Peters had illegally recorded a court hearing of an officer accused of theft and cybercrimes.

Supporters of Peters are convinced that she is a martyr to the cause. Even if they can’t explain precisely what Ella Peters claims to have discovered, they are convinced that something went wrong in 2020.

“I think the reason everyone is attacking her is for electoral integrity,” said Adrianna Cuva, 45, a volunteer for a Peters-affiliated candidate who knew Peters. “I think the election was rigged. That’s why we’re seeing all these problems in our economy.”

It’s a stark contrast to the sentiment at the brewery in Littleton, a Denver suburb, where Anderson’s small group of supporters stressed the importance of competent, nonpartisan election administration.

“That’s what you want, someone who has played fair,” said Paul Schauer, a former Republican state lawmaker.

Anderson grew up in Southern California. Her father was a highway patrolman, part of a long line of police officers in a family that instilled in Anderson a reverence for law enforcement. She was elected clerk for the suburban town of Wheat Ridge in 2003 and then for the suburban county the following year.

He has been a withering critic of Trump’s election lies since they began in 2020 and is on the board of a nonprofit that doled out $350 million in donations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife to help finance the election. of 2020, an act that fueled the suspicions of the conservatives.

“We need to restore sanity,” Anderson said in an interview.

But she also got into the race out of frustration with Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who she says has politicized the Democrats’ office.

And Anderson has been frustrated by the way Griswold and other Democrats are attacking Republicans as a party for election misinformation. She cites some Republicans who have championed truth and fairness in election administration. One is Stephen Richer, the clerk of Maricopa County in Arizona, who has strongly rejected a Trump-supported, conspiratorial pseudo-election audit.

“There are Republicans across the country fighting the good fight in elections,” Anderson said.

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