Colorado’s Republican Party has joined President Donald Trump’s national effort to cast doubts on the integrity of the upcoming election, seizing this week on a misleading and since-retracted local news report suggesting impropriety at the Democrat-controlled Secretary of State’s Office.
State Republicans and even a Trump administration official have long backed Colorado’s vote-by-mail system, but Trump has said repeatedly and without evidence that voting by mail amid this year’s pandemic will lead to massive fraud.
“I am confident in our system,” Republican former Secretary of State Wayne Williams told The Denver Post for an August story that detailed the entire process of creating and handling ballots.
But with just over a month until Election Day, state GOP Chair and U.S. Rep. Ken Buck has called a CBS4 story about voter registration reminder postcards “deeply concerning” and requested a Justice Department investigation. Williams didn’t respond to a request for comment, but other Republicans have had plenty to say.
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville started fundraising off the story, emailing supporters, “Colorado Democrats are willing to go to any length to keep Colorado blue … even if it means encouraging illegal aliens (and the deceased) to vote.”
The story was quickly amplified in national conservative circles, as well. “Colorado Secretary of State Encourages Non-Citizens, Deceased to Register to Vote” read a headline from Breitbart, which published a summary of CBS4’s original story.
“Sure the Dems aren’t trying to cheat!!!” tweeted the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., using an eye-roll emoji.
At issue is a batch of some 750,000 postcards mailed in late summer by Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office, encouraging unregistered people to register to vote if they are eligible to do so. In mid-September, Parker resident Karen Anderson emailed the Secretary of State’s Office to express concern that one of these postcards was addressed to her mother, who is deceased. The state GOP was copied on Anderson’s email.
The news report about it, published Sept. 25 by CBS4, was so flawed that the Denver-based TV station took the rare step of retracting it. It had suggested that Griswold, a first-term Democrat, sent postcards encouraging dead people and those otherwise ineligible to vote to register. The story did not mention that the postcard program began years ago under a Republican secretary and continued under another, nor did it make clear that the mailing list used for the postcards was not the state’s voter registration roll. It ended with a quote from Anderson: “You hear about them trying to register dead people, but I never really thought I’d see it.”
As in past years in Colorado, the list of people to whom the postcards were sent was provided to the secretary’s office by the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with 30 member states. Colorado became a founding member of this organization under former Secretary Scott Gessler, a Republican. He was succeeded in office by another Republican, Williams, whom Griswold beat in the 2018 election.
Both Gessler and Williams sent out postcards. In fact, the leadership of the Elections Division within the Secretary of State’s Office, which handles the postcards, is the same as it was before Griswold took over. Judd Choate, the state elections director who was quoted in the retracted CBS4 story, has worked for the office for 11 years. Griswold and the current staff are confident that in previous years, some number of ineligible voters also got these postcards, and Gessler didn’t refute that in a brief interview Friday.
Reminding residents they might be eligible to vote is no more scandalous than “the NBA having ‘vote’ on their jerseys,” Griswold said. Eligibility requirements were featured in the middle of the card.
Regardless, the Trump campaign and Republican Party have seized on the postcards as an opportunity to localize in Colorado — in its most outspoken way this cycle — the president’s rhetoric on election security.
“It’s partisan gamesmanship,” said Amber McReynolds, an unaffiliated voter and architect of Colorado’s universal vote-by-mail system. “It’s not a scandal.”
There is no evidence that Colorado is trying to register dead people or noncitizens. Several officials within Colorado’s GOP told The Post that they recognized this from the onset, and that this prompted some internal debate following CBS4’s story. The story was based on a faulty premise, but it was out there, given new post-retraction life by conservative outlets, and the Trump campaign was interested in advancing it. Some felt that it would be best to reserve public outrage for a more legitimate controversy.
Instead, Buck — who himself is facing questions from an attorney oversight group for pressuring an El Paso County GOP official to submit inaccurate caucus results to the state — pushed ahead. He did not respond to interview requests this week from The Denver Post.
Even before the CBS4 story ran, the party was warning of a Democratic attempt to “steal” the upcoming election. “LET’S STOP VOTER FRAUD,” reads an email from the party last week, encouraging people to register for a poll watcher program. A media request to cover the training was declined.
In 2018, just 0.0027% of 2,566,784 ballots cast statewide in the 2018 election were referred to district attorneys for further investigation, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. The most high-profile recent example of confirmed voter fraud in Colorado, among the very few, involved Steve Curtis, the former chair of the state GOP who was convicted in 2018 of voter fraud and forgery.
Almost a half-dozen Colorado election experts interviewed said the postcard system is, at worst, needing a bit of smoothing-out and at best a valuable tool for reaching out to people who may not have thought to register. They worry that the GOP’s decision to create a controversy about it both nationally and in Colorado could further erode public trust in elections.
“I think it’s unduly inflammatory,” said Peg Perl, director of elections for Arapahoe County.
The Arapahoe elections office regularly responds to inquiries from people getting false information from Facebook and other sources, she said. The staff reminds callers that Colorado elections are run in a bipartisan manner, with even numbers of volunteer Democratic and Republican election judges and poll watchers.
“For either party to claim in any election that one party is trying to steal it is just factually not applicable to how we do things in Colorado,” she said.
The gamble for Republicans, said Jo Ann Windholz, chair of the Adams County GOP, is that Trump-style rhetoric suggesting that the election system here may be something less than pure will rev up Republican voters.
Of the allegation that Democrats are trying to “steal” this election, she said, “I don’t think it hurts.”
“Right now, the Democrats are in control of everything in the state,” Windholz said. “And I think this is probably one way to get more Republicans involved.”
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