An aide to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck and three other Weld County Republican Party officials are accused of election fraud and corruption as part of a scheme to alter the results from precinct caucuses in March.
The chairman of the Weld County GOP told The Colorado Sun that he plans to file complaints Friday with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office and the local district attorney against the four people involved after an internal party audit discovered discrepancies in delegate voting.
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“While I know a lot of people would like this swept under the rug, I think it’s very, very important,” Will Sander, the county party chairman, said in an interview. “You see corruption in our election process, the public won’t stand for it. The elected officials won’t stand for it. And frankly, I believe it’s against election law.”
The new allegations add to the ongoing turmoil in the Colorado Republican Party that includes irregularities at a Colorado Springs district assembly. The problems have led some to question whether Buck — who doubles as party chairman — should step down.
In Weld County, the audit showed that one party officer, Lois Rice, and two district captains, Cody LeBlanc and Todd Sargent, had a precinct committee person, Evelyn Harlan, enter their names as delegates into the state party’s reporting system instead of the people who were elected at the caucuses on March 7, according to a copy of complaint.
The delegates who are selected at precinct meetings advance to the next level of party meetings, where they help pick the candidates who will appear on the ballot. The 3,133 precinct meetings across the state are a crucial step in Colorado’s electoral process but they often happen under the radar.
The Sun obtained a copy of the official caucus results for the three precincts in question. The records show LeBlanc and Rice were not listed as receiving votes. Sargent was listed as an alternate. But screenshots from the state party’s computer system showed all three appearing as delegates. Harlan, using a system registration in her son’s name, entered the information, county party officials said.
Under state law, a conviction for tampering with the results of a party caucus is a misdemeanor offense. In this case, Sander said the misreported results were uncovered in a March 10 audit of results and none of the three in question were seated as delegates at party assemblies.
LeBlanc, 22, is a paid member of Buck’s congressional staff. He also is a member of the Weld Re-8 School Board.
He told The Sun that he didn’t attend the caucus because of a prior commitment to oversee a rabbit breeders’ show. He said Harlan entered the results incorrectly, unbeknownst to him. “It wasn’t an issue for me to not be a delegate,” he said.
Sander said the two others named as bogus delegates also deflected blame. But in the complaint, Sander suggested they knew about the arrangement. Harlan did not return a message seeking comment.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Sander said. “I have been in politics a long, long time, and I’ve never seen this happen — never seen an elected delegate replaced with someone else.”
A spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party declined to talk about the situation, and Buck’s spokeswoman in his congressional office said he would not comment. Buck lives in Windsor and he is the former Weld County district attorney.
An explosive conference call reveals distrust in county GOP
The controversy has simmered in the background for weeks, but burst into broader view during a Weld County GOP conference call April 21 regarding a draft report on the irregularities. The call — which featured shouting matches and an unknown caller blasting loud music to disrupt the meeting — exposed a deep rift in the county party.
Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, who is running for a state Senate seat, said she had to collect signatures to qualify for the race, rather than go through the caucus process because of the infighting.
“I couldn’t trust what was going on in our own party. I think that is a bad thing,” she said on the call, which The Sun joined. She added: “I think there is a lot here that is going on that is making me wonder what kind of credibility and reputation does the Weld County GOP have.”
The county GOP leaders decided not to take action against the party officers at the time, given that a committee formed to review the voting didn’t complete its report. Others on the call suggested not reporting the discrepancies to state election officials because Secretary of State Jena Griswold is a Democrat. (The Secretary of State’s Office later told The Sun when it gets complaints of this nature, it refers them to the local district attorney.)
Sander said the initial investigation was one-sided and didn’t look at incriminating evidence. “Frankly, they seemed more interested in making it all go away,” he said in an interview after the call.
The controversy is just the latest for state party and Buck
The controversy echoes problems with a virtual party assembly vote that took place for a Colorado Springs legislative district. Because of concerns about the coronavirus, the meeting took place by phone call and ballots were cast by email.
Rep. Larry Liston, who is seeking a state Senate seat, took 76% of the vote and his rival, David Stiver, took 24%, which did not meet the 30% threshold to qualify. Stiver’s camp complained that inconsistent rules and questions about delegate eligibility marred the vote, and suggested the email account that collected ballots was hacked, as first reported by Colorado Politics.
Responding to a complaint, the state party’s governing committee looked at the allegations and told local GOP officials to alter the election results to show Stiver qualified. But a Denver District Court judge ruled Monday that such a move violates state law. Buck pressured the local Senate district chairman to make the change, according to a recording of a call obtained by The Denver Post.
Buck’s role in the matter prompted some GOP leaders to question whether he should remain in the post. Denver GOP chairwoman Kris Cook told The Post that “it’s worth questioning whether him in that role is going to have a negative effect on the rest of this cycle.”