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Voting booths at Hiawatha Davis Jr. Recreation Center in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Republicans in the legislature will hold an investigative hearing on the integrity of Colorado’s election processes and systems Tuesday despite a lack of evidence of widespread fraud that would have overturned any of the state’s 2020 results. 

The meeting is also happening despite the fact that Colorado GOP Chairman Ken Buck has been working with Republican county clerks to dispel any notion of mass election wrongdoing in the state and to reassure conservatives that their votes were not tampered with.

“Our votes are not being manipulated,” Buck, who is also a U.S. representative from Windsor, said Dec. 2 during a state Republican Party event. “To have some conspiracy theory in Colorado that something has been manipulated and the Russians or the Iranians or some group — George Soros or somebody else — is doing something to our system, I am convinced that’s not happening.”

Buck added: “It is so important that people have confidence in their election, that people understand that — I can’t speak for other states — in Colorado we are doing it the right way and we have confidence in our election results.”

Rep. Lori Saine, a Firestone Republican and chair of the Legislative Audit Committee, isn’t convinced. She called for Tuesday’s hearing and said it’s incumbent upon state lawmakers to provide a check on the state’s election processes.

“This is a hearing where all Coloradans can dial in and see what’s going on, they can see the testimony. And they can also make a decision for themselves,” she said. “I mean, one of the things that people are emailing me about, calling me about, is their concern with all these other states joining lawsuits. You’ve got certain states with election integrity issues. But did it happen here in Colorado? It’s really kind of on us to help answer that question. Did it happen here? Did we have widespread fraud?”

State Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone. (Handout)

It’s not clear what Saine thinks went wrong in Colorado’s elections this year. Asked repeatedly for evidence of malfeasance, she didn’t point to any. Confronted with the fact that there has been no indication of widespread fraud that would have changed results in Colorado, she said that was only an assumption. 

“I’m going to keep an open mind in the hearing,” she said, “but I think we’re all going to learn something. Maybe we will find some good news. But I think we will find some weaknesses, too, that we can address.”

Saine argues that any fraud — even if it doesn’t rise to the point of changing election results — undermines voter confidence and should be examined by state lawmakers. 

The hearing Tuesday will happen against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s floundering national effort to overturn the 2020 election results in several states and his baseless claims there was widespread voter fraud. Buck, despite his assurances about Colorado’s election systems, signed onto a U.S. Supreme Court brief supporting a now-failed effort by Texas to reverse the election’s outcome in Trump’s favor.

Democrats hold complete control of the lawmaking process in Colorado, but the bipartisan Legislative Audit Committee is an exception. The leadership alternates between the two major parties, and right now, Republicans are in control and so have the power to call a hearing, as Saine has done.

Democrats will participate in the hearing on Tuesday, even though they say it is unnecessary.  Democratic House Speaker KC Becker of Boulder rejected a Republican request for a special legislative committee on the topic of election integrity.

“I think that one of my biggest concerns is that the Legislative Audit Committee has always been a very bipartisan committee and we operate best under bipartisan terms,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, who is vice chair of the panel. “This feels like a very partisan use of the audit committee and audit committee staff at a time when taxpayer dollars should not be spent on debunking already debunked myths.”

Colorado’s elections systems are considered the national gold standard, Michaelson Jenet said, and that’s why the hearing is unnecessary. She will call witnesses to the hearing, but she said she is waiting to see who Republicans summon to the Capitol before announcing who she has invited.

Saine, who is term limited and won’t be returning to the Capitol in January, said her witness list would be released by the end of last week. That never happened. Saine, who in November was elected to be a Weld County commissioner, cited security concerns for why the list was never made public. 

The Legislative Audit Committee doesn’t have subpoena power, so witnesses will show up — or not — of their own volition. 

Election officials process ballots for the 2020 election at the Douglas County Office of the Clerk and Recorder in Castle Rock October 30, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“I would hope they do come,” Saine said. “If folks are invited and don’t show, that could suggest that — with all the suspicions out there — they have something to hide.”

Rep. Hugh McKean, the incoming House Republican leader, did not respond to a message seeking comment about the hearing. He did not sign onto a letter with other House Republicans announcing the hearing. The House Republican caucus has been split between hard-line conservatives and those more willing to work across the aisle. 

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, has already certified the state’s 2020 election results. A risk-limiting audit aimed at affirming Colorado’s vote count was completed and didn’t show any abnormalities. There have been no reports of fraud. 

“Coloradans made their voices heard, setting the highest record number of voters participating in any election held in state history,” Griswold said in a written statement. “We are tremendously proud of this success.”

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....