Tina Peters, a candidate for Colorado secretary of state, at the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

COLORADO SPRINGS — It only took about an hour for election conspiracies to rear their heads Saturday at the Colorado GOP’s state assembly, an important biennial gathering where Republican insiders pick their party’s statewide candidates. 

Before a single candidate took the stage, state party chairwoman, Kristi Burton Brown, explained the assembly would be voting by electronic device. The Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs erupted in boos and shouts of disgust.

Delegates made a flurry of motions to move to paper ballots — ones with color coding and water marks — that could be counted. They all failed as Burton Brown pleaded with the crowd to understand that the state party wasn’t prepared to switch its voting methods. 

“The adoption of this motion would greatly jeopardize our ability to select our candidates,” she said.

Burton Brown succeeded in tamping down the vote-by-paper effort, but the election conspiracies did not end there.

In fact, election denialism was the thread that tied together the state assembly, roughly eight-hours from start to finish. After delegates tried to reject the electronic voting process, they then backed candidates up and down the ballot who believe unfounded claims that former President Donald Trump won reelection in 2020. Finally, the assembly voted in favor of a party platform provision calling for Colorado to end the use of mail-in ballots and count votes by hand instead.

Kristi Burton Brown speaks during the GOP state assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The event featured a speech by Joe Oltmann, a prominent Colorado election conspiracy theorist who suggested he wanted to hang Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and is being sued for defamation over his 2020 election claims about Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems. Oltmann was nominated for governor, but declined to run after telling the thousands of Republicans gathered at the World Arena to back candidates who believe the 2020 election was stolen.

“We need people like Ron Hanks and Tina Peters,” Oltmann said to wild applause. “You must go out there and be an ambassador to truth.”

Hanks, a state representative who believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen, secured the top line on the U.S. Senate Republican primary ballot, blocking five other candidates from advancing. “I fully expected Donald Trump to win in 2020 — and he did,” Hanks said in his assembly speech. “When we saw what we saw on election night in 2020, it changed everything. Just like the changes we felt after 9/11.”

Hanks added: “I’ve been fighting these issues since day one, not the last few weeks.” He also boasted about attending Trump’s rally leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot and about his travel to observe an election audit in Arizona.

Peters, the embattled Mesa County clerk indicted for her alleged role in a breach of her county’s election system, secured top line on the ballot in the Republican primary for Colorado secretary of state with 60% of the vote.

The crowd greeted Peters enthusiastically when she got up to make a speech. Delegates roared in support when she discussed voting machines, chanting “TINA! TINA! TINA!” as she concluded her remarks.

People cheer as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert speaks on the stage during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“Going forward, every time you hear (Democratic Secretary of State) Jena Griswold complain about the ‘Big Lie,’ just realize that’s the left’s big cry,” Peters said. “We’re going to give them something to cry about in November aren’t we?”

Peters called Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County clerk who is also running in the Republican primary for secretary of state, part of the “Soros-Zuckerberg machine,” referencing billionaire George Soros, who has donated to liberal causes, and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who helped fund some 2020 election initiatives. 

Anderson, who also served as executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, rejects the idea that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The Colorado GOP, meanwhile, has asked Peters to suspend her campaign given the criminal charges she faces.

Mike O’Donnell, a candidate for Colorado secretary of state, joins the stage during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Mike O’Donnell, a former economic development executive from Yuma County, also made the Republican secretary of state primary ballot on Saturday. He joined Peters in criticizing the 2020 election outcome and calling for radical changes to Colorado’s mail-in voting systems.

Election conspiracies also played a central role in the delegate vote in the Republican primary for governor, where former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez secured top line on the ballot after vowing to pardon Peters if he’s elected and she’s convicted.

“Should Tina Peters be falsely accused,” Lopez said to wild applause, “as governor, I will pardon her.”

In the Republican primary for Colorado attorney general, Stanley Thorne launched a campaign from the assembly floor amid allegations that the GOP’s presumptive nominee, 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, wasn’t doing enough to back election conspiracy theorists. 

Thorne got enough delegate votes to qualify for the ballot, but his name won’t appear because he is registered as an unaffiliated voter. Nominees at the state assembly had to be Republicans to move forward.

Election security was an animating issue for Kevin Wright, an Arapahoe County delegate, who held up signs supporting Hanks and gubernatorial candidate Danielle Neuschwanger before the speeches started Saturday. 

Danielle Neuschwanger on the stage during the GOP state assembly. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
Members of Neuschwanger’s campaign team cast their votes. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“The fact that he has stood up for voter integrity, that he filed lawsuits on behalf of the Colorado people against Jena Griswold … really made a big difference to me because I believe voter integrity is very important,” said Wright, who has worked as a plumber for more than three decades. 

But Hanks’ singular focus on election integrity and baseless claims about the 2020 presidential contest concerned delegates who preferred other candidates. Tammi Fleming and Jenny Brady, delegates from Douglas County who supported U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Flora, said that bread-and-butter issues might be more important, particularly in rural Colorado.

“My concern now is: Can he attract the unaffiliated voter base?” Brady said.

Some top party insiders share that concern, including former Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams, who has warned that embracing election conspiracy theories is a way to ensure Republicans remain in the minority in Colorado. 

The election conspiracy thread continued even after the assembly ended. Neuschwanger, who fell just short of the 30% of delegate support she needed to make the primary ballot, alleged malfeasance in the delegate vote, claiming some delegates weren’t able to cast ballots. And she claimed that Burton Brown, the Colorado GOP chairwoman, allowed it to happen.

“I am going to see you in court,” Neuschwanger told Burton Brown in a tense confrontation after the assembly ended. “And I am going to make sure if you committed any fraud that you are behind bars.”

Of the 3,772 potential voting delegates on Saturday, 3,727 cast votes in the gubernatorial contest. Even if all 45 of the missing voters had cast ballots for Neuschwanger, she still would have had only 28% of the vote.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 8:29 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, 2022, to correct a quote from Greg Lopez. He said: “Should Tina Peters be falsely accused, as governor I will pardon her.”

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com

Desk: 720-432-2229

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.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: jesse@coloradosun.com Twitter: @jesseapaul

Shannon Najmabadi covered rural affairs and the rural economy for The Colorado Sun from 2021-2023.

Email: shannon@coloradosun.com Twitter: @ShannonNajma

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