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Voters enter Augustana Lutheran Church to cast their ballots Nov. 8, 2022, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Six people who gathered signatures to try to get a Republican congressional candidate on Colorado’s primary ballot in 2022 have been charged by state prosecutors on accusations that they submitted signatures of dead people and signatures that didn’t match voter files.

One of the people was charged in February, while the other five were charged last week, according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which announced the charges Tuesday.

The six people gathered signatures for Republican Carl Andersen, a Woodland Park businessman, who sought to qualify for the primary ballot for the 7th Congressional District. But an unusually high number of the signatures gathered were disqualified by the Secretary of State’s Office and Anderson failed to make the ballot.

That led to an investigation by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the district attorneys in Denver and Jefferson counties.

Investigators interviewed several people whose names appeared on signature petitions for Anderson who said they had never signed the petition, according to an arrest affidavit. Some people’s names who were on the petition who said they had moved from Colorado before the petition had been circulated.  

This isn’t the first time signature gathering for a candidate has led to criminal charges in Colorado. A woman pleaded guilty to forging names for an unsuccessful Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Jon Keyser, in 2016. The saga that played a role in unraveling Keyser’s campaign.

The Secretary of State’s Office regulates companies that gather signatures for candidate and ballot initiative petitions, as well as the individuals hired by those companies. The legislature this year increased penalties for companies that knowingly allow signature gatherers to commit fraud and also increased licensing requirements.

The six people charged in the Anderson case worked for Grassfire LLC, a Wyoming company with offices in Oregon. The company hasn’t been charged and told authorities they did not know of the alleged illegal activity by the petitioners.

After the petition was rejected, Andersen sued in district court in an effort to make the primary ballot, but his case was rejected. Democrat Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, was elected to represent the 7th District.

Each of the six is charged with one count of attempting to influence a public servant, which is a Class 4 felony punishable by up to six years in prison, and one count of perjury, a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail.

Diana Watt, a woman with a Florida drivers license, was Grassfire’s leader, according to an arrest affidavit. She is charged, along with Jordahni Rimpel, of Georgia; Terris Kintchen, of Arizona; and Alex Joseph, Patrick Rimpel and Aliyah Moss, all of Florida.

Watt’s arrest affidavit was filed in February and the others were filed June 13. The accused have not been arrested, according to the attorney general’s office.

Watt told investigators she had been given a list of signatures by a circulator she trusted just before the circulator had to leave town for an emergency. The signatures had not yet been notarized by the circulator, so Watt put her name on them assuming they were valid. Afterwards, she learned they were fraudulent. 

“Go ahead and charge me,” she told investigators, according to the arrest affidavit. “I don’t give a (expletive) at this point.”

One of Grassfire’s owners told investigators no one had told Watt to notarize signatures she didn’t witness and that she was fired for doing so. 

Andersen is not suspected of wrongdoing, the office said. He told The Sun that he’s been cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office for the past year.

“I pray that justice prevails and the system improves and this never happens to another candidate again,” he said in a text message.

His campaign paid Grassfire more than $67,000 to gather the signatures, according to FEC records.

A website for Grassfire was no longer active Tuesday. 

Colorado congressional candidates must collect 1,500 signatures from voters in the district they want to represent to make the ballot, or they may go through the caucus and assembly process.

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...

Elliott Wenzler wrote about politics, water, housing, and other topics for The Colorado Sun from October 2022 through September 2023. She has covered community issues in Colorado since 2019, including for Colorado Community Media. She has been...