DENVER (AP) — Colorado Republicans on Tuesday chose a former local official who pledged to keep politics out of running elections as their nominee for secretary of state over an indicted county clerk who gained national prominence by promoting conspiracy theories about voting machines.
In spurning Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, Republican primary voters appeared to reject the conspiracy theories and false claims that have spread among conservatives since the last presidential election. Peters has appeared regularly with prominent allies of former President Donald Trump who claim without evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from him and on Tuesday night made similar claims of “cheating” in the primary that were quickly rebutted by the primary winner and the secretary of state.
The win by Pam Anderson, the former Jefferson County clerk and past head of the state clerks’ association, sets up a November match-up with current Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat seeking a second term who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.
Despite Peters’ loss, Griswold’s campaign framed the November election as a referendum on voting security and false claims peddled by Republicans across the country that widespread fraud is the reason Trump lost reelection.
Griswold campaign manager Kyla Sabado said in a statement that Anderson “cannot be trusted to stand up to the far-right extremists that dominate the Republican Party.”
Anderson doesn’t bring the political baggage of Peters and is likely to be a much tougher opponent for Griswold, especially during a year that is widely believed to be a difficult one for Democrats.
After her win Tuesday night, Anderson said Republican voters had sent a message that they wanted someone they could trust to be a “fair leader” in the state’s top elections office and vowed to avoid using the post for partisan gain.
“I will continue my fight for restoring the confidence of Colorado voters against lies and the politicians or interest groups that seek to weaponize elections administration for political advantage,” Anderson said.
Peters was among several candidates across the country this year running to be their state’s chief election official while denying the outcome of the 2020 election or questioning the integrity of U.S. elections. She became the latest of those candidates to fail to win their Republican primary.
Last month, Georgia’s Jody Hice lost his bid to oust Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in that state’s GOP primary despite having Trump’s endorsement. Raffensperger drew Trump’s ire after he refused the former president’s request to “find” enough votes to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Georgia.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud or conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election.
On Tuesday, Peters gathered with nearly 100 supporters at a rooftop bar in the historic railroad town of Sedalia. She refused to accept defeat and claimed without evidence that the outcome had been manipulated. Peters was running third, behind Anderson and businessman Mike O’Donnell with nearly all the votes counted.
Peters accused Colorado election officials of “cheating,” adding that “looking at the results, it’s just so obvious that it should be flipped.”
“It’s not over. Keep the faith,” she said.
Griswold issued a statement Tuesday night noting that Colorado’s elections “have bipartisan oversight throughout the election process.”
“Peters’ continued spread of election lies is no surprise,” Griswold said. “Colorado voters made their voices heard and candidates should respect and accept the results of the free and fair election.”
Anderson, in response to Peters’ claims, praised the work of county election officials overseeing the primary and vowed to continue to push back against lies about elections.
“I will do exactly what I have done — stand up for the truth, stand up for voters and stand up for our constitutional rights,” Anderson said, in a phone interview from a campaign party in Jefferson County.
Peters, elected as county clerk in 2018, had been barred by a judge from overseeing this year’s election in Mesa County and was indicted on seven felony counts by a grand jury in her heavily Republican county. The indictment alleged Peters was part of a “deceptive scheme” to breach voting system technology.
She has dismissed the charges as politically motivated, even though the Mesa County district attorney who convened the grand jury is a Republican. After the indictment was announced, state GOP leaders had called on her to suspend her campaign.
In recent months, Peters has been issuing various reports — discredited by officials and experts — that claim voting system manipulation. The reports are based on an unauthorized copy of her county’s voting system, the security breach that is the center of the indictment.
Peters has denied wrongdoing, arguing she has the authority to ensure county’s elections are secure.
At Peters’ campaign party, those in the crowd listened to country music and drank beer and cocktails as they watched the results on TV. As it became apparent Peters was losing, the mood dampened as the sun set over the foothills.
Supporter Rick Wyatt said he did not see much support for her opponents and that voters loved Peters.
“How does the top of the ticket become the bottom of the ticket?” Wyatt said. “Elections are rigged.”
Nationally, nearly two dozen Republican candidates who deny the result of the 2020 presidential election have been on the ballot to be their state’s top election official, according to States United Action, a nonpartisan advocacy organization tracking the candidates.
Among those who have advanced to the November election are Wes Allen in Alabama, Diego Morales in Indiana, Jim Marchant in Nevada and Audrey Trujillo in New Mexico. Kristina Karamo in Michigan and Kim Crockett in Minnesota are favorites to win their primaries in August.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta.