The insurrection’s “Big Lie” still lives in Colorado

Last week in Colorado Springs, two state legislators participated in a panel promoting the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election results were fraudulent. Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument) appeared in person and Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose) sent her policy director, Carolyn Martin.

Both Lundeen and Luck’s aide raised questions about the validity of the 2020 election, including here in Colorado.

“We do not have confidence in our elections,” said Martin. “We need to see change.”

“Rep. Luck really wanted to be here today,” continued Martin. “…She wanted me to communicate to you what Republicans are doing to fight for integrity in our elections. In December the governor called a special session and Republicans decided we need to audit this election. They all signed a letter, but the speaker flatly denied that request.”

Luck’s aide then asked audience members to testify in support of several Republican bills restricting ballot access, saying support for these bills is needed “because [Democrats] don’t think there is any wrong with our elections. We’re not saying enough.”

Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument)

Lundeen, who arrived late having come directly from the Capitol, began by saying he felt like he’d walked into a movie after it began.

“You don’t know who all the characters are, but you know there’s a crisis,” he told the audience. “…there is a lot of bipartisan concern over our election process…the way the system is designed now, there are several single points of failure items that we need to be looking into.”

He later attacked Secretary of State Jena Griswold for not participating in the Legislative Audit Committee Election Fraud panel, which was widely dismissed as a right-wing promotion of debunked election conspiracies.

The Church For All Nations’ Cultural Impact Team hosted the panel, titled “Election Fraud: Where do we go from here?” Cultural Impact Teams are a joint project of the three largest religious right groups in the country: Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Colorado’s own Focus on the Family. Rep. Luck is a graduate of ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship program, a training program for ultra-conservative Christian law students.

Both Luck and Lundeen have introduced bills this session that would make it harder to vote.

Luck’s HB21-1086 would require Coloradans to provide in-person proof of citizenship in order to request a mail ballot as well as to vote.

The Senate State Affairs committee already rejected Lundeen’s bill to end universal mail ballots and limit early voting to less than a week. In a bipartisan vote, state Sen. Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa) joined Democrats in voting no.

The panel also featured Ashe Epp, co-founder of the U.S. Election Integrity Project (USEIP), which organized several post-election “Stop the Steal” rallies in Denver, including one on Nov. 28. Speaking at that event, Epp insisted that not only had Trump won the presidential election but that Republicans had in fact reclaimed the House of Representatives.

At another “Stop the Steal” rally on Dec. 12, 2020, a different USEIP spokesperson, Dave Roach, claimed that China “funded the voting machines” used to rig the election.

Epp says her group formed after a handful of protesters who were regularly attending the post-election pro-Trump rallies decided to formalize their efforts.

“Nobody is getting paid a dime for this,” says Epp.

For an all-volunteer effort, the group has a surprisingly robust list of accomplishments for such a new and unfunded organization. In addition to organizing several rallies, the group’s Colorado-specific website launched in early Dec. 2020. It’s since been taken down, and the original site now redirects to a .org site with the same name. Facebook deleted USEIP’s pages in its crackdown on election misinformation.

The group’s earliest documents, released as Facebook posts, focused on the debunked claims that Dominion Voting Systems rigged the election, both nationally and here in Colorado.

In the following statement, USEIP promoted Oltmann’s pet conspiracy surrounding a Dominion employee, while also claiming to be represented by former Trump election attorney Sidney Powell:

“The free people of the State of Colorado have seen enough evidence of election malfeasance to demand that the State of Colorado refuse to certify the 2020 Election Results until a comprehensive investigation is completed. We are particularly alarmed at allegations against Dominion Voting Systems which has their US Headquarters in Denver, Colorado, and is counting votes for 61/64 counties in our state.
Given that the Dominion offices are in Denver, we have an obligation to the American people to investigate. While nobody in Colorado has attempted to locate Colorado resident and Dominion Chief Strategy and Security Officer, Eric Coomer, our legal representative Sidney Powell has, and it appears he has deleted all his social media accounts.”

USEIP co-branded its images with a trio of national pro-Trump entities, each of which was involved in planning the Jan. 6 election integrity rally in D.C. that resulted in some attendees storming the U.S. Capitol.

USEIP actively recruited Coloradans to attend the Jan. 6 rally. The website highlighted former President Trump’s statement that “it will be wild,” linking to a now-deleted website, which was the national rally organizers’ primary site, and claiming that “Our USEIP team will be representing, and we have a group of at least 40 Colorado Patriots confirmed to make the journey!” The site listed numerous speakers, including then U.S. Rep-elect Lauren Boebert.

Epp confirmed that another USEIP organizer organized a caravan from Colorado to D.C. for the Jan. 6 rally at the U.S. Capitol, though she along with some others flew. Epp says she did not enter the building.

“I was on the back side of the Capitol, where people were breaking in through windows,” Epp told the Colorado Times Recorder. “News reports said people climbed up scaffolding but it wasn’t scaffolding- they were bleachers. We just walked up a staircase.”

During the panel, Epp said the election was rigged. She also said USEIP is building coalitions with the Colorado Republican Party, Tea Party groups, and FEC United.

In a subsequent phone interview, Epp explained that the group is trying to foster collaboration around election integrity issues, via information sharing and grassroots organizing. FEC United is the new conservative advocacy group and militia founded last year by another election conspiracy theorist, Joe Oltmann.

Epp also made the point that she doesn’t see election integrity as a partisan issue but rather an effort to expose the truth about a voting system designed to preserve the power and wealth of connected Democrats and most Republicans, whom she sees as benefitting from the status quo.

She offered as evidence a complex web of isolated facts woven together with unsubstantiated assumptions and implications involving current Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Congressman Ken Buck, former Republican Secretaries of State Scott Gessler and Wayne Williams, former Republican county clerks Pam Anderson Matt Crane, as well as Crane’s wife.

The tangled conspiracy narrative appears to have been drawn from another USEIP member, Summit County blogger Holly Kasun, who last week published the same claims in a post titled, “The Colorado Election Establishment Cabal.”

Another panelist, retired Air Force missile operations officer Shawn Smith attacked Colorado’s statewide voter registration system (SCORE), which he said was riddled with security flaws. He also claimed that the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit data-sharing agreement between several states including Colorado which is used to improve the accuracy of their lists, instead exists to inflate the voter rolls of participating states. Colorado is one of the seven founding states, which have grown to thirty as of March 2020, including Texas, Georgia and Utah which are fully controlled by Republicans.

Smith’s “evidence” is what he apparently believes to be suspicious increases in El Paso County’s partisan registration numbers from 2016 to 2020:

“Democratic voters were up 11%, Republicans increased by about half a percent and unaffiliated voters increased about forty percent,” said Smith during the panel. “It’s curious to meIt’s like smoke. If you’re responsible for the forest you watch for the smoke and then you find out what it means. You don’t say, oh it’s probably fine. That’s how you end up with massive forest fires. We have a massive forest fire.”

It’s unclear precisely which months Smith was comparing, but the figures appear to be reasonably accurate and reflect partisan registration trends in Colorado during the Trump administration.

Perhaps the simplest summary of the various conspiracies presented at this panel came from moderator Mark Braunlich, a retired Colorado Springs attorney and former statehouse candidate, who praised Smith’s comments and concluded,

“It behooves us to understand this in order to undermine other people’s faith in the system.”