On June 4, the Rio Grande Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held a discussion on the integrity of the Dominion Voting machines used for its elections. Although the BOCC had already approved to move ahead with a recent Dominion upgrade, they requested this work session to answer questions about the voting system.

This meeting followed last month’s regular board meeting, where County Clerk Cindy Hill explained to the Board of Commissioners that, with election deadlines looming, she needed approval to upgrade the county voting machine software. In previous years this process would be a formality, but in the wake of the 2020 election fraud conspiracy, Hill, like other rural county clerks across Colorado, faced pushback from election deniers and skeptics, including at least one of her own fellow elected officials. 

Election deniers’ objections to Dominion Voting machines stem from a debunked conspiracy promoted largely by another Colorado extremist, Joe Oltmann, who currently faces a defamation lawsuit over his unsubstantiated accusations that Dominion rigged the election for President Biden.  

The board invited six speakers, three for the use of the Dominion Voting System (used by 62 of Colorado’s 64 counties) and three against. Defending the voting system were Matt Crane, executive director of Colorado County Clerk Association (CCCA), Weld County Clerk Carly Koppes, and Jackson County Clerk Haley Johnson. The three self-professed “experts” opposite of them did not share the same expertise and included Shawn Smith, one of the January 6 rioters, who has called for the hanging of Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. 

Each of the six speakers were allotted five minutes to present to the BOCC. Crane said that the time limit was tight, but enough to get across the important points. 

“We were able to get out what was in the [Dominion] upgrade, which had closed additional vulnerabilities that had been identified in the system, and then push back on some of the other things that Shawn [Smith] and Walter [Daugherity] and Mark Cook had been saying, some of the bulls— they’ve been spreading,” Crane said. 

Smith, Daugherity, and Cook were arguing to get rid of the Dominion system altogether and to replace it with hand counting and one-day voting, changes that would suppress voter turnout and make elections less accurate, according to Crane. 

Daugherity is a retired Texas A&M computer science lecturer who works with the Colorado-based religious right group Truth & Liberty Coalition. He authored one of the so-called Mesa County Reports that made unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 and 2021 elections, claims debunked by Republican District Attorney Dan Rubinstein.

Even though the anti-Dominion side has been unsuccessful in Rio Grande — or in any other county, its claims of election fraud are still harmful, undermining confidence in elections and damaging voter turnout among Republicans in particular. 

“It’s had catastrophic effects at the ballot box for the Republican Party,” Crane, a Republican himself, said. “It’s self-serving for these people, you know. I’ve come to think they don’t give a damn about the Republican Party or conservatism or about winning elections. It’s all about their bottom line.”

If election denialism is harmful for conservative candidates, then it begs the question of what’s in it for people like Smith. Crane says it’s all about personal benefit. 

“It’s a way for them to take advantage of people’s questions about the election and play on their fears. And it generates, you know, clicks, likes, money for them, and in a way, political power as well,” he said. 

Shortly after the work session on June 4, Smith took to X (formerly twitter) to air his grievances with Crane and Koppes. In a now deleted tweet, Smith wrote: “@koppescarly and @MattCrane_ lied to a CO Board of County Commissioners, this morning. It’s not their first time. They deserve due process.”

Screenshot via Matt Crane

Smith has long used “due process” as code for execution, meaning Smith’s tweet was nothing less than a death threat. 

At the end of the meeting, Rio Grande County Commissioner Scott Deacon acknowledged that he had voted against the renewal of the Dominion Voting Systems, a reminder of the real risk that election denialism poses. 

“By flirting with the idea of not doing the upgrade, the commissioners actually would have left their system more vulnerable to problems and issues than less vulnerable,” Crane said. “But that’s what happens when they get brainwashed by bad actors who spread a bunch of disinformation.”

On Monday, Crane and Koppes will be meeting with Custer County commissioners in a session on election integrity. This time, Smith was not invited. 

“Aside from his lies and BS that [Smith] spreads, we certainly aren’t going to entertain or be involved with the platforming of somebody who’s going to say things like that,” Crane said, referring to Smith’s death threat.