A panel of Colorado election security experts Monday attempted to persuade an audience of officials and residents in Custer County, a hotbed of election skepticism, that elections can be trusted.

The panelists faced a sometimes hostile crowd, which came out for the Board of County Commissioners workshop at Lange Hall in Westcliffe. Through occasional interruptions, they described in detail how elections operate in Colorado, how they are kept secure, particulars of voting machine hardware and ballot counting mechanics, and why hand counts are not feasible. They tried to debunk the most common claims made by election deniers.

“They didn’t talk to election experts and election administrators,” one of the panelists, Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said about people who have propagated false claims about election systems. “They don’t know election law. They don’t know election process. They don’t know how these systems are supposed to function. Those are the common themes throughout all of this.”


The other panelists were Christopher Beall, deputy secretary of state, and Carly Koppes, the Republican Weld County clerk and recorder and vice president of CCCA. Custer County Clerk Kelley Camper also participated in the discussion.

The workshop exemplified the persistence of the “big lie,” started by Trump himself in 2020 and now a central tenet in much of Republican politics as Trump makes a third run for president.

Only about half of Colorado Republicans think elections in the state are fair, according to a recent survey by the University of Colorado Boulder and YouGov. About one-third of American adults believe President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory was illegitimate. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the most prominent Republican office-holder in Colorado, is an election-denying Trump ally, a description that also suits the chair of the state GOP, former state Rep. Dave Williams, who is running to represent Colorado’s 5th District in Congress.

Custer County, where there are about four times as many registered Republicans as Democrats, has proved particularly susceptible to election conspiracy activity. In May it was the site of a previous workshop at which the commissioners provided a platform to several of the most influential election deniers in Colorado, including Mark Cook, activist Shawn Smith, who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and podcaster Joe Oltmann, one of the originators of the false claim that Dominion Voting Systems machines, which are in use throughout Colorado, are untrustworthy.

The panelists Monday offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the election deniers’ claims. They walked through requirements for voting system security, ballot and drop box security, voter ID and signature verification, and election audits. They highlighted the impracticalities and high error rates of ballot hand counts, which election conspiracists often tout — along with in-person voting only on Election Day — as superior to machine counts.

“I know this goes against a lot of what’s heard in conservative channels. Believe me, I’ve heard it, too,” Crane, a Republican, told the crowd. “Carly hears it, too. And it’s just not true.”

At one point, Crane pointed out that national figures who pushed election falsehoods publicly, such as Sean Hannity, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, refrained from doing so in the context of legal proceedings, where lying comes with consequences.

“Think about how they are playing people, and especially Republicans, which is why people like Carly and I get so fighting mad,” Crane said.

“Don’t get angry,” a member of the audience said.

“Well, I get frustrated,” Crane said.

Earlier this month, Crane and Koppes defended the integrity of Colorado elections before the commissioners of Rio Grande County, who had allowed Smith and Cook to present their case at a “Work Session to discuss concerns of Dominion voting systems integrity,” as the county website described the event. County executive administrative assistant Bobbie Hatton told a reporter that no recording was made of the session and no one took minutes. Crane said that at least one Rio Grande commissioner said during the session that he thinks the local election system has vulnerabilities.

Following Monday’s Custer County workshop, Commissioner Bill Canda similarly indicated he was not altogether convinced that elections were secure, and he cited a concern that some election machine components are produced in China.

Claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent or compromised have been debunked by elections officials, experts, media investigations, law enforcement, the courts and Trump’s own campaign and administration officials.



This article originally appeared in Colorado Newsline, whjch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: [email protected]. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and X.

Denver resident Sonja Shearron drops off a ballot June 30, 2020, outside the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)