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Detractors of American voting, driven by a cult leader who as president was inimical to democracy and as ex-president is a sworn enemy of it, have gone on the attack in Colorado in the form of proposed voting restrictions, threats against the secretary of state and county election officials, an election-system security breach in the Western Slope’s biggest county, the refusal by leaders of the Republican party to acknowledge President Joe Biden won in November, and organized efforts to instill doubt about election integrity.
The objective of the subversives behind this activity is not to overturn the 2020 election — it’s to ensure Coloradans never again trust election results.
Former President Donald Trump hatched the “big lie” that the election was stolen from him, and this falsehood has sloshed through every Republican channel in the country. Some of his supporters surely believe the lie, and some surely don’t. But what’s most important to all of them is that his opponents are deprived of power, no matter what voters prefer, no matter by what means, even if the Constitution must be scrapped and democracy canceled, and even if it means violence.
These forces have gained momentum in Colorado, and they are increasingly dangerous. The individuals involved can be identified — indeed, they must be named. Coloradans should know who they are, understand their iniquitous motives, and counter their efforts like the country’s survival depends on it.
Here are Colorado’s top 10 election deniers:
Corporon is an attorney, Republican national committeeman and tea party activist who last year gained national attention when CNN reported on conspiracy theories Corporon had spread, including the Obama “birther” lie. Corporon has a substantial platform on a KNUS radio show, which in recent months he has used to amplify other election deniers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Malkin is a Colorado resident but has a national presence as a political commentator — fans know her from Newsmax, Fox News and other far- or extreme-right platforms. She can be relied on to take beyond-the-pale positions on just about every topic. She’s a COVID denier and friend of racists. She was talking about stolen elections even before Trump was president, and she was an early adopter of “stop the steal” hysterics after he lost in 2020. These days she lionizes insurrectionists.
Gessler claims a special place of shame on this list, because he is a former secretary of state — the top election official in Colorado — but today he is an election denier, a betrayal that should forever haunt his legacy. Gessler as a private attorney helped Trump generate the big lie by serving as a “testifying expert in election challenges in Nevada and Pennsylvania.” As an unsuccessful candidate this year for state GOP chair, Gessler further pushed the big lie. Now he represents Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk accused of participating in a serious breach of election systems in her own office.
Peters is the Mesa County clerk and recorder and an adherent of debunked claims that the November election was fraudulent. Secretary of State Jena Griswold accuses Peters, who denies wrongdoing, of participating in activity that led to the release of election-system hard drive images and passwords to election-fraud conspiracy theorists, including Ron Watkins, a leading QAnon figure. The reported breach is the subject of an investigation by Griswold and separate criminal probes by 21st Judicial District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and the FBI. Peters was a featured speaker at an election fraud “Cyber Symposium” in August in South Dakota hosted by MyPillow CEO and election conspiracist Mike Lindell.
Hanks represents the 60th District in the state House. The Republican is a virulent election conspiracist. He was present for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and after he toured the Maricopa County election audit in Arizona he said he wanted to “clone” the exercise, widely understood to be a sham, in other states. He is unabashed in his assertions that the election was stolen for President Joe Biden. “I believe this to be an illegitimate regime,” he said.
Epp is the co-founder of Colorado-based U.S. Election Integrity Plan. “USEIP is the only organization in Colorado that is wholly focused on election integrity. It’s our only issue,” Epp said during a presentation in May. The group is “focused on restoring the Republic.” USEIP has dispatched volunteers to counties around the state to interrogate people in their homes about how they voted. Epp perpetuates misinformation about elections in frequent appearances at public and other forums.
Bishop, aka “America’s Mom,” often serves as a hub for the state’s leading election conspiracists. She worked as campaign manager for far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert. She accompanied Peters to Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium” and also spoke from the stage. “In Colorado, we are a red state,” she told the gathering. “We know we are. And there are amazing people who are out there, they are verifying this, they are going door-to-door, they’re doing the work to prove that our elections were stolen.” She splits her time between efforts to deny COVID-19 and erase confidence in Colorado elections.
Boebert, a member of Congress from Silt, is a seditionist. She is an unrepentant champion of the insurrectionists, unquestioning servant of the authoritarian Trump, and prodigious source of election lies.
Oltmann is an energetic conspiracy theorist (Colorado Springs Indy reporter Heidi Beedle has the receipts). The Douglas County resident originated the debunked claim, promoted by Trump, that Dominion Voting Systems and one of its executives, Eric Coomer, were involved in rigging the election in favor of Biden. Oltmann is now a defendant in a defamation lawsuit brought by Coomer, but he is defiant. In a deposition he told one of Coomer’s lawyers, “You can’t handle the truth.” Oltmann is the founder of FEC United, a conserative activist group with an armed wing, the United American Defense Force.
Smith describes himself as a retired Air Force colonel who worked in missile and space operations and performed operational testing and oversight of weapons systems in the military. His public profile is not as high as that of others on this list, but his malign activities keep Colorado election officials up at night. Smith distinguishes himself from blusterers like Boebert and blowhards like Oltmann in that he combines a mild demeanor with an articulate presentation. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, if you don’t know what he’s talking about. That’s partly what makes his election lies so potent. And he’s ubiquitous. He testifies about election integrity before state bodies. He speaks on right-wing radio shows. He works with U.S. Election Integrity Plan. He appeared with Peters and Bishop at the “Cyber Symposium.” His message exemplifies the overarching goal of Trumpists, to eliminate trust in elections so that Trump can retake power by other means. “I’ll just be as blunt and direct as I can: Our voting systems are not secure,” he said, erroneously, during a group video call hosted by Bishop. And he’s not above making oblique allusions to violence: “My last decade or so in service in the military was focused very much on our foreign enemies, and I can’t tell you how disillusioned I am to become aware of what may very well be domestic enemies.”
Many honorable mentions could be appended to this list.
They include Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent and Republican gubernatorial candidate, who refuses to say whether she believes the 2020 election was stolen; state Sen. Paul Lundeen, who this year introduced Senate Bill 21-7, which would have drastically reduced mail-in voting; state Rep. Dave Williams, an election conspiracist who has claimed that 5,600 dead people voted in Colorado; state Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, who helped organize a Legislative Audit Committee at which Trump lawyer and Rudy Giuliani election-fraud acolyte Jenna Ellis was permitted to voice a litany of baseless claims; Jenna Ellis herself (she’s a Coloradan); and U.S. Reps Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, both of whom joined a Texas lawsuit at the Supreme Court that sought to overturn the election — and Lamborn, along with Boebert, on the day of the insurrection voted not to accept electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Editor’s note: This opinion column first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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@example.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.