Election deniers suffered a stinging series of defeats in Colorado on Tuesday night, losing handily in Republican primaries for governor, U.S. Senate and secretary of state ― the top three statewide races on the ballot.
Greg Lopez, a former mayor who falsely claimed that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election, lost his primary to Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent who finally said in mid-June that she believed President Joe Biden won legitimately.
Businessman Joe O’Dea, who acknowledged Biden’s victory, defeated state Rep. Ron Hanks, a Jan. 6 insurrection attendee, for the GOP Senate nomination.
And in the secretary of state race, Pam Anderson, a former county election clerk who also called Biden’s win legitimate, defeated two candidates who questioned the results of the election, including Tina Peters, a county clerk who is under felony indictment on charges that she tampered with voting machines as she tried to prove that the election was stolen from Trump.
Trump’s conspiracy theories have dominated Republican Party politics since the 2020 contest, turning this year’s primaries into a series of referendums on baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, the lie that the election was stolen, and right-wing efforts to take over the country’s election system before the 2024 presidential contest, when Trump may be on the ballot again.
Across the country, GOP candidates have staked their primary campaigns entirely on the “big lie.” Such candidates have won scores of races nationwide already this year, including Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary and Nevada’s Republican secretary of state race. Michigan’s state Republican Party backed election deniers for secretary of state and attorney general at its nominating convention. And Republicans who have embraced those lies are leading contenders in major primaries in Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states that have yet to hold their contests.
But Colorado is the latest swing state where Republican voters have rejected those conspiracy theories and the candidates who pushed them. In May, Georgia voters similarly turned away a trio of Trump-backed candidates in GOP contests for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, rejecting the “big lie” in one of its original birthplaces.
The Georgia losses were fueled by a variety of factors: Winners that all benefited from the fact that they were incumbents, and the state’s open primary system allowed Democrats to cast ballots in GOP contests. That rule likely helped Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the chief target of Trump’s election ire, to win a clear majority of votes in his race and avoid a costly and uncertain run-off contest against his election-denying opponent.
Colorado’s victorious Republicans enjoyed no such incumbency advantage on Tuesday. And at least in the Senate race, Democrats sought to boost Hanks’ candidacy with a bevy of ads and a barrage of late spending, hoping that a more radical opponent would bolster Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D) reelection chances this fall.
They did, however, enjoy one major potential advantage: an efficient election system that makes it easy to vote, has earned the broad trust of Coloradans, and has not spent the last two years as a focal point of Trump’s “big lie” battering ram.
Over the last decade, Colorado has built one of the country’s best election systems, according to nonpartisan experts. In 2013, the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a law requiring the state to automatically send mail-in ballots to every registered voter, codifying and expanding a practice that was hardly novel to Colorado voters, nearly two-thirds of whom already regularly cast absentee ballots. The law also improved the in-person voting system, getting rid of specific local precincts in favor of countywide voting centers. And it modernized the state election system, bolstering security systems that had been the focus of intense criticism from both parties and election experts.
Colorado voters loved it. In 2014, after the first election held under the new system, 95% of absentee voters said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience, while 96% of in-person voters said the same, according to Pew.
Trump lambasted mail-in voting programs as a chief source of purported fraud during the 2020 election, but unlike in states that had enacted sweeping changes to election laws amid the COVID-19 pandemic, vote-by-mail was already familiar to most Coloradans. (Georgia, too, notably had an expansive absentee voting program in place, although it has since come under more scrutiny from the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.)
Colorado also never became a specific focus of Trump’s fraud claims, likely because in his 14-point loss there was a substantially larger margin of defeat than he suffered in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin ― all states where he lodged direct legal and relentless public challenges to elections. The former president who has endorsed a litany of election deniers nationwide even refrained from weighing in on Colorado’s primaries: He didn’t officially back Lopez, Hanks or Peters, despite the latter’s efforts to win his support.
Trump’s fraud claims also especially prospered among conservative voters in states where 2020 vote counts were particularly slow, in part because of the pandemic-related changes and deliberate efforts from Republican legislatures to delay the counting of votes. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, officials can’t begin processing absentee ballots until Election Day, a rule that contributed to days-long counts that fueled Trump’s fraud allegations ― and the belief among his supporters that something was amiss ― as his early leads turned into narrow deficits.
Colorado doesn’t have that problem. Efforts to modernize and improve its elections have created one of the country’s most efficient and secure systems, and made Colorado one of the fastest states to tally and report its results. On Tuesday night, the winner of each major statewide primary was evident within an hour of polls closing.
“Colorado is considered the nation’s gold standard for voting,” Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, told HuffPost last year, as she touted the changes her state has made and pushed federal lawmakers to adopt similar changes. “And we’re considered the securest state in which to vote.”
There are notable caveats to any celebration of Colorado’s primary results as a total refutation of Trump’s conspiracies. In the secretary of state race, a majority of voters backed the pair of election-denying candidates ― it was their sharing of those votes that seems to have paved Anderson’s path to victory.
And an expansive and trusted election system isn’t necessarily enough to defeat Trump’s conspiracies. Americans overall broadly enjoyed the expanded voting options that were implemented during the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP from targeting them. A majority of Arizona voters, meanwhile, regularly take advantage of the state’s broad vote-by-mail program, but after Trump’s 2020 loss it has nevertheless become one of the major targets of the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican election deniers running in upcoming primaries.
Even after the trio of losses in Colorado, challenges may persist. Peters, the secretary of state candidate, suggested Tuesday night that she would attempt to dispute the results.
“This is not over,” she told supporters, according to the Denver Post.
Unsurprisingly, she focused her ire on the very system that produced a convincing rejection of candidates like her: “I’m sorry,” she said. “We had faith in the system again.”