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An election denier in Colorado is running for secretary of state

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

One of the most watched races on primary day today isn't at the top of any state's ticket. It's Colorado's Republican contest for secretary of state. The question is whether a candidate who has become a champion of election fraud lies will have a shot at running the state's election system. We're joined now by Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland, who has been following the race. The candidate that's getting a lot of national attention, Bente, is Tina Peters, the Mesa County's Republican election clerk. Tell us more about Tina Peters.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: She's definitely the most high profile and polarizing of the candidates because in part of her belief there's been major fraud in the state's elections. If she wins, Peters says, she would push for fundamental changes to how Coloradans vote, like getting rid of all mail ballots. The other half of that story is that Peters has been indicted on 10 counts of election tampering and misconduct. In May of last year, Peters allegedly allowed an unauthorized person to access the county's voting machines and sit in during an annual security update. The hard drives and passwords ended up being posted online by election conspiracy theorists.

MARTINEZ: OK, so she's under investigation for crimes around elections and then running to oversee elections in the state. I know you've interviewed her. What does she have to say about that?

BIRKELAND: Well, Peters calls the indictments laughable. She has long maintained she didn't do anything wrong and instead has turned up evidence of fraud with the county's voting machines, evidence, I should say, experts dispute. State audits and hand counts have verified the accuracy of the 2020 election results. And other county clerks in Colorado have pushed back against false claims of widespread fraud.

TINA PETERS: I've lost a lot personally in this. I'm not going in for title or recognition or position. I'm going in to fix things. I'm going in to make it better, to bring Colorado back to the gold standard that they say it is, you know, and bring Colorado back to being - for the secretary of state not to be so partisan and controversial.

BIRKELAND: But her candidacy is controversial. And a judge has barred Peters, who is still the Mesa County clerk, from overseeing elections in her county.

MARTINEZ: Have the other Republican candidates in the primary race bought into the lies there was massive election fraud in 2020?

BIRKELAND: There are two other candidates, political newcomer Mike O'Donnell. The other, Pam Anderson, has made the most - been vocal about the issue. And she says she got into the race to counter people like Peters who push false election fraud claims. Anderson is a former county clerk, and she was the head of the state's Clerks Association. She supports Colorado's election system and doesn't believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

PAM ANDERSON: I have been very upfront about my belief in evidence-based elections and that I have seen no evidence. I've read all of the reports. I've been in many places around the country.

BIRKELAND: And largely, Colorado Republicans don't want to concentrate on the 2020 election. They want to make big gains by attacking Democrats on inflation and gas prices. Donald Trump lost Colorado by 13 points. So even if Peters has a chance of winning the primary tonight, a statewide win in November is probably a stretch.

MARTINEZ: That's Bente Birkeland from Colorado Public Radio. Thanks a lot.

BIRKELAND: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.
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