El Paso County Republicans narrowly re-elected Vickie Tonkins as chair Saturday, but opponents of the controversial party leader say they plan to appeal the results, citing numerous election "irregularities."
“It was a close vote,” Tonkins told Colorado Politics after the results were announced. “But it only takes one over to win.”
She added: “I’m very happy to be able to work with our volunteers again.”
Tonkins prevailed 147-140 over Peggy Littleton, a former El Paso County commissioner, at the county GOP reorganizational meeting at Victory Outreach Church, with a portion of voting members attending remotely over the internet.
Littleton said she was concerned some members of the party's central committee were wrongly denied credentials while others who shouldn't have been able to vote were allowed to cast ballots.
There also appeared to be problems with the remote voting, she said.
"We will be appealing because of the unique year and the irregularities in this year, where people who could not show up in person chose to do it online and were apparently having difficulty with the link and balloting online," Littleton said.
"We want to make sure that there was voter integrity," she added. "We need to ensure the people’s voices are heard, and we need to ensure that those who wanted to be heard were allowed to participate."
The Colorado Republican Party's executive director and lead election law attorney attended the El Paso County meeting as observers, but a spokesman for the state GOP declined to comment on the conduct of the election.
The county party picked Karl Schneider as vice chairman and Sheryl Glasgow as secretary, both by slim margins similar to the divide in the chair race.
Glasgow, a Tonkins ally, ran the credentialing committee — deciding which Republicans were able to cast ballots — and at the conclusion of the meeting was handed an award by Tonkins, who named her "Republican of the Year."
Colorado Politics reported earlier this week that county Republicans have been complaining Tonkins was stacking the deck ahead of the election, including signing up central committee members without following the organization's rules and stepping outside her authority by booting critics from the roster.
The El Paso County GOP has been racked with controversies since Tonkins took over in late 2019 following her predecessor's resignation amid a financial crisis. Last April, nearly every elected Republican in the county called on Tonkins to consider resigning after she posted a message to social media asking whether COVID-19 was a "PSYOP," or a conspiratorial psychological operation against the American people.
Former county GOP chairman Eli Bremer, a regular critic of Tonkins over the last year, said after Saturday's party election that the results don't bode well for El Paso County's longstanding status as one of the key Republican counties in the country.
"I think this is just more indication that the official Republican Party organizations in Colorado are getting further and further away from actual Republican voters," he said.
"We're seeing fringe groups that embrace conspiracy theories take control of Republican Party organizations for their own benefit. This has nothing to do with advancing Republican Party values; it has everything to do with people who could never cut it in the political system taking over organizations to gain relevance."
Tonkins' supporters pushed back on that narrative, saying she was the victim of a smear campaign.
“The establishment did everything they could to defeat Vickie Tonkins and failed," state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, a Tonkins supporter, said in an email.
"Now embarrassed by their loss, they are desperately trying to overturn a fair election to save face. These people falsely preach 'unity' but show they only want division. It would be nice if they would put this much energy into defeating Democrats instead of falsely attacking their own members.”
Garrie Fox, a 75-year-old county central committee member, said he is concerned about what he called “the socially transmitted disease called 'socialism,' " which he fears is spreading in Colorado.
Fox said he was pleased with what he saw at the meeting and believes that whoever wins will do a good job, provided they receive the proper support.
“We’re good Republicans here,” he said. “We need to get behind whoever wins.”
Republicans and Democrats are meeting for county reorganizations through February in advance of both major party’s state reorganizations, which will both be held remotely via teleconferencing platforms — March 20 for the Democrats and March 27 for the Republicans.
Gazette reporter O'Dell Isaac contributed to this article.