U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, has asked a state lawmaker to lead an inquiry into allegations by another legislator that the March party election won by Buck was so riddled with errors and irregularities that its final results could be open to question.
Buck told Colorado Politics that he's enlisted state Rep. Mark Baisley of Roxborough Park to assemble a panel to examine allegations made by state Rep. Susan Beckman, a Littleton Republican and Buck's chief rival in the March party election.
After Baisley and his team investigate Beckman's complaints, Buck said he wants them to issue recommendations on party election procedures — potentially including holding another vote for state party chairman.
"I'm not making any judgments at this point," Buck said. "I want to make sure there was a fair election."
Buck said he asked Baisley, who supported Beckman in the chair race, to spearhead the inquiry because "her people would find Mark to be credible."
"I trust Mark. I believe Mark will be fair," Buck said.
He added: "I don't think it's a big deal. I think there may be some bylaw changes, there may be some other things, but I'm open-minded and willing to look at what Mark produces."
Baisley, a former vice chairman of the Colorado GOP and former chairman of the Douglas County Republicans, is serving his first term in the legislature. He said he'll bring his background in cybersecurity and experience formulating election procedures for the county GOP to the investigation.
"I'm hoping before this time next year there will be a process in place that everybody believes in," he said.
"There won't be any room for shenanigans. Were there shenanigans this time? I don't know, but we are going to do our best to find out."
Buck, a three-term congressman from Weld County, was elected state party chairman after four rounds of balloting — using electronic "clicker" devices — at a March 30 meeting of the GOP's state central committee at Englewood High School.
Beckman led Buck in a field of four candidates for the first three rounds of voting, but Buck pulled ahead and won a majority in the final round after a trailing candidate dropped out and endorsed him.
In the final results, Buck prevailed over Beckman, 51.3%-47.7%, or eight votes out of nearly 400 votes cast, according to results displayed on screen in the school's auditorium.
In a 10-page "post-election analysis" distributed to Republicans on April 29, Beckman detailed "issues and concerns" she said she discovered while reviewing the election, including what she called a sufficient number of "illegally credentialed proxy forms" to have swung the outcome.
"The results are troubling," she wrote, pointing to what she called "issues of serious concern that raise questions about the integrity of the process."
Among her allegations, Beckman charged that party officials distributed more "clicker" voting devices than the number of credentialed voting members, as well as either withheld or reported as lost various records documenting the election.
In one instance, Beckman said records produced by the state party showed another state representative "marked present and voting," even though he didn't attend and didn't assign his proxy to anyone.
"It has been difficult to audit this election in a timely manner because of the resistance of the [Colorado Republican Committee] leadership to sharing information, the 'lost' sign-in credentialing and proxy documents and inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent, and confusing documents," Beckman wrote.
She added: "It is important to note that during the election day there is a great deal of responsibility placed on the non-establishment candidate to watch for anomalies that would cause the campaign to challenge the election — on the spot. I never did expect, nor did I have the capacity to stop such flagrant abuse and violation of [Colorado Republican Committee] Bylaws, Standing Meeting Rules, best practices and transparency."
Jeff Hays, the former state GOP chairman who oversaw the election to pick his successor, vehemently rejected Beckman's allegations in a scathing eight-page, point-by-point rebuttal sent to party central committee members in late April.
"Rep. Beckman’s efforts to accuse her fellow Republicans of dishonesty and incompetence and try them in the court of public opinion and through emails only serves to diminish her stature in a failed attempt to tarnish the credibility of the previous administration and undermine that of the legitimately elected Chairman Ken Buck," Hays wrote.
He accused Beckman of misunderstanding how the party allocated the "clicker" devices, since the party grants some central committee members fractional votes — if a county has two vice chairs, for instance, each gets one-half of a vote — and dismissed her other complaints as groundless.
Hays also took issue with Beckman's description of herself as "a non-establishment candidate."
"This is a laughable, disingenuous comment from someone who has been in elected office for 17 of the past 20 years," Hays wrote.
Responding to Beckman's allegations concerning the conduct of GOP volunteers and staff who ran the party election, Hays swung back hard: "I hope I have demonstrated to you that her accusations, beyond being insulting and divisive, are incorrect, illogically drawn, or irrelevant or inconsequential to the outcome of the election."
Buck told Colorado Politics that he decided to ask Baisley to sort things out after reviewing both memos and discussing the allegations with Beckman and Hays.
"They're both adamant that they're right," Buck said. "I've asked him to talk to everybody involved, go point by point through Susan's memo and give me answers to her questions."
He continued: "I'm busy — trying to raise money, put staff together, work with the Trump and Gardner campaigns, and as soon as the [state] Senate and House adjourned, I've been working with them. I'm not going to be distracted from that mission."
"I hope that we don't engage in a circular firing squad," Buck added. "Republicans around the state are counting on us to win elections. This is a distraction. It may be a necessary distraction."
Baisley said he plans to launch the investigation in the coming weeks and plans to hold the panel's meetings in public.
He'll be assisted by two Republicans with backgrounds in software development and party operations — Craig Steiner, a former chairman of the Douglas County Republicans, and Gregory Carlson, a former chairman of the Fremont County Republicans, who served as the parliamentarian at the March 30 state GOP meeting.
"We'll move not swiftly; we will be methodical about it. We intend to have a report ready to present at the September meeting of the state central committee," Baisley said.
"We could recommend a re-vote, tightening up the process, new technologies or what. I don't know right now," he said.
Baisley, who headed the state party's bylaw committee from 2015 to 2017, said he plans to take a hard look at how the state party handles proxies, an issue he said has been festering for years.
"I see this as an opportunity to correct that big mistake," he said, recalling a recent failed attempt to change procedures governing proxy votes that he said have long been misinterpreted.
"I'm going to have my guns aimed at the proxies. I'll likely recommend get rid of the proxies," he said, adding that advances in technology could allow party members to vote remotely rather than assign proxies under the current confusing set of rules.
He'll also be keeping an eye out for possible legislative fixes to problems surrounding party election procedures, Baisley said.
"I will have in the back of my mind, are there any statutory things we might do? While this is not an election-election, it still sets up the actual election, all these internal processes, and it changes history," he said. "If the right person doesn't get elected as a party officer or a party nominee, history changes. I frankly think it's a criminal act if someone does cheat on a party process."
Regardless of his team's findings, Baisley said, he wants to make sure everyone is satisfied that party elections are conducted fairly and that participants can be confident in the results.
"It is such a heartbreak that people walk away this unsettled," he said. "For both of them to have this hanging out there — it's not satisfying, it's not clean, it's hard for everyone to lock our arms in a phalanx and go after the opposition."
He added: "I'm just honored to be in this spot to go try to clean up this town, because it needs some cleaning."