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Colorado election official says he felt pressured by state GOP chair to submit incorrect election results

CNN logo CNN 5/9/2020 By Kelly Mena, CNN
Ken Buck wearing a suit and tie © CNN

A dispute over a Colorado state Senate candidate's effort to get on a primary ballot has led a local election official to allege that US Rep. Ken Buck, who also chairs the state's Republican Party, was pressuring him to submit incorrect election results -- and says he has the audio to prove it.

Buck, however, has said he was merely asking the official to carry out the state Republican Party's position that technical issues at a March party assembly meeting had derailed a key vote, though a district court judge later said the candidate should not be on the ballot.

The argument is over who will represent the Republican Party in the race to fill a term-limited seat in Colorado's State Senate District 10. Two Republicans, state Rep. Larry Liston and Republican activist David Stiver, are vying for it. Each needed to receive 30% of the vote from Republicans within the district at an assembly meeting in late March in order to make the primary ballot.

Liston met the threshold, while Stiver didn't.

Stiver then complained to the state party, saying the election, held via an email voting system and conference call due to the coronavirus pandemic, was conducted unfairly because of what he said was insufficient notification of when the online voting would begin, improper use of the voting system and elevating alternates to vote. Two GOP state committees, the Executive Committee and the Central Committee, weighed in on the matter and sided with Stiver in April.

Buck, in his capacity as the state GOP chairman, told Eli Bremer, the state election official who conducted the initial assembly nominating process, that Stiver should be included on the ballot. Bremer, however, argued that the election had been carried out properly and Stiver didn't receive the necessary votes -- and adding him to the ballot would constitute election fraud.

Slideshow by photo services

Buck, as chair of the party, pushed back.

"I am able to tell you that only Central Committee members voted and the vote was 52% to 48% to adopt the Executive Committee report. Do you understand the order of the Executive Committee and the Central Committee, that you will submit the paperwork to include Mr. Stiver and Mr. Liston on the ballot with Mr. Liston receiving the top-line vote?" Buck asks in an April 17 conference call, according to audio first revealed by The Denver Post and obtained by CNN.

"Yes, sir, I understand. The Central Committee has adopted a vote that requires me to sign a false affidavit to the state," Bremer responded.

To which Buck replied, "And will you do so?"

"I will seek legal counsel because I am being asked to sign an affidavit that states Mr. Stiver received 30% of the vote. I need to seek legal counsel to find out if I am putting myself in jeopardy of a misdemeanor for doing that. I will consult with counsel," Bremer said.

Buck again asked: "And you understand that Central Committee has ordered you to do so?"

"Yes, sir. I understand the Central Committee has ordered me to sign an affidavit that states a candidate got 30% who did not and I will seek legal counsel to determine if I am able to legally follow that," Bremer reiterated.

Buck ended the back-and-forth with "All right, Mr. Bremer. I understand your position." Bremer ultimately did not submit the incorrect results.

The congressman has not responded to multiple requests for comment from CNN. He didn't contest the authenticity of the audio in an interview with the Post and said he was merely asking Bremer to follow the lead of the state Republican Party.

"What I was asking Eli to do was not to commit fraud, I was asking Eli if he understood the decision of the Central Committee and if he was willing to follow the request of the Republican Central Committee," he told the newspaper. "It wasn't like I was asking him to do something because I have a personal stake in the process."

Bremer blasted Buck in an interview with CNN, calling him "the most arrogant man in any room he's ever been in."

"And he decided that he was just going to lord it over me and try to spike the football and grind my face in it and say, 'No, you are going to break the law because I'm a sitting congressman,' " Bremer said.

Bremer eventually was taken to court, getting a "friendly lawsuit" filed against him by his vice chair Karl Schneider to relieve him of having to submit incorrect election results. District Court Chief Judge Michael A. Martinez ruled that any certificate of designation filed with the secretary of state's office showing Stiver as a candidate would violate state law because he did not receive at least 30% of the district's votes.

Ken Buck wearing a suit and tie © Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

The Colorado Republican Party appealed to the state Supreme Court, which on Tuesday declined to hear the case.

Stiver told CNN on Thursday that he has filed paperwork with the Colorado Supreme Court to get the case back in district court and his name on the ballot.

"There is not now, nor have I ever been given, the opportunity to contest the Senate District 10 Executive Committee's math, analyze the vote totals, review the email communications, texts, or phone records to determine whether what they say is true and factual," Stiver said.

CLARIFICATION: The headline on this story has been updated to make clear that the election official who alleges he was pressured to submit incorrect results did not do so.

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