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Eagle County GOP leaders text unaffiliated voters, echoing election conspiracy theories

Text messages sent to unaffiliated Eagle County voters in recent days encouraged them to “hold on” to their mailed ballots until Election Day, prompting questions about the purpose of the messages and confusion among residents.

The messages, which were sent as early as Oct. 14 to unaffiliated voters in the county, which includes the towns of Vail and Eagle, include a link to the county Republican Party’s website and are seemingly signed by party representatives.

Tony Martinez, the chair of the county party, refused to say if the GOP was responsible for the messages in an interview with the Denver Post. He repeatedly said the organization has “no official statement or position.”

A text message sent to unaffiliated voters in Eagle County last week encouraged them to keep their ballots until Election Day, prompting confused calls to the county clerk’s office. Identifying information about the sender and recipient have been removed to protect privacy. (Courtesy of Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office)

Regina O’Brien, the Eagle County clerk and top election official, said she had spoken with Martinez and that he would not confirm the origin of the messages with her, either. He also did not provide an explanation to the Vail Daily, which first reported the messages Wednesday. The county’s Republican Party website also encourages residents to vote in person and says voters “must overwhelm the system and not stay home.”

The text message appears to fit within a broader, baseless conspiracy theory urging people to vote later to avoid supposed ballot tampering, clerks have said. There is and has been no evidence of ballot tampering. Ballots were mailed to voters starting earlier this week.

Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said the messages match up with conspiracies pushed by “election deniers” in Colorado and elsewhere. He called it “B.S.” and said it would only serve to hurt voter turnout.

“As long as you’re in line by 7 p.m. on election night, you can vote. That’s the voter’s choice,” he said. “The thing that’s problematic about this — it’s built on a premise of disinformation and lies.”

O’Brien said she contacted Martinez after receiving calls from confused residents, citing text messages, asking why they hadn’t received their ballots by Oct. 14. Ballots could not be legally distributed for another three days, she explained to them.

Some called asking if they had to wait until Election Day to legally vote, O’Brien said.

Martinez appeared to acknowledge in an interview that the messages had been sent to unaffiliated voters but would not comment further about the intent. O’Brien said she and confused residents who called her office would like an explanation.

The texts don’t violate state law, Colorado Secretary of State spokeswoman Annie Orloff said in a statement. The office is “aware of this situation and has been in contact with the Eagle County Clerk,” Orloff said.

O’Brien stressed that voters have the right to vote at any time between now and when polls close 7 p.m. Nov. 8 and that ballots will be counted and confirmed for days after. She urged people who questioned the integrity of elections to get involved and see the legitimacy of the process for themselves.

“If we have a very, very large volume of ballots on Election Day and specifically turned in later in the day, it’s going to take us longer to process those ballots,” she said. “It’s like any business or industry or restaurant: When you have a larger volume, it just takes longer. We need for folks to be patient and understand that and if the volume is heavy for Eagle County or any other county, it’s going to take longer.”

Unaffiliated voters are a sizable bloc in Colorado, often outnumbering those registered to vote either Democrat or Republican in some legislative districts. Eagle County will see two hotly contested state legislative races this year in both the House and the Senate, the results of which could determine which party controls the chamber.

In an interview with the Denver Post, Martinez repeatedly questioned why the text messages were worthy of press attention when pressed on whether the Eagle County Republican Party had sent them, as the texts indicate it had. He criticized the Vail Daily article and said the newspaper made party officials seem like “conspiracy theorists or something nefarious or (that) we don’t trust the system.”

“My personal position, I don’t trust the system,” he added.

In a statement, Kristi Burton Brown, the chairwoman of the Colorado Republican Party, urged voters “to return their ballot as soon as possible.”

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