U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, on Wednesday pushed for further investigations into allegations contained in a TV news story that was retracted over the weekend concerning a mailing sent to potential voters by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat.
The original story, aired Friday on Denver's CBS4, mistakenly suggested that a postcard sent earlier this month encouraging eligible voters to register ahead of the November election was connected to the state's voter rolls and was somehow urging non-citizens and dead people to vote.
CBS4 news director Tim Wieland pulled the story Sunday afternoon and replaced it later that night with an interview with Griswold meant to "[set] the record straight," but not until after conservative news outlets and Republican personalities had blown up the misleading account across the internet.
On Sunday, Breitbart posted what amounted to a rewrite of the original story and Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, tweeted the story to his 5.6 million followers along with graphic sirens and the comment, "Sure the Dems aren’t trying to cheat!!!"
By Wednesday morning, the Breitbart story had been shared on Facebook more than 57,000 times, and the younger Trump's tweet linking to the retracted story had been retweeted and liked nearly 20,000 times.
On Wednesday, Buck sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and the chairman of the Federal Election Commission asking for an investigation into the postcard.
"The American people deserve to know that the 2020 election will be conducted in a fair and transparent manner," Buck wrote. "As such, I urge the DOJ and FEC to open an investigation into the Colorado Secretary of State’s efforts to register individuals who are ineligible to vote."
Contrary to the news station's initial report, the postcard isn't encouraging ineligible voters to sign up, Betsy Hart, the secretary of state's communications director, told Colorado Politics. Instead, the informational mailer makes clear that the recipient "may be eligible to vote" and spells out the legal requirements to register in bold type: Colorado voters must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and reside in the state for at least 22 days before an election.
The postcard, which went to 750,000 Colorado addresses this year and was expected to yield 75,000 newly registered voters, was sent using a mailing list culled from data assembled by a national election organization from motor vehicle records. It's routinely used by state election officials to help identify people who aren't registered to vote, Hart said.
"The list is compared to other information, such as the Social Security Death Index to remove people from the mailing," she said. "The mailing list is not the same as Colorado's voter rolls; as by definition it targets unregistered people."
Hart noted that the election information postcard was first sent out using a similarly compiled list by Griswold's GOP predecessor Scott Gessler, and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, also a Republican, continued the practice through his four-year term.
"These reports that Secretary Griswold's office has sent postcards encouraging people to register to vote who are otherwise ineligible to vote in this year's elections are deeply concerning," Buck said in his news release Tuesday. "What is more concerning is simply the unknown scope of these errors," he said, adding that he was asking Griswold for the complete mailing list and an explanation why some ineligible voters got the postcard.
"We must get to the bottom of this," he said on Twitter.
Buck said the state party heard from a woman who received the postcard addressed to her late mother, who died in 2016 and hadn't lived in the state since 1967.
"I have received many emails from Republicans across Colorado concerned about this issue and would like to hear how Secretary Griswold plans to avoid this issue from happening again," Buck said. "I am confident in the security of Colorado's election system, but I need to hear more about the source of this problem, so we can assure Coloradans that there isn't more to this story than originally reported."
A spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party didn't make Buck available for an interview and didn't respond to a question asking whether the party had received similar complaints about the mailer in previous years.
“It’s a shame that Chairman Buck and the Colorado GOP are complicit in the President’s efforts to spread misinformation and discredit Colorado’s election model, which is recognized as the gold standard across the country and has resulted in electoral victories for their own party," Griswold told Colorado Politics.
"This partisan, politically-motivated attack from the Colorado GOP is an attempt to undermine confidence in our elections by fear mongering and spreading debunked election misinformation," she said.
Griswold has regularly pushed back against President Donald Trump's repeated warnings about mail ballots, including a remark made by Trump in Tuesday's debate complaining about "unsolicited" mail ballots. "This is going to be a fraud like you've never seen," said Trump.
"Registering to vote is soliciting a ballot in Colorado," Griswold tweeted moments after the debate ended. "We believe voters should have access to safe, secure and accessible elections. We believe in vote-by-mail for all.”
Ian Silverii, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, said Buck's complaint hinged entirely on misunderstanding what the phrase "may be eligible" means.
Republican Walker Stapleton, a two-term state treasurer and 2018 GOP nominee for governor, "ran a million-dollar television ad campaign saying that you may have money owed to you in the unclaimed property trust fund," Silverii said.
"It would have been illegal to impersonate someone who is owed money and collect it, just like it would be illegal to register to vote or register someone else to vote if they are not eligible and received one of these postcards."