(The Return of James Peabody! — Colorado Pols)
When Donald Trump said this week he feared the presidential election “might be rigged,” his comments raised eyebrows among election officials everywhere, including Colorado Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
Williams, speaking to 9News, sought to reassure Coloradans that elections in our country are professionally and impartially run. Fair enough. That’s what a secretary of state should do, right? And not instill fear that the outcome of elections might be tainted by cheating?
As a bonus, anchor Kyle Clark pointed out that 9News also had on hand Williams’ one-term GOP predecessor in office, Scott Gessler, to hammer home the point that, hey, here’s another Republican who’s run our elections and can vouch for their integrity.
“I think there’s always value in skepticism. We want to hold government accountable and skepticism is what does it,” Gessler told 9News, adding, “Before anyone accuses anyone else of widespread fraud or anything like that, I’d be careful and examine the facts closely.”
Mmm, yes. Examine facts before making accusations of widespread fraud. Sage advice indeed.
Maybe that is advice Gessler himself could have heeded in 2011 before leading his multi-year witch hunt to root out what he said could be as many as 16,000 noncitizen voters in Colorado. “We know we have a problem in Colorado, but we do not know how big the problem is,” he testified before Congress, where shocked Republicans declared his allegations “a disturbing wake up call.”
As many as 5,000 of these noncitizens had voted in 2010, Gessler said. Wow. That was the year when Michael Bennet had narrowly defeated Ken Buck. Maybe where there’s smoke…
“My office has every reason to believe that thousands of noncitizens are registered to vote in Colorado,” Gessler told Colorado lawmakers during a hearing in 2011. Hey, it only takes a small number to change the outcome of an election, right?
And then a funny thing started happening. A bunch of the people Gessler alleged were noncitizens turned out to be citizens after all. The number of alleged noncitizens on Gessler’s list grew ever smaller as it became clear Gessler’s methods and assumptions were wildly unsound.
But that didn’t stop Gessler, who pressed on until he could get someone to prosecute what was now only a handful of cases identified. After everything was said and done, there was one – count it – one conviction, in Arapahoe County, resulting from Gessler’s multi-year witch hunt.
Maybe witch hunt isn’t the right term. This was more like a snipe hunt, where a fool is lured into the woods holding a burlap bag while his buddies leave him there and go have a laugh.
There’s a great episode of Cheers where this happens to Frasier, who, after being left in the forest, realizes he’s been had: “A man does not crouch in the woods for hours without having a revelation or two.”
Unless you’re Scott Gessler, in which case you remain ever vigilant – bag open, eyes agape and ready to catch snipe.
We don’t know how much of this background Kyle Clark knew before reading the 9News story with Gessler on the air. But we do hope Kyle will at least check out that episode of Cheers. It’s a good one.