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To try to convert an election skeptic, a county clerk invited her to help the process

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Only about a third of Republican voters trust that elections are fair, according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Election officials in states like Colorado say they're fielding more questions and more doubts than ever before. Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland has the story of how a county clerk set out to win one woman's trust.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: For most of her life, 68-year-old Kay Hunsaker says she simply accepted the results of elections. But in recent years, she says she became concerned about voter fraud and people potentially voting illegally.

KAY HUNSAKER: It never crossed my mind that we had real problems until the last decade. Then it seemed all of a - maybe with the influx of a border that isn't secure.

BIRKELAND: Last year, Hunsaker moved from the Denver area to a small town about two hours away. She says she loves the scenic vistas and the fact that, unlike Denver, the area is very conservative. But when she arrived, she says she was alarmed to discover that the clerk in charge of the 2020 election was the son of a Republican running for county commission.

HUNSAKER: And I was like, OK, here we go, you know? What do we got, some family dynasty going on, you know? You know, I just thought this was typical, OK?

BIRKELAND: She publicly asked the Republican clerk, Justin Grantham, to step down from overseeing the election, something state law doesn't allow. Grantham says it was rough that some Republicans believed he would or even could rig the election to help his father.

JUSTIN GRANTHAM: I don't do any of the election. I don't deconstruct the envelopes. I don't pull them out. I don't...

BIRKELAND: For him, Hunsaker's fears showed she wasn't familiar with how elections are actually run.

GRANTHAM: Like, you know what? Comes see me. If you really think that I'm going to do something, come see me. Come take a tour. Come see how it works.

HUNSAKER: You know, and I was a little confrontational with Justin. I was, you know, because I've heard some things. And, you know, he's like, well, sit down, let's talk. And that kind of disarms you right there.

BIRKELAND: Grantham had a proposal - help out during the 2020 election. And Hunsaker found a secure system, and she was back working the most recent election.

HUNSAKER: Do you have a question, sir?

BIRKELAND: Hunsaker is wearing a bright American flag sweater and has purple streaks in her white hair. She smiles warmly at the voter who's just walked through the door.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: My last ballot was sent to this address.

HUNSAKER: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I've since changed my mailing address to here.

BIRKELAND: Hunsaker is also going out into the community to tell local Republicans why the election is aboveboard.

HUNSAKER: From being down and watching those ballots, I know there was no fraud going on.

BIRKELAND: The clerk, Grantham, says he will keep trying to win over skeptics one at a time if that's what it takes. But Hunsaker's faith is limited to what she's directly experienced. She trusts her own county, but not necessarily other places.

HUNSAKER: No, I do not believe the 2020 election was right. There was too much middle-of-the-night changes for it to sit well with me. So...

BIRKELAND: Would that be Georgia and Arizona?

HUNSAKER: And Pennsylvania and Michigan - there was a lot. There was a lot.

BIRKELAND: There continues to be no evidence that the vote counts in those states were affected by fraud, but NPR's recent poll shows that Hunsaker isn't alone with her concerns. Three-quarters of Republican voters believe real cases of fraud changed the 2020 results. For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF EAGLES SONG, "HOTEL CALIFORNIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.