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The Election That Changed Colorado

Updated: Jul 2, 2022

After the governor's election in 1904, Colorado found itself identifying more with a state of chaos than a state of prosperity. The miners were on strike, an election clerk jumped from a moving train to evade law enforcement, and no one knew for sure who the governor really was during the early months of 1905. All of this chaos was caused by one of the most corrupt elections reported in American history - making the hanging chad debacle of the Bush-Gore election look like a Sunday tea party.

The Election of 1904

The governor’s election in 1904 came at the tail end of the Gilded Age - a time notorious for poverty, unemployment, and corruption. This troubled time spread past Colorado and affected every major American city. Everyone on the political trail was working hard to churn the votes for their party, no matter what the price was. Colorado was no different than the rest of the country, but a big change would eventually occur.

James H. Peabody, Alva Adams, Jesse MacDonald

The Colorado governor incumbent was Republican James H. Peabody (pictured below).

Peabody’s career in politics was short-lived but one filled with controversy. During his tenure as governor, Colorado faced multiple strikes by the miners looking for equal rights and representation. Although previous governors had sided with the working class in strikes like these, Peabody’s response was with brute force. He sent the state militia to the striking miners, starting Colorado’s brutal Labor Laws. Peabody was loved by big business - not so much by the working class - which is why when the election of 1904 came about, it was one of the most heated in the state’s history.

Peabody’s opponent for governor was Democrat Alva Adams (pictured below).

Adams had already served two terms as governor and was more popular than Peabody - but that didn’t mean he didn’t have skeletons in his closet. Both parties had no problem throwing shade, and when the day of the election finally came, there were reports of voter fraud and ballot box stuffing flying through the air from all corners of the state.

Adams would be declared the winner of the election, albeit by a very narrow margin. Peabody couldn’t handle the loss and began making accusations and demanding an investigation (all before Adams took the office). Adams would take his third oath as governor of Colorado, but not without tons of drama surrounding it. The investigation would uncover large amounts of corruption, which was uncovered by the state legislature, and seats would begin changing hands - even though both parties were guilty of fraudulent activity. For example, one person voted 169 times, and in another instance, 717 Democratic ballots were cast in a precinct with only 100 eligible voters.

The Coloradans would soon lose faith in their own government after watching thousands of votes being disqualified, thrown out, or disregarded (even the valid ones). With his political career torn apart, Adams would resign from the governor post on March 16, 1905, with Peabody immediately sworn in, but that was a short-lived effort. In less than 24 hours, Peabody would resign from the governor’s seat, replaced by lieutenant governor Jesse MacDonald. Three men held the governor’s seat over the same 24-hour period.

Changes to Colorado Elections

With the election of 1904 lingering in the minds of Coloradans across the state, it would take decades before the real change occurred. Thousands of voters would begin fighting corruption in the political playing field, the extreme political machine measures were shut down, and united workers refused bullying techniques used to earn votes. This was the beginning of a changed political landscape across Colorado - and a tried and true lesson of how voter fraud can disrupt the nation.

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