BY FREDA MIKLIN
On October 11, incumbent Colorado Secretary of State (SOS) Jena Griswold (D) and challenger Pam Anderson (R) fielded questions designed to help voters make an informed decision in the race for SOS on November 8. The event, hosted by the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies, featured moderators Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics and Professor of Political Science at DU, Shaun Boyd, political specialist at CBS News Colorado, and Sandra Fish of the Colorado Sun.
Griswold directed Sen. John Hickenlooper’s Washington, D.C. office when he was Colorado governor and also worked as a lawyer in the Obama administration. She currently serves as national chair of the Democratic Secretaries of State.
Anderson was Wheat Ridge City Clerk, then Jefferson County Clerk for eight years, and is the former executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association.
In her opening statement, Griswold, a Colorado native, said she ran in 2018 “on a pledge to increase access to the right to vote,” and she has kept that pledge by “increasing drop boxes by over 65%, adding in-person voting, and guaranteeing voting access at every public university and on tribal lands.” She also helped pass a bill in the legislature in 2019 “that has registered over 350,000” new voters and worked to “cut red tape” to register a new business, as well as the cost to do so, which is now $1.00.
Anderson, who has a history degree and a masters in public administration, said that in her positions as a city and as a county clerk and recorder, she always focused on “access, security, integrity and transparency,” adding that she “has stood up…for fair and accessible elections, and against conspiracy and mis-and-disinformation about our process.” Anderson accused Griswold of, “hyper-partisan and polarizing activities.”
To the question of whether the Secretary of State should even be an elective office, both Griswold and Anderson agreed that it should, with Griswold pointing out that “the two election-denier secretaries of state in this nation right now were both appointed (in Florida and in Texas).”
On the question of whether the SOS should weigh in on political questions, such as abortion, taxes, and the economy, Anderson said the SOS should not take a position “on polarizing issues that are likely to come before you as an initiative,” because, if that happens, “it could “create doubt for the process.”
Griswold saw it differently, saying, “When fundamental rights are under attack, I will always stand up for them, including the right to vote.…When the fundamental freedom (is attacked) to choose who to marry…how to start a family, I will stand up for people’s rights… Standing up for people’s freedom is the duty of every public official…That’s not partisan, that’s American.”
Anderson retorted that “taking the side of special interests” raises Griswold lots of campaign contributions, adding that she (Anderson) issued the first same sex marriage license as a county clerk and has stood up against misinformation.
Griswold stood her ground, repeating her belief that, “If you are elected in the United States of America and you see fundamental freedoms under attack, it’s your duty to stand up.”
Asked to respond to accusations of having politicized her office, Griswold said she is “always happy to talk about the Colorado election model, “because it works…and is secure,” thus she is glad to share how it works with other states.
Griswold was asked how it happened that, “For two elections in a row, your office has sent postcards to non-citizens and other people ineligible to vote.” (It happened with 30,000 people this year). Griswold described what occurred as a “data glitch,” pointing out that anybody with a non-citizen ID who attempted to register to vote would be blocked from doing so and that none of those who were ineligible have registered or tried to register to vote. She also noted that Anderson made the same mistake as Jefferson County Clerk, when she mistakenly sent out 22,000 postcards telling ineligible people how to register to vote.
Anderson conceded that her office did make the same type of mistake when she was Jefferson County Clerk, saying she “took accountability for it,” but that the same mistake happening in 2022 that happened in 2020 “points to a management problem, a lack of leadership,” resulting from the high turnover rate of management staff in Griswold’s office. Anderson then asked, as did a panelist, why the first postcard sent in error this year by the Secretary of State’s Office included Griswold’s name, but the second one, correcting the error, did not. Griswold did not respond to that question.
The issue of election security came up when a panelist asked about what happened in Mesa County with County Clerk Tina Peters “and the issues raised by what she did.” Griswold responded, “I was the first Secretary of State to actually have to deal with an insider threat when the Mesa County Clerk, working with Qanon and the My Pillow guy, compromised her own voting equipment trying to prove The Big Lie (that the 2020 election was stolen from the former president).” Griswold described working with Republican county commissioners to resolve the situation, barring Peters and appointing former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican who she beat in 2018, to take over managing the elections process in the county. Griswold added that she had to deal with a similar “breach of protocols” in Elbert County by the elected Clerk, after which she helped institute new state laws to protect against similar events in the future.
Anderson said she agreed with the actions Griswold took, but objected to her citing those actions in campaign fundraising materials. Griswold responded by challenging Anderson for “campaigning with election deniers” like Eric Aadland, GOP candidate for Congressional District Seven, who are “spreading The Big Lie.” Anderson did not respond to that allegation, just said that she “stands for professionalism and…free, fair, accessible and transparent elections.”
In the balance of the questions and answers, both candidates generally agreed that Colorado’s elections are free, fair, and accurate. Anderson talked about enforcing the rule against voter harvesting, which is the act of dropping off more than ten ballots at one time, even if nothing dishonest or fraudulent has been done with those ballots.
Asked if she supported the state’s automatic voter registration, Anderson said she did, although she expressed a preference for the 2017 version over the 2019 version. The current system automatically registers eligible voters who have proved that they are citizens, then gives them the opportunity to choose a party affiliation or cancel their registration altogether. According to Colorado Public Radio, the current version registered “about 250,000 people” in its first year, half of whom ended up voting.
When Anderson talked about having “worked with other states to compare lists to make sure there’s no crossover,” Griswold pointed to the fact that the conservative Heritage Foundation had cited Colorado as having the “number two best procedures for voter registration list maintenance.”
In closing, Anderson said she wanted “to restore leadership and stability to the office,” and noted that she is being supported by the county clerks in Denver and Boulder. Griswold pointed to her accomplishments in expanding voter access across the state and maintaining a system of safe, secure, and accurate elections.