Three Republicans are running this year to be Colorado’s next secretary of state, a position in which they would oversee the administration of elections and handle business registration.
It’s a job that’s become highly politicized since the 2020 presidential election, which former Republican President Donald Trump and his supporters baselessly claim was stolen from him through fraud and malfeasance. Two of the three GOP candidates embrace those claims.
The Republican candidate who wins the June 28 primary will go on in November to face Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who has risen to national prominence defending election systems in Colorado and elsewhere.
The Colorado Sun asked the three GOP candidates about some of the major issues in the contest.
Who are the candidates?
- Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County clerk and recorder and the former executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association
- Mike O’Donnell, an Australian immigrant and Yuma County resident who has worked at nonprofits that make loans to small businesses. He does not have experience in election administration.
- Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk who was indicted earlier this year in a security breach of her county’s election system. She has also been barred by a judge from overseeing the 2022 elections in Mesa County partly because of the breach, which stemmed from her belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Yes or no: Was the 2020 presidential election stolen?
ANDERSON: “No. Here in Colorado we have independent, verifiable paper ballots audits that have found no evidence that the outcome was incorrect.”
O’DONNELL: “Well, I can’t say yes or no to that. We have a president (Joe Biden) who’s in power today. So whether or not it was stolen, we probably won’t know for quite a while, but (Biden) is the elected president.”
PETERS: Yes. “This is a personal opinion based on the evidence that I have seen and gone through and based on what I know from our reports. I do believe there may have been enough fraud that it turned the election.”
Top priorities for the candidates
ANDERSON: She said she wants to restore “trusted professionalism” to the Secretary of State’s Office and to county clerk and recorder offices across Colorado. “We have had a long tradition of nonpartisan administration in these offices that sort of remain above that partisan fray,” she said. “That’s been my record, as both a municipal and county clerk both from the management side as well as the elections administration side.”
O’DONNELL: He said he wants to work with the legislature and members of his executive team at the Secretary of State’s Office to craft bills, including a measure that would “wind back” automatic voter registration, the process in which people are registered to vote when they get their driver’s license. O’Donnell said he also wants to “look at what we can do to not decimate the small business sector the same way we did during COVID.”
PETERS: “For sure it would be election security. If someone is voting who shouldn’t be voting, that’s diluting your vote.”
Mail-in ballots and early voting
We asked the three candidates if they’d support ending Colorado’s all-mail-ballot elections, which became statewide in 2013, and if they’d limit or end early in-person voting.
ANDERSON: She’d keep the current system. “For access to our constitutional rights here in Colorado, our model provides freedom of choice to the voter. While we proactively mail a ballot to every active eligible voter, the choice still remains for the voter if they wish to utilize that mail ballot or to go to a vote center anywhere in their county. I think that choice remaining with the voter is important.”
O’DONNELL: He didn’t directly answer the mail-ballots question. “There are people who pretend to be residents here who get their ballots sent out of state and are voting from out of state.” On early voting: “I’m not sure that I have a strong opinion about that. I think we start voting very, very early here.”
PETERS: She said use of mail-in ballots should be limited to people who can’t vote in person because of physical disabilities or overseas voters, though she added “if we can eliminate the fraud any other way, I’m all for solutions. … I think that some of these, what they call conveniences, have gotten to the point where they’re being abused.” She said, however, that early voting is fine.
On changing or eliminating election rules
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office enacts election rules that county clerks have to abide by. We asked the three GOP candidates how they would approach the rulemaking process.
ANDERSON: She said she would like to examine rules on candidate and petition signature collection, as well as rules ballot signature verification. And she wants to return “to being inclusive with the local election officials and how these rules impact voters on the ground.”
O’DONNELL: He said he’s concerned that current rules allow potential noncitizens to register to vote, in turn inflating voter rolls. He said he’d want to change such rules.
PETERS: She said she’d eliminate a 2021 rule prohibiting third-party audits of election equipment, which was aimed at addressing calls from her and her followersothers for an Arizona-style audit of the 2020 presidential election results in Colorado. She said she might also get rid of other rules. “This secretary of state — and I’ve talked to other clerks who have been around for 20 years — has passed more legislation, has rolled out more rules than any one secretary of state in the last 20 years.”
Relationship with county clerks and their association
Elections are managed at the local level by county clerks, who oversee ballot printing and counting and audits of results. The secretary of state works closely with those clerks and the Colorado County Clerks Association, so The Sun asked the three candidates about how they would work with both.
ANDERSON: She said that all elections are local and thus maintaining good relationships with county clerks and recorders is paramount. “There is a regulatory role that’s appropriate as well, but making sure that we’re collaborating on resources, training, education and security (is critical),” Anderson said.
O’DONNELL: He said he’s been meeting with county clerks and believes the state is creating too much work for them in some areas, such as when it comes to motor vehicles and a new requirement from the legislature to sell park passes with vehicle registrations. He said he isn’t “connected with the County Clerk’s Association.”
PETERS: She said she disagrees with how the clerks association has handled the Mesa County controversy that ensued after she allegedly allowed an unauthorized person access to voting equipment and a sensitive election system software update. She implied that other clerks don’t understand the conspiracy she baselessly claims occurs between Griswold and Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems, which provided machines that process the vast majority of ballots in Colorado.
Individual questions for each candidate
The Sun asked Anderson about her role as a director of the Center for Technology and Civic Life, which distributed grants from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation to local election offices around the country in 2020 to help defray costs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. (She’s on leave from the organization while running for office.)
ANDERSON: She said she served with the center as a volunteer director, one of many volunteer roles she’s played “because of my expertise as a local election official.” ”I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg. Never met him. I’ve never been paid in these capacities,” she said.
O’Donnell is a political novice and the only Republican candidate for secretary of state without experience administering elections. We asked him how he’d handle being the state’s top election official.
O’DONNELL: He said he would join a national association for election officials and take online classes in election administration if he wins the primary. “A lot of the elections are handled by the county clerks and the system is well in place. There are a lot of rules that don’t make sense to me, there are a lot of things that just inflate the voter rolls and little issues we have with not removing people from the voter rolls.”
The Sun asked Peters how she could serve as secretary of state if she ends up being convicted of the charges against her, which could result in a prison sentence.
PETERS: “I will never plead guilty because I’ve committed no crime … This is a political maneuver to color the minds of the voters to keep me out of the Secretary of State’s Office,” she said. She said that if she were convicted and sentenced to prison she “will have in place in the Secretary of State’s Office … people that are trustworthy, that are honest, that are strong, that are capable — that can run that office.”
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.