Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, is running for reelection this year against Pam Anderson, a Republican who used to be Jefferson County’s clerk and recorder.
The winner of the race will oversee Colorado’s elections for the next four years, as well as enforce the state’s campaign finance laws and oversee business registration, notaries and the regulation of charities.
The two candidates clashed at a debate Wednesday hosted by The Colorado Sun, the University of Denver’s Center for American Politics and CBS4.
Here’s what you need to know about the candidates and where they stand on the issues:
Watch a recording of the debate above.
The candidates’ background
Griswold, 38, was elected secretary of state in 2018. She is a lawyer who worked in the Obama administration and directed then-Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Washington, D.C., office. She is currently chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.
Anderson, 52, served as Jefferson County’s clerk and recorder for eight years from 2007 to 2015 and is also the former executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, where she worked on legislative issues at the Colorado Capitol. She has also worked with national organizations on elections and voting policy.
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Both Griswold and Anderson agreed that the secretary of state in Colorado should be elected as opposed to appointed, which is how the position is filled in some other states.
“I think it’s important the secretary of state be accountable to the people,” Griswold said.
Making the secretary of state an appointed position wouldn’t dispel the politics of the position, Anderson said. “It really enforces that we have responsiveness to our electorate if we are elected.”
Anderson said, however, that Colorado should consider making the secretary of state a nonpartisan position similar to city council and school board seats.
Should the secretary of state dive into issues beyond the secretary of state’s role?
Anderson said she would try to keep the office “above the political fray” by never endorsing a candidate or advocating on behalf of issues outside of the secretary of state’s role because of how those actions could be perceived by the public.
“Even though I’m a person of political conscience, I am a pro-choice woman, it’s not a central position for the office of the secretary of state,” Anderson said. “Even if the perception is that you are putting your thumb on the scale … that creates doubt for the process.”
Griswold disagrees, saying she would use her position to stand up for abortion access and the right for same-sex couples to marry.
“That’s not partisan, that’s American,” Griswold said.
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Politicizing the Secretary of State’s Office
Anderson isn’t among the Colorado Republicans who’ve gone along with former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, but during The Sun’s debate she criticized Griswold for invoking election deniers, including indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, as fodder for national television appearances and fundraising emails.
“I will not put fuel on the fire with hyperpartisan and polarizing and divisive rhetoric to fuel my political campaign,” Anderson said.
Griswold, meanwhile, attacked Anderson for appearing at campaign events with Republican candidates who have questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. She specifically mentioned 7th Congressional District candidate Erik Aadland, who said the election was “rigged,” and Danny Moore, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor who was removed from his role as chairman of Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission in 2021 after social media posts surfaced in which he questioned the outcome of the 2020 election.
“I think it’s inappropriate to campaign with election deniers spreading the big lie,” Griswold said, challenging Anderson to stop appearing with the Aadland and Moore.
While Anderson didn’t directly respond to the challenge, she noted that she’s objected to Aadland’s statement and other Republican election deniers. “I will continue to push back on candidates, even in my own party, about the big lie,” she said.
Anderson also repeatedly criticized Griswold during The Sun’s debate for spending more than $1 million in federal election assistance money on TV ads cautioning voters against disinformation. The ads featured Griswold and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican Griswold defeated in 2018 and who this year has endorsed Anderson.
That money should have been directed to county clerks for election security, Anderson said.
In August 2021, Griswold announced she was investigating Peters after images of passwords to Mesa County’s voting equipment were posted on a conservative website. A grand jury indicted Peters in March on 10 counts, including charges of attempting to influence a public servant and criminal impersonation. Peters is scheduled for a trial in early March.
Anderson defeated Peters, who also ran for secretary of state this year, by a 14 percentage point margin in the Republican primary in June.
Anderson said that while she agreed with the investigation of Peters — “I supported you on that,” Anderson said to Griswold — she said Griswold crossed a line when she raised money based on the active investigation of the Mesa County clerk.
“We need to make sure that we take the politics out, take the fundraising out of the scenario, and maintain that fairness as a fair referee for the entire process,” Anderson said. “It’s not appropriate to do that for your political career and it denigrates the office.”
Griswold touted her work on and support for a law passed by Colorado’s legislature following the investigation of Peters that made it a felony to allow unauthorized access to voting equipment.
“I was the first secretary of state in the country to actually have to deal with an insider threat,” Griswold said. “I acted quickly and decisively.”
Making Colorado’s elections more secure
Responding to a question about how to improve the security of Colorado’s elections, Griswold said that while there is room for innovation, pointing to her work around automatic voter registration, Colorado’s elections are already safe and secure.
Anderson said she would improve audits for voter lists and signature verification. She has also recommended improving regulation around “ballot harvesting,” referring to Coloradans’ ability to return up to 10 ballots for themselves and other voters.
Some worry that allowing Coloradans to return so many ballots for others could result in fraud.
Griswold said there’s no evidence fraudulent ballot harvesting has occurred in Colorado. She accused Anderson of pandering to the far right by voicing concerns about the practice.
“Ballot harvesting is a conspiracy theory made popular by Donald Trump,” Griswold said.
Anderson said she supported the law allowing Coloradans to turn in up to 10 ballots, and “I also support enforcing the law if there’s a complaint.”
“Let’s make sure that we can enforce the law and provide all the access and security we can,” Anderson said.
Postcards to noncitizens
For the second election cycle in a row, Griswold’s office this year mistakenly sent postcards urging noncitizens to register to vote even though they are ineligible.
This year’s postcards went to some 30,000 ineligible people.
“There was a data error,” Griswold said. “Anybody with a noncitizen ID would be blocked from registering. No one has attempted to register from that list who is ineligible.”
Griswold noted during The Sun’s debate that Anderson made a similar error when she was Jefferson County clerk, sending postcards to 22,000 voters saying they’d failed to vote when they actually had.
Anderson said making the mistake twice is an issue.
“I think making the same error again points to a management problem, points to a lack of leadership,” Anderson said.
Anderson noted that turnover in the Secretary of State’s Office has been high, potentially resulting in the mistake.
Griswold defended her actions.
“I’m very proud of my office’s response to this,” she said. “If we really want to get into the minutiae of a blame game, that’s not something I’m willing to do. You have not seen me blame anybody within my staff. You’ve seen me take responsibility and that’s what I do as secretary of state.”
Managing the 2024 presidential election
Griswold and Anderson were asked what they would do if Trump should run for reelection in 2024 and ask them to change the results of the presidential contest, as he did in 2020 in Georgia. Both candidates said they would stand up to Trump.
“I would say ‘absolutely not’ and my first call would be to the attorney general,” Anderson said.
When asked a follow-up question about whether she would vote for Trump, Anderson didn’t answer, saying she has never revealed which candidates she supports and won’t take sides in elections.
Griswold said she would never support “someone who is using the office for their posture, to destabilize this country, to try to destroy democracy for their own political benefit.”
Why should you vote for them?
If elected, Anderson said she would work to restore professionalism to the Secretary of State’s Office by focusing on bipartisan leadership.
Anderson noted that she has been endorsed by former Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall, a Democrat, and current clerks Tiffany Lee, of La Plata County, and Michelle Nauer, of Ouray County, who are both unaffiliated.
In a closing statement, Griswold emphasized her role in expanding voter access during the pandemic and creating a new process for businesses to fight identity theft.
“In a new term, I will continue to protect the right to vote for every Coloradan and make this the best state in the nation to open a business,” she said.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.