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Colorado candidates for secretary of state debate call out trustworthiness

9NEWS's fifth debate of six saw Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Republican challenger Pam Anderson take the podium Monday night.

COLORADO, USA — Republican Pam Anderson, the former two-term Jefferson County clerk and past head of the Colorado County Clerks Association, is challenging Democratic incumbent Jena Griswold to be Colorado's secretary of state.

The pair went head-to-head in a debate Monday at 6 p.m. on Next with Kyle Clark.

Both are certified election officials who reject election rigging conspiracies.

Griswold ran unopposed in her primary. Before she was elected to the office in 2018, she worked as director of the Colorado governor’s Washington, D.C., office.

She was in the news recently for mistakenly sending postcards to about 30,000 noncitizens encouraging them to register to vote, blaming the error on a database glitch related to the state's list of licensed drivers.

RELATED: Colorado: 30,000 noncitizens got vote registration mailer

Griswold also appointed a supervisor to oversee the upcoming election in Elbert County following breaches of security protocol by the county’s clerk and recorder last year. The same supervisor was also responsible for a losing a box of dozens of ballots during the June primary election.

RELATED: Griswold appoints election supervisor for Elbert County after clerk copied election hard drives

Anderson defeated two other nominees in the Republican primary for secretary of state. She led the County Clerks Association for five years and served as Jefferson County clerk for two terms. She also played a central role in establishing the state’s all-mail balloting system and is a staunch advocate for it.

RELATED: Anderson wins GOP nomination for secretary of state

Today, candidates emphasized their records and positions on election security and election deniers. Read and watch their answers to questions here:

Election security and accessibility

Q: Both of you are running on your records of making elections more secure and accessible. What have you done personally to improve elections?

Anderson: “As the Jefferson County clerk and recorder, and as the … executive director for the clerk’s association, I led with my bipartisan colleagues, culminating in 2013 with a bill that provided access – our model that we have today. I also won an award for my work on our risk-limiting audits, and I back that up with paper ballots and supported those so we can validate our elections are accurate with those paper ballots. Transparency is key with bipartisan public boards that certify that our elections are secure and accurate. I’m very proud of the access points and the security that I’ve worked for, for nearly 20 years as a certified state and federal election official.”

Griswold: “When elected in 2019, I led an agenda to increase voter access in the state of Colorado. Working with our state legislature, we increased the number of drop boxes, we increased in-person voting, we guaranteed for the first time ever access on ever public university and tribal lands. I also led a new form of automatic voter registration which has registered over 350,000 eligible Democrat, Republican and unaffiliated voters. On top of that, when we’ve seen threats to our election infrastructure, I’ve acted quickly. Whether it was in Mesa County when rogue county clerk Tina Peters compromised her voting equipment or in Elbert County, I’ve protected our election infrastructure to make sure every eligible Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated can have their voice heard.”

Q: Where can Colorado’s election systems be improved to make them even more secure and accessible?

Anderson: “As an expert in audits and verifiability, I think that I will take some of my ideas around expanding audits on signature verification to make sure the wheels are on the bus right and we’re on time and accurate. I will also increase confidence by installing a citizen election academy to give any Coloradan the ability to take some of the same training that experienced, certified election officials do, and give more access and transparency to the process.”

Griswold: “I look forward to continuing to increase access for Colorado voters across the state. Colorado is the second-highest turnout state in the country. Until we’re No. 1 and successfully beat Minnesota as the first-turnout state in the nation, there’s more work to do. We can continue to expand automatic voter registration. Government should meet people where they are. In addition to increasing registration, it also secures our elections further. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to continue to work with and listen to the tribes. I’ve been very proud of our successful partnership over the last four years, but there’s more work to do.”

Dark money in politics

Q to Griswold: You monitor donations to the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. You’re part of the executive committee that dictates what happens to that money. Can I see where every dollar that comes to that organization comes from, where it’s spent, how much has been used to support your race?

Griswold: “None of it has been used to support my race. And DASS follows all campaign finance rules in the states that it participates in and federal rules. I’m the first one to say that our rules should change. That’s why I think we should overturn Citizen’s United and continue to shine light on dark money. … My fellow Democratic secretaries of state elected me at a time when Democracy is under threat to do our best to elect folks who will stand up for the right to vote for every eligible voter.”

Q: Can I see every dollar that filters through that organization that you have say in right now?

Griswold: “You can see every dollar in compliance with the current rules and regulations. But I’ve been a champion for shining more light on dark money here in Colorado. DASS is not spending in Colorado.”

Anderson: “I think this is an instance again where my opponent is ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ Shining a light on dark money and leading a partisan organization that has raised millions of dollars and funneled to dark money groups all across the country is not living up to what your principle is. I also think it drives your partisan rhetoric, things like when you told the Guardian I believe that if you vote Republican, on the outcome of an election that Americans would lose their right to vote within three months. That sort of rhetoric I think erodes the confidence and trust in our system. I will be that nonpartisan referee, that fair referee of the process.”

Q: She says you don’t practice what you preach. Do you not?

Griswold: “Unfortunately what my opponent said is untrue. I never said what she just tried to put words in my mouth.”

Griswold’s comment to the Guardian

Q to Griswold: You said Ms. Anderson was not telling the truth when she brought up the Guardian article where they quoted you as saying Republicans could take away the right to vote nationwide within months. You didn’t say that? The newspaper just printed it?

Griswold: “That’s not what Ms. Anderson just said. … What she just said is that I said that if you vote Republican, our elections will be over, or something like that. I never said that. I do think it’s really important to be careful on how we talk about election issues.”

Q: So what you said was Republicans could take away the right to vote for Americans nationwide within a few months. That is what you said?

Griswold: “That is not what I said. What I said is that extremists are running to be chief election officers in many states across this nation.”

Q: We both know what quote we’re talking about. It was to the Guardian newspaper, and you said Americans nationwide could lose the right to vote within months.

Griswold: “That is not what I said. If you go back and pull the quote, it said many Americans could lose the right to vote and our fundamental freedoms are at risk in several months.”

Q: Do you have any evidence to show how Republicans would go about taking away the right to vote nationwide within months?

Griswold: “Many Americans are seeing their voting rights being rescinded right now. We’ve had 34 suppression bills passed across the country in the last two years. Over 500 bills have been introduced to strip Americans of the right to vote. We’re seeing the Big Lie used to destabilize American elections, and it is a risk to American democracy that Republicans are running in many states across this nation on a Big Lie agenda.”

Q: I’ll try one last time. How will Republicans take away the nationwide right to vote within months?

Griswold: “To be very clear, I never said all Republicans. I think there’s great Republicans."

Voter Intimidation

Q: Poll watching is illegal. Voter intimidation is not. Here’s what we’re seeing in Arizona. Law enforcement investigated reports of masked men with tactical gear and guns standing watch over ballot drop boxes. They determined the men were doing nothing illegal. Also, in Arizona, there have been complaints that voters are being confronted at ballot drop boxes, videotaped by observers, and followed to their cars where their license plates were videotaped.

Here in Colorado, FEC United, a group that has pushed election rigging conspiracy theories and has an affiliated militia, is urging its supporters to go out to ballot boxes. The founder of the group told us today they are watching every ballot box in Colorado. Whether you believe that claim or not, what can be done about voter intimidation at polling places and drop boxes? And is Colorado law sufficient on this issue, or should changes be made?

Griswold: “I think it’s very concerning to see groups with a tied militia say they’re going to monitor. To be very clear, voter intimidation is illegal under state and federal law, and on top of that I worked with the county clerks association to pass a new law this year. It includes banning open carry within 100 feet of a drop box, voting center, or where you process ballots…It’s illegal to dox or intimidate election workers, that was in conjunction with the clerks association, and it’s illegal to open carry, that’s what we passed with the state legislature.”

Anderson: “We do have good voter intimidation laws, but I think I will continue to lead and stand up and push back on violence and rhetoric around our elections, and making sure that we’re continuing to push back not only as a local election official, which I did in Jefferson county…but also I recently pushed back against Joe Oltmann and that type of reprehensible rhetoric that is not right for our democracy, and I will continue to do that as secretary of state…I also stood shoulder to shoulder in Chaffee county in 2021 after my colleague Laurie Mitchell after she was threatened…physical threats on the ground. My opponent closed her office for two years and kept professional election officials, even if they wanted to, to go in the field like we did.”

Q: She closed the office because of COVID…what’s wrong with closing the office when there’s an pandemic going on?

Anderson: “As critical infrastructure for democracy, the county clerks couldn’t close their offices to serve voters, and as secretary, I will make sure that my critical infrastructure and the people that serve Coloradans at the state level will also be going to the frontlines as they do for every election, except for those two when they were needed most, in a safe and secure way like our county clerks did.”

Griswold: “I’m very proud of our work during the pandemic. We increased drop boxes even further, had backup voting centers, we set up statewide ballot tracking…we ensured there was PPE and actually offered sick pay for election workers and volunteer judges. And through those reforms…Colorado had the second highest turnout in the nation.”

Automatic Voter Registration

Q for Griswold:
You said you passed automatic voter registration. I call that a stretch because it existed before you were in office. What changed was that instead of what’s called “front end,” where I get to pick my party affiliation or decline to register to vote up front at the DMV, it went to “back end,” where my information goes from the DMV to the county clerk, the county clerk sends me something in the mail. And if that point, if I do nothing, I’m registered to vote, unless I respond and decline. What was wrong with giving me the choice up front?

Griswold: “Not to split hairs, but the prior version didn’t automatically register anybody. We worked with stakeholders to pass this new form, and it’s been highly successful. It has registered over 350,000 Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliateds. It went live before it could actually be used. It was in the middle of the pandemic, when driver’s license offices were not open. As soon as it went live, we were seeing registration continue in a way that wasn’t happening in other states. … On top of that, it increases our security on the voter rolls because as they move, their ballots follow them to their new addresses.”

Q: What was wrong with the front-end approach? I reported on a duplex in Weld County where there were 200+ people registered to vote at the same place, but it turns out it was a truck driving school. People from out of state came in. They needed to get a Colorado driver’s license to get a trucking license, so that’s where they registered to vote. … They’re automatically registered as an unaffiliated voter. That seems to bloat the voter registration rolls. Why is it helpful to bloat the rolls?

Griswold: “There was nothing wrong with the prior policy in place, but this is an improvement on it. That issue you refer to isn’t an issue with automatic voter registration. That was an issue with a commercial driver’s license office using one address to erroneously register people for their driver’s license. I don’t have oversight over that. We reported that to the Department of Revenue. … The new program also saves money because ballots go to the right person and Coloradans don’t have to jump through a million hoops if they move.”

Q to Anderson: Why shouldn’t we get the system the way it is, back-end automatic voter registration? That way if I don’t do anything and I don’t want to vote, and I forgot to send it back, I’m going to get a ballot in the mail and I might see that and vote. In the other process, I might decide I don’t want to be a registered voter. What’s wrong with getting more ballots to more people?

Anderson: “I support getting more ballots to more people through automatic voter registration. When we implemented it in 2018 under Wayne Williams on the opt-out, it was to create more efficiencies and make it easier for people, as opposed to bureaucratic government. What I do oppose is leaving the Colorado tradition of ignoring the issues that we see. They’re not numerous, but they do erode confidence. If you forward an issue as a county clerk – like Weld County did – within a week of the 2019 bill, and nothing happens, my experience in working across the aisle, working with the agencies like the DMV, like the Department of Revenue, to solve the problems, to maintain the high level of confidence, is what I’ll do as secretary of state.”

Q: You would keep it back-end?

Anderson: “I like the back end. It’s much more efficient. It saves taxpayer money. But we want to make sure we’re doing it well.”

Election Deniers

Q for Griswold: Ms. Griswold, when you’ve been criticized as too partisan, you’ve said that election integrity isn’t partisan. And this race proves it, because your opponent is also a vocal defender of our elections and a fierce critic of elections deniers. Yet in this race, you’ve misled voters into thinking you’re facing an election denier, you’ve suggested Republicans could end voting nationwide within months, and Ms. Anderson has been falsely smeared as a supporter of President Trump and his election lies. This seems like pure partisanship, is it not?

Griswold: “That’s untrue Kyle. I know you’re referencing an email the campaign sent out several months ago, and it doesn’t mention Pam Anderson, it mentions Tina Peters and Mike O’Donnell, two elections deniers who were in the primary against Pam. And actually, I’ve said over and over again that my opponent is not an election denier. I’ve said that in front of her, I’ve said that to the media. And you also put some words in my mouth calling her a MAGA extremist, which again, I have never said that. I don’t think she is a MAGA extremist. I do think it can be confusing to voters and to me that while Pam isn’t an election denier, she campaigns and says she supports election deniers. I think that can be confusing. I think it was confusing in the primary how she said she would crack down on ballot harvesting, a conspiracy theory made popular by Donald Trump and the extremist movie 2,000 Mules. Those are things that can confuse voters.”

Q to Anderson: Ms. Anderson, you in fact have campaigned alongside the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Danny Moore, who is an election denier. But you recently criticized a scheduled event featuring Moore an fellow election denier, FEC United’s Joe Oltmann, who you called “reprehensible.” Why are you comfortable keeping company with some election deniers but not others?

Anderson: “I am a registered Republican, and the center point of my campaign is to go to voters, when invited, to push back against misleading information and conspiracy. It’s been a real honor to go and go talk about my campaign for 10 minutes and then answer questions for an hour and 45 minutes, and I haven’t seen my opponent doing that…I have pushed back against President Trump, former President Trump, candidate Trump, and anyone who seeks to mislead it…So I’ve done it when it’s difficult. I will continue to do that against either party that misleads our voters.

Q: Why will you literally stand shoulder to shoulder with Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Danny Moore, who is an election denier, but another election denier, Joe Oltmann, you said the two of the campaigning together was reprehensible. Where’s the line?

Anderson: "Actually, when Danny Moore was appointed by the governor candidate Heidi Ganahl, I said I was disappointed in that appointment because of his comments. What I will continue to do is not wag my finger and lecture people about their questions but talk to them. I don’t think that if we vilify people with good conscience like voters, we should push back on candidates. I’ve reached out to all of them to provide opportunities to visit with county clerks to learn more about elections and I think that’s made a difference. I will continue to run my own race, who I am, representing all voters regardless in a nonpartisan way, not dividing people and vilifying them."

Griswold: "I just want to explain how dangerous this is to Colorado elections and why it’s so personal to me. The Big Lie is why tina Peters breached her election infrastructure. The Big Lie is why the Chaffee County clerk works behind bulletproof glass. The Big Lie is why a man was just sentenced to 18 months in prison for threatening my life. This has real effects, these lies are destabilizing our democracy…that’s another distinction between my opponent and me, she refuses to say that she will not support Donald Trump if he runs again."

Anderson: "That is absolutely false. I have said as a principled election official that I won’t tell you who I will vote for, but I will continue to push back. I will also tell you that there is no nuance for me, ever, on this issue. And this misleading rhetoric from my opponent, who by the way did send out an email within minutes of me winning a primary, trying to link me to this, which is not true."

Partisan-Run Elections

Q: Given how politically charged election administration has become, what's the best argument for having partisan-run elections in Colorado, other than the fact that it's the law? Is it smart?

Griswold: "It is the law, it's our constitutional law. And I think it's important that our election officials are accountable to voters. there are now two Big Lie, two election denier secretaries of state in the United States. They're in Texas and Florida, they're both appointed...when I've taken action to make sure our election infrastructure has been secure, I've taken action in both Elbert County and Mesa County, counties led by...Republican clerks, but also in Pueblo and Alamosa, counties led by Democratic clerks, so I think that accountability is really important."

Anderson: "I have an interesting perspective on this because I was an elected non-partisan municipal clerk, and in our debate last week, I said that I' be open to discussing it remaining elected, but also being a non-partisan office. Because I do think that the center point of my campaign is how much politicians taking these offices and using this platform to elevate their own political profile, raise millions of dollars to then spend and misinform people about their record. So, I think we should have a conversation about this, because the largest group of voters in Colorado are unaffiliated, so they've left both the left and right, so I think we need trusted nonpartisan leadership."

Dropbox Bill

Griswold Q to Anderson: Pam, in 2019 I worked with our legislature to lead a law to increase drop boxes. It guaranteed access on public universities and tribal lands. It increased in person voting. And in 2019 you testified against the bill, and you tried to kill it. I’m wondering if in retrospect, you think those actions were wrong.

Anderson: “See, there you go again Jena, misleading people about my record. As the executive director of the county clerk’s association, my opponent dropped a bill that no election official in the state had seen, that cost millions and millions of dollars and could not be implemented. 61 of the county clerks across the state opposed the bill, and it was my job to go to the table and also work with the legislature, who then funded that bill, adapted it and amended it in order for it to be workable so that the county clerks then didn’t oppose it. I will continue to work across the aisle in the light of day for legislation for all voters, and I don’t oppose access for all voters as my record proves.”


Anderson Q to Griswold: Over the summer Jena you spent $1.1 million of public money against mis- and disinformation, and I agree with the message, I don’t agree with the messenger…You say you are a trusted election official, and yet you lead a partisan group that funnels dark money to states in a partisan way. You remain silent when millions of dollars were spent in the Republican primary propping up candidates against things you say you abhor. You sent a postcard to 30,000 citizens and instead of taking accountability, you took your name and the seal off the correction postcard to protect your profile. If you’re re-elected, what will you do to assure that you can be trusted, when it seems your only filter is your political career?

Griswold: “First off, I disagree with propping up election deniers, and if you didn’t hear from me on that it’s because you didn’t ask. I’ve said that over and over. I don’t think that’s good for democracy. When it comes to disinformation and combatting disinformation, I’m very proud of Colorado’s leadership role. Experts say that one of the best ways to combat disinformation is for a trusted source to deliver information that Coloradans are susceptible from to the disinformation. And one of the most trusted sources on elections is the secretary of state, and I think joining in a bipartisan way with the Republican former secretary of state, someone I ran against, to assure Coloradans that their right to vote is secure and to be aware of election disinformation is exactly what we should be doing.”

Business Fees

Q: The Secretary of state's Office handles business filings. Businesses are required to file periodic reports, they cost $10. If they're late, it's a $50 penalty.

Ms. Griswold, I know we're talking 10 and 50 dollars, but why is the punishment 400% times the cost?

Griswold: "Those are how the fees are set up, and they're still some of the lowest in the entire country. Our fees are really low because we want to incentivize Colorado potential business owners to open a business and of course stay in compliance."

Anderson: "I'm a small business owner, my husband and I are both small business owners, and it does seem excessive. If elected secretary of state, I will a business evaluation of that. What I have seen up close as the executive director and as a business owner is my opponent has had a lot of turnovers in the top leadership position that I think has impacted the stability of the agency, its responsiveness...what I will do, we'll do in and do a full assessment of the fees, and I also won't use election year gimmicks to give holidays in order to prop up my campaign."

Yes or No

Q: Have you seen any evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election?

Anderson: "No, I have not."

Griswold: "No."

Q: If you lose the election, will you accept the result?

Anderson: Absolutely.

Griswold: Yes.

Q: Ms. Griswold, if re-elected, will you serve the full four-year term and not leave to run for a different office?

Griswold: "I'll serve the full four years, yes."

Anderson: "Yes."


Recap and fact check

9NEWS political debates 

9NEWS is hosting six candidate debates ahead of the 2022 general election on Nov. 8. The full slate includes four statewide races and the two most competitive congressional races. 

All of the debates will be livestreamed on 9NEWS.com, 9NEWS+ and the 9NEWS YouTube channel and will be available to watch afterward on those platforms. 

The full lineup of debates is below: 

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