Who’s running to be Colorado’s Secretary of State?

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The check-in desk for early voting at the Ball Arena in Denver On Monday. Nov. 2, 2020, the day before Election Day.

The Secretary of State plays several important roles in the state — the office handles licensing for businesses and charities, regulates raffles and bingo operations and manages notary certification.

But those duties are often overshadowed by the Secretary’s best-known responsibility: overseeing Colorado’s primaries and general elections as the state’s highest election official.

The Secretary of State issues rules for the management of elections and works with county clerks to ensure all state laws and procedures are followed properly. The office is also the clearinghouse for vote tallies and issues the final certification for each statewide election.

Deep divides have developed between the parties around how elections should be run, and even whether the system can be trusted. Two years after President Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election based on meritless claims of election fraud, the issue of election integrity is likely to be front and center in this race.

The Republicans

Tina Peters — Peters is in her first term as Mesa County’s Clerk and Recorder. The former businesswoman was a political newcomer when she ran successfully on a platform of reopening shuttered DMV offices. As Clerk and Recorder, Peters administers elections at the county level. Her work on those elections have led to controversies.

The discovery of 574 uncollected ballots after the 2019 election spurred an unsuccessful recall effort against her. Earlier this year, Peters was indicted on felony charges for her role in an alleged scheme to breach the security of Mesa County’s election equipment in the name of uncovering evidence of fraud in the 2020 election. The breach led to claims by election conspiracy theorists about what they found on those hard drives — those have since been debunked.

Peters’ campaign message focuses on discredited theories of fraud in the election system. She wants to do away with Colorado’s all mail ballot system and return to precinct-level voting and hand counting of ballots. So far, Peters has raised the most money — $166,000 — of the Republican candidates.

Pam Anderson — Anderson, a former two-term Jefferson County Clerk and past head of the Colorado County Clerks Association, is the only certified election official in the GOP primary.

As clerk, Anderson advocated for the state to adopt post-election risk-limiting audits as a method of verifying that machine tallies actually match the votes cast. Her office also developed systems to audit voter lists and signatures, practices Anderson wants to take statewide. Anderson has been vocal in saying that voter fraud is rare, the election system is secure and the 2020 election was not stolen.

She opposes Colorado’s 2019 expansion of automatic voter registration, which Anderson says has weakened the integrity of Colorado’s voter rolls, and is critical of a recent law change that requires clerks to keep sending ballots to voters who haven’t participated in multiple recent elections. Anderson has raised $107,000 for her campaign.

Mike O’Donnell — O’Donnell, who was born in Australia, is a naturalized U.S. citizen after moving to the country in 1988. His background is in business development, including a stint as executive director of the University of Kansas’ Small Business Development Center and two decades with Colorado Lending Source, a nonprofit that worked with the Small Business Administration to provide business development loans.

O’Donnell entered the race with a focus on improving the business licensing side of the Secretary’s office. However, he is also highly critical of Colorado’s election system and has suggested there is deliberate corruption in the voter rolls and the post-election audit process.

O’Donnell wants to repeal automatic voter registration and same-day registration, and also do away with the state’s recently passed election security act. O’Donnell’s fundraising has lagged; so far he has reported raising only $4,700.

The Democrats

Jena Griswold — Griswold was elected Secretary of State in 2018, defeating Republican incumbent Wayne Williams. Before winning office, she was an attorney in private practice and spent time as a lawyer for the Obama campaign and with Colorado’s lobbying office in DC during the Hickenlooper administration.

During her time in office, Griswold has spearheaded several election measures, including expanding automatic voter registration and requiring counties to open more vote centers and ballot drop boxes. She also backed this year’s election security bill that increases the penalties for many of the things Peters is accused of doing. 

Griswold’s early tenure was marked by high turnover in her office and an at-times tense relationship with county clerks. Griswold has also built a national reputation as a vocal critic of former President Trump and Republican election policies. Griswold has raised the most money in the race by far, amassing a $2.7 million war chest.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct that Anderson is the only certified election official in the GOP primary; Griswold is also a certified official.

CPR campaign finance intern Will Cornelius contributed to this story.