Republican Secretary of State candidate Pam Anderson on election security, being a campaign fundraising underdog and more

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29min 27sec
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Secretary of State challenger Pam Anderson debates incumbent Jena Griswold at the University of Denver. Oct. 11, 2022.

Republican candidate for Colorado Secretary of State Pam Anderson has been massively outraised in campaign funding by her Democratic opponent. But she believes the comparative lack of money is outweighed by something more meaningful.

“I've never been dismayed by massive campaign chests by my opponent because I've gone all over this state, into rooms where there are people of good conscience that have been influenced by these lies and conspiracies,” Anderson told Colorado Matters. “I’ve stood there, talked about my campaign … and answered questions … with the mission of saying the truth, and I've palpably seen the impact that can have. That does so much more than millions of dollars in commercials.”

A former clerk and recorder in Jefferson County, Anderson won the Republican primary over one well-funded opponent, Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk who ran for the party’s nomination despite facing felony charges related to the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Peters became a cause celebre in far-right circles, raising more than $500,000 after her primary loss, most of that coming after an appearance on a podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, an advisor to former President Donald Trump.

Now, Anderson is squaring off in the November midterms against another well-funded opponent, Democrat Jena Griswold. Along with being the incumbent, Griswold is seen as a rising star nationally, in part because of her persistent voice on topics that have found an audience both within Colorado and across the country, including election security and a woman’s right to choose. In fundraising disclosures covering late July, Griswold had raised more than $3 million dollars to less than $200,000 for Anderson.

During a conversation with Colorado Matters senior host Ryan Warner, Anderson highlighted some of her election security bona fides, pointing out that during her time in Jefferson County, she helped shape some of the safeguards that are now being used across the state. Anderson also discussed some of the differences between her and Griswold and why she chooses to remain a Republican despite her disappointment in some members of her party who continue to propagate the Big Lie of the 2020 election.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Ryan Warner: You served for eight years as the clerk and recorder in politically diverse Jefferson County. You also led the Colorado County Clerk's Association, which is also politically diverse. I do want to start with some quick questions just to help voters understand where you come from as a Republican. The GOP itself is divided over the 2020 election. For the record, how do you view the administration of the 2020 election and its results?

Pam Anderson: Yeah, I have a lot of confidence in the results of the 2020 election. I've been stalwart in that position from the minute I not only announced, but as executive director for the association in 2020, and standing shoulder to shoulder with local election officials all across the state.

Warner: Was President Trump wrong to try to overturn the results?

Anderson: Yes.

Warner: In general, you view, then, Colorado's election system as safe and accurate?

Anderson: I do. I have a lot of investment in that as a county clerk working with my bipartisan colleagues all across the state. We were responsible for building and having a hand in writing so much of the reform of the last 15 years. We have a lot of investment in it. Doesn't mean we (don’t) always have room for improvement, but we built a system that was citizen-driven, transparent, paper-based, auditable and publicly verifiable.

Warner: And by mail for a lot of Coloradans. Is that something you support specifically, the notion of voting by mail?

Anderson: It is. When I was Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder, before I led as the president of the Colorado County Clerks Association in 2013, my county was voting over 82 percent permanent mail, meaning (voters requested) a mail ballot. So it's been popular for decades. We've evolved our model, we've followed our voters with data-driven, and we've maintained choice for your constitutional rights. We're going to efficiently mail you a ballot to eligible voters, but you also have the choice to have that in-person experience if you prefer it for one-stop shop for voting (at a vote center).

Warner: There was a turn of phrase I wanted to explore with you. You said, "We follow voters data-driven." What did you mean by that?

Anderson: Yeah, so voters-centric, data-driven. I'm a very evidence-based person. I'm a small business owner. I've taken that experience and my experience with a master's of public administration. I had some of the same questions when I became a county clerk, way back in 2007, that other people have, on whether or not the processes were accurate. Is the training good? And so I had developed operational audits, like a signature verification audit that validates that our voter verification works well. Voter list maintenance, having as accurate a voter list as we can, auditing that process, making sure our judges aren't getting tired. These are the things that we've done here in Colorado that gives us the ability to have confidence in the processes, and we have to remain vigilant in order to make sure that we're always progressing and improving.

Warner: What would you change if elected?

Anderson: I think we always have opportunities for providing even more access like we had with expanding ballot transmission to disability voters. We can always provide, with appropriate resources, more opportunities for drop boxes. We can also look at taking some of the best practices that we've developed at the local level, as I did as a Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder, for trusting, but verifying. So for example, that signature verification audit is the best practice, but we could codify it and standardize it, and make it more consistently applied.

Warner: Across the state.

Anderson: Across the state.

Warner: Making sure that the signature on file is the signature that is on the ballot, that those match?

Anderson: Yeah, this is —

Warner: It's funny. You know how often my signature has changed over the years, Pam Anderson? This has always been a bit of a black box for me, but maybe say a few more words.

Anderson: So signature verification is where bipartisan judges evaluate your ballot signature, that you sign in your affidavit, against every example that we have of your signature as your voter record.

Warner: So you look at its progression perhaps?

Anderson: We do look at the progression. And bipartisan teams, before they can say the signature doesn't match, they have to do a pretty significant evaluation. And it's training we developed from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations on signature validation. But what we want to do is make sure that that process is working like we think it should. So I developed an operational quality assurance to say, "Are judges' training still doing well? Are there any nefarious actors that are either blindly rejecting or blindly accepting ballots?" And it's that sort of verification of the process that helps us give confidence.

Warner: And that you'd like to bring, potentially, statewide?

Anderson: Right.

Warner: And just to be clear, if a judge flags, or judges, flag that a signature doesn't match, that's not the end of the story. You then go to the voter to help cure it. Correct?

Anderson: Yeah. We have a wonderful and very important tool of curing. If you forgot to sign your ballot, or you didn't present ID if it was required, you have an opportunity until eight days after Election Day. And at the local level, we implemented and were entrepreneurial with software like Tech Secure, that now the Secretary of State has taken statewide. But these are things that we piloted locally to test it, make sure it works well, and provide a lot of choice for voters.

Warner: The job of Secretary of State is so much more than elections. I was just going through some of the job duties. Business registration, tracking of lobbyists, oversight of bingo and raffles. Pam Anderson, why do you want this job?

Anderson: I have a master's in public administration. I have a small business. I think the leadership and management side also is something that drew me, not just to the secretary's race, but as a municipal clerk, as the county clerk for Jeffco. I mean we did high-volume customer service like driver's licenses and motor vehicle registration, and license plates.

Warner: Is this fundamentally a customer service job?

Anderson: It's really a customer service job. This is a job for a professional, for management, for leadership. And that's the approach I've always taken. It is elected, but I have done work here, and across the country, in professionalizing the work.

Warner: What do you think differentiates you from the incumbent, aside from your party?

Anderson: I think aside from my party, my approach and philosophy that it should be, and remain, a non-partisan professional job, that we should keep this office above the political fray.

Warner: You don't think she's done that?

Anderson: I don't. I saw up close, as executive director, not only at the Secretary of State's office, actually in some of our local offices as well, individuals running and seeking more of the political side of an elected office and using the platform to elevate their political profile, raise a whole lot of money, but ultimately, being divisive and politically partisan in places that should remain above the fray.

Warner: Republicans in the state legislature have long tried, unsuccessfully, to raise the bar for the ID needed to register and to vote. If you are elected, would you support those efforts?

Anderson: As a legislative co-chair and a county clerk, I believe that the best approach is to take the partisan from the left and right out of the equation, and bring what really impacts voters. So for example, over 99 percent of people present a photo ID when presented for voting or returning their mail ballot if they need to.

Warner: So they've provided that, either in person or by mail.

Anderson: Right. What this has become is a polarizing issue for the left or the right to, frankly, fundraise. And what we need to do is take it off the table for confidence. 85 percent of voters think it makes sense to present a photo ID. I think we can do that and still provide safety for voters in order to make sure that no bureaucrat is getting in the way of their constitutional right.

Warner: So think about someone who doesn't have a photo ID. Maybe they've lost it, maybe they can't afford to replace it, maybe they don't have the time. Help me understand this. Put a finer point on it for me. What would that person do?

Anderson: We have a provisional process that that person can still vote. A lot of times county clerks, what do they do? Driver's license. And we provide free IDs in the state of Colorado as well. And so I think we can resolve that issue for the very, very small number of people that would impact.

Warner: And would you then still accept, say, a utility payment as proof of who someone is?

Anderson: So for registration, we are ready, if you have a driver's license or ID, you have to present it for voting, you can still accept a utility bill. What I'm saying is we could do that for provisional voting and let's resolve the identity and voter verification issue that way.

Warner: So I think the new idea here that you'd bring to the table is that it be a provisional ballot.

Anderson: Initially.

Warner: As a safeguard. As an entry point.

Anderson: Yes. Because I think we need to balance confidence for voters but also taking these polarizing issues off the table when we've got the data and the technical process to be able to do this well.

Warner: One theme you have touched on now is taking the politics out of being Secretary of State, and out of elections, frankly, or the administration of them. While you have been clear that there was no widespread fraud, and that the 2020 election is legitimate, your opponent has criticized you for not doing more to stand up to Republican candidates who have spread misinformation. Two prominent ones that come to mind are the GOP candidate for Lieutenant Governor Danny Moore and the 7th Congressional District candidate Erik Aadland. Does it make you uncomfortable that The Big Lie is being parroted by prominent candidates in your own party?

Anderson: It makes me uncomfortable that my opponent is mischaracterizing what I've done. The center point for my campaign is standing up against the lie, standing up against the conspiracy, which I have done not only to the candidates that I've run with on the same ticket …

Warner: You've had those conversations?

Anderson: Absolutely. Gone into the room and pushed back on this false information. Provided accurate information like the loss but not stolen report, that demonstrates under the rule of law, the accuracy of the outcome of the election. I will continue to stand up and push back regardless of the source, Republican, Democrat, or unaffiliated for accurate evidence-based elections.

Warner: Talk to a swing voter, someone who'd consider casting a ballot for you, but who thinks that letting any Republican near elections right now is bringing a fox into the henhouse. Differently put, what sort of firewall would there be between you, as a Republican Secretary of State, and the more conspiratorial wing of your party?

Anderson: I think my record demonstrates representing a very diverse jurisdiction, and standing in the fray with not only hundreds, but thousands of Republican, Democrat, and unaffiliated local election officials where we do our elections, that don't put political affiliation or politics before voters. That's been our record and tradition here in Colorado, and is the center point for why I'm running. These offices, regardless of your political beliefs, and we have had lots of secretaries with firmly-held political beliefs, but they maintain these offices above that fray as an objective fair referee for the process. My record has done that, and I will continue to do things like establishing professional ethics and standards so that we don't have a secretary using millions of dollars for commercials that should have been used for things like safe and secure elections.

So I think maintaining and insulating, not only our voters, but the Secretary of State agency staff from the politics, that's been my record in background. And for thousands of other local election officials, the politicians that have taken these offices are more the exception. But I'm running just to restore that kind of professionalism.

Warner: You mentioned your own jurisdiction, Jefferson County. I actually haven't looked at the registration lately. I should do that. But it's always been known as a place that has roughly a third, a third, a third Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated. We know unaffiliateds are growing statewide, but the point is to serve in Jefferson County is to serve in a politically-diverse place. And that's what you're getting at there.

Under the leadership of your opponent, the Secretary of State's office mistakenly mailed voter registration notices to 30,000 some Coloradans who are not US citizens. The office is the one who made the error known. These notices did make it clear that citizens are not eligible, and the state emphasizes that if anyone who isn't a US citizen tries to register to vote, Colorado's online system will kick them out. They will do extra monitoring as well as a precaution. So having laid that out, does that close the issue for you?

Anderson: It doesn't. I have a few concerns and I'll tell you what they are. I was the executive director (of the Colorado County Clerks Association) in 2020 when this same mistake happened at the Secretary of State's office under my opponent's leadership. And it was fairly limited, and human error happens in elections administration. And so that was understandable. But this is a repeated error, and this one is far more egregious, and more impactful to people that live here in Colorado. And I have concerns that -

Warner: What is the impact?

Anderson: The impact is if someone that is not eligible, but is given the impression that they could be eligible, particularly non-citizens here, present, maybe on the path to citizenship, even attempt to register to vote, that can impact their naturalization process. And what I'm concerned with is, I believe that the failure in leadership is the rampant turnover that is provided not only in this instance, but for example, election night reporting, multiple repeated mistakes. Human error exists, but what did you put in place to ensure this wouldn't happen again? And that is the failure.

My other concern is around accountability. So yes, reporting to CPR that this instance has occurred on a Friday afternoon, that's awesome. But here's the thing. As an election official, when my team has made an error, the buck stops with me. And I have stood shoulder to shoulder with my fellow election officials, with my team, and taken responsibility for that error. And these postcards, I would ask the question, these postcards that went out from Jena, did it have her name on it? When the mistake happened, did she also put her name on it? What I know is the county clerks, until today, it's been almost a week, heard nothing from the Secretary of State's office about this issue, and they have been attacked at the local level for many issues that weren't their responsibility. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them, take responsibility, and share that responsibility as an election official. I think this points to a lack and failure of leadership.

Warner: Do you think it was intentional on the secretary's part?

Anderson: Absolutely not. I think that what is intentional is that when you identify an issue, like the mistake that happened in 2020, what did you put in place to ensure that it didn't happen again? And how did that fail?

Warner: Give us an example of an error you've taken responsibility for. And I have to say, it's refreshing to hear people acknowledge human mistakes, human errors. Because I think that the conversation around elections these days is so fraught, that every transgression is immediately seen as nefarious.

Anderson: This is a really tough job. It is really hard, and it's technical and complicated, and errors happen. I can give you at least two examples of, as an election official —

Warner: You don't have to flog yourself. Just give me one.

Anderson: My election staff, I wasn't the one physically doing it, but my election staff erroneously sent ballots to special district electors without the issue that they were eligible to vote on. And when that happened, I went to the Special District Board. I wrote the post press release. I took responsibility as the leader of the organization and said, "This was my error, and this is what we're going to do about it so that it never happens again." And I think that that is where the buck stops. What real leadership is. This office isn't just a PR firm, and taking credit for things that you say you've done that maybe other people helped. Real leadership is standing up when it's hard, when it's not politically convenient. And that's been my record, and why I believe I've been respected as a professional. Working in a non-partisan space, and being absolutely straightforward for our voters, for the good and places where we can get better.

Warner: There's a lot of money out there to support election-denying Republican candidates. There's a lot of money for Democrats who say they are defending elections. But based on the money in your race, where you've been widely outspent by your opponent, it doesn't seem there's a lot of national money for candidates who occupy the space you do. What do you make of that?

Anderson: I think that's a really interesting point. I think this may seem politically naive to some politicos out there, but one of the reasons I'm running is that I'm not sure you should be able to raise $4 million as a Secretary of State candidate, or being outspent by my primary opponent, Tina Peters. And she was able to raise $500,000 by going on Steve Bannon, in a week. And I think to be able to do that, you, by its very nature, have to use soundbites, be politically divisive, diving into places that have no nexus for the professional operation and mission of the work. And so I knew I was going to be outspent. And yet, Colorado voters rejected that rhetoric and false information in the primary. And I believe —

Warner: In defeating Tina Peters, who had a national name and national money behind her.

Anderson: And I've never been dismayed by massive campaign chests by my opponent because I've gone all over this state, into these rooms, into rooms where there are people of good conscience that have been influenced by these lies and conspiracies. And stood there, talked about my campaign for 10 minutes, and answered questions for an hour and 45 minutes, with the mission of saying the truth and going to where the voters are. And I've seen, palpably seen, the impact that can have. That does so much more than millions of dollars in commercials and soundbites, by going to where Coloradans are and answering the questions.

Warner: Your mother-in-law, Norma Anderson, served in the Colorado State legislature for almost 20 years, both in the House and the Senate. She was a Republican for that entire time, but I think it was about a year ago, she became a registered unaffiliated because she didn't like the direction the GOP was taking. I wonder how often the two of you, if at all, have talked about her choice, and why she made it, and whether you have considered your own Republicanism, given the rift in the party over elections, which have been so central to your career.

Anderson: I love that you've brought up my mother-in-law, Senator Anderson. She was the first woman to serve as a majority leader in both the House and the Senate. And I've been twice blessed with strong women as moms. So I'm incredibly grateful for my relationship. She actually unaffiliated longer than a year ago. It's been quite some time for exactly the reasons you said. She does sort of re-affiliate if she wants to participate in caucus. So she's been a Republican since then and goes back and forth. But you're right, she is like so many other voters in Colorado, that have chosen “none of the above,” are unaffiliated, the largest block of voters for Colorado, independents. And have left the parties, both the left and the right, because I think of this hyperpartisan and polarizing place that we are in, this divisive place that I don't believe most people live and reside.

Warner: So what's your own relationship to your party affiliation?

Anderson: So I've been a lifelong Republican for a couple of reasons. One, I'm kind of an institutionalist. I believe, and our infrastructure is based on a two party system with some minor party activity. I'm a Republican and identify as Republican primarily around economic issues and taxation, but it's never been a driving force. My politics and my profession as a municipal clerk, a county clerk, or as a candidate for office for Secretary of State. And when you become a candidate, the infrastructure for the two parties in order to get out the vote and talk to voters is there.

Have I considered unaffiliating? Periodically. I don't agree with my entire platform, and parties are sort of like a big family, a really big family where you're arguing with the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. That's what parties are like, especially on the activist front. For me, I have had a life and a profession. My life's work is spent around the democracy space. I have no interest in being a US senator or running for governor. I'm running for Secretary of State because it is a destination, an extension of my life's work, at a time that is so important. To restore confidence and trust, through the very thing we all can agree with, as Americans, not for one party or the other.

Warner: I want to give the last word to a county clerk. So we spoke with Chuck Broerman. He's the El Paso County clerk, recently honored with his own Defender of Democracy Award by the State's County Clerks Association. We asked him if he would pose a question to the Secretary of State candidates. So this will be for you and for your opponent. I will point out that while Broerman is a Republican, he is not endorsing in this race.

Chuck Broerman: What would you implement to assist county clerks in their role? They have a very difficult one. They wear many hats, between recording deeds of trust, performing marriage ceremonies, motor vehicle transactions and doing the agenda for the county commissioners. What things will you implement to better support clerks and recorders? And would you be willing to assist clerks and recorders in getting a fair amount of reimbursement for the cost of elections? Elections are very expensive, but we only get a measly 80 cents per voter, and it costs us about five or six times that to run an election per voter.

Anderson: Thanks for that question, Clerk Broerman. And as the executive director, full disclosure, I did advocate for all 64 of the county clerks across Colorado up until about January, 2021. And much of that advocacy didn't break down on party lines, Republican or Democratic, but on resource lines. On whether or not funded elections, and supported elections from the federal and state, were sufficiently supported.

Warner: So is that like an urban, rural?

Anderson: It's more urban, rural, but all elections are underfunded. And at the county level, revenues are driven mostly by property values. Property taxes. And so Montezuma County isn't doing the same as Jefferson County, my county.

Warner: Well, I think of Huerfano, for instance.

Anderson: And there is a very big uneven playing field in funding and resources for elections. And so, one of my first actions will be to support Senate Bill 1, to raise the reimbursement. It hasn't been increased in 10 years. And that doesn't mean that we haven't seen mandates from the legislature or from the current Secretary of State, that the counties have had to backfill, while politicians take credit for it. And so I think that we need to, if we believe that access and security and integrity are important, we should put our money where our mouth is. Not divert those resources for things like commercials, but also to advocate and not break the promise of supporting the full funding of elections.

Warner: Now you have made several references to the commercials.

Anderson: It's a thing for me.

Warner: So Jena Griswold, the current Secretary of State, stood with a former Secretary of State who's a Republican, and basically told the state of Colorado, you can have faith in this system. That was a bipartisan message. It seems to follow the spirit of much of what you told us today. Why have you railed against this commercial?

Anderson: So it's not the message, it's who you choose as messengers for taxpayer resources. And like I said about the errors, the human errors at the Secretary of State's office, the concern is when you start seeing patterns. And during COVID, there was federal funding for safe elections. There was about $6 million. And my opponent spent $2.8 million of that for commercials, when rejecting requests from counties to send a direct mail postcard that was forwardable, so people would be sure if they moved, they could update their address, so they wouldn't have to come in person. I have a problem with that. I think there are projects that were pushed down the road for things like commercials. And you don't have to take my word for it. I was featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

Warner: You were indeed.

Anderson: I was.

Warner: Let me bring that up so that you don't have to feel like you're patting yourself on the back. You told Time, "Security equals suppression for the left. Access equals fraud on the right. I don't believe either of those things," you told Time, echoing what you've told us here today. But go ahead.

Anderson: I shared the cover with Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (from Michigan) who also received federal funding for elections during that crisis. And they were right in the thick of things. And if you compare how much went directly to the locals in Michigan versus Colorado, it's a real problem how much was diverted. The same thing happened with $1.1 million this summer. I don't disagree with the message. The message is important. I do have a problem, from a professional ethical perspective, of using taxpayer resources, and promoting with their image, announced candidates for public office. And Wayne Williams, as Secretary of State, did a fine job and he's supporting my race, but he is an announced candidate for mayor of Colorado Springs. And I think that that is a misuse and ethical problem, and a diversion for some things that have a higher and better use.

Warner: Thank you for being with us.

Anderson: Thank you so much.