Impeachment resolution against Colorado’s Secretary of State introduced in state House

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Secretary of State incumbent Jena Griswold debates her opponent, Pam Anderson, at the University of Denver. Oct. 11, 2022.

Update, 5:20 p.m. April 4, 2024: The resolution to impeach Secretary of State Jena Griswold was introduced in the House Thursday afternoon. The original story continues below:

Colorado’s top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold is under increasing fire from Republicans who allege she’s too partisan for the job and too harsh in her criticism of former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee.

A GOP  impeachment resolution against Griswold is expected to be introduced at the statehouse this week, according to a source close to Democratic leadership. The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee is planning to hear the resolution as early as Tuesday and take a vote.

Griswold has long been a polarizing figure on the right, since taking office in 2019. But it’s her vocal support of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to remove Trump from the state’s primary election ballot that has moved Republicans to actively work to oust her.

Now, faced with the threat of an impeachment hearing, Griswold said she wants to be there in person to defend herself.

“Republicans can try to attack any way they want, but they're going to lose. They'll lose because their attacks are baseless and they'll lose because I will not be intimidated from doing my job from stunts like this,” Griswold told CPR News. 

She said everything she’s done has been an effort to protect the right to vote. 

“I was elected in the midst of Donald Trump already beginning his attack on democracy. Every year of his presidency, his attacks grew worse and worse. I ran for Secretary of State to protect the right to vote, and that means countering any person’s, including the former president's, lies about our election,” she said.

The lawsuit that sparked renewed calls for Griswold’s removal

The current Republican discontent with Griswold has mostly centered on her comments around the high-profile legal effort to disqualify Trump from running in Colorado’s Republican primary.

The lawsuit, filed by a group of Republican and unaffiliated voters, accused Trump of committing insurrection, making him ineligible to hold office again under the Constitution’s Disqualification Clause. The state’s highest court agreed but stayed the decision until the Supreme Court weighed in.

Griswold was outspoken in her support of the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling but followed its order to place Trump’s name on the ballot while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the case. After the Justices overturned Colorado’s ruling, Trump ended up winning Colorado’s Republican presidential primary by a wide margin

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals building in Denver, Dec. 20, 2023.

The situation left some conservative voters with little faith in the state’s top election official, especially in light of her comments in support of disqualifying the Republican presidential frontrunner.

“I do believe states should be allowed under our constitution to bar oath-breaking insurrectionists,” she told MSNBC News after the U.S Supreme Court ruling. 

She told CNN, “It’s as clear as day what Donald Trump did. He incited that violent mob to rush onto the Capitol to try to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power.”

Seventy-year-old Republican William Bloom of Parker said by supporting Trump’s removal Griswold put her politics over her professionalism. 

“If she honestly believed that that was the right move, then she has no concept, no clue of what a representative republic actually means,” he said.

An impeachment hearing will give the GOP a chance to make that case to a wider audience. 

Republican Rep. Ryan Armagost of Berthoud is the main sponsor of the impeachment resolution. He said even though the secretary of state is in a partisan elected position, Griswold’s messaging should be about fair and equal and unbiased elections. 

Instead, he said, “She comes out with unfair and completely biased rhetoric.” 

However, Armagost said he’s well aware his effort won’t succeed.

“I mean, we're the super minority,” he said, pointing out that the GOP only holds 19 seats in the 65-member House, its lowest margin in state history. “It's going to fail, but this at least sends the message that we need to send as a party and as a caucus.”

The state legislature hasn’t pursued an impeachment in almost two decades, but according to a Democrat with knowledge of the situation, each side will have equal time to present their arguments, and for questions. Each side will also be allowed to bring forward 3 to 5 witnesses with ten minutes each to speak, plus time for questions. There will be remote participation so witnesses would not need to be in Colorado to participate.

At one point it looked like the resolution might not get a hearing. It’s up to the Democratic Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie whether it’s introduced. In March House Republicans wrote a letter imploring the Speaker to introduce it.

“Since being elected, the Secretary of State has used her position as a platform for her partisan political ideology and has proven herself unfit for this elected position,” stated the letter. “Her partisan political beliefs are constantly the subject of her communication to the state indicating her lack of respect for facilitating unbiased and fair elections.”

Some Democrats have dismissed the impeachment effort as a waste of time and political gamesmanship. But others said holding a hearing it as a chance to show good faith with Republicans on a top GOP priority, while also using it as an opportunity to fight disinformation about the 2020 election.

Griswold’s stances have long angered the right

The Secretary of State has long butted heads with conservatives, and not just over Trump. She made headlines in 2019 when she banned her employees from attending an election training in Alabama after that state passed what was then the country’s strictest anti-abortion law.

“Until the laws of Alabama allow for safe and legal access to health care for women, we call on the Election Center to move the location of its training from Alabama,” Griswold said in a statement.

She also faced pushback from some on the right when she banned third-party vote audits like the one conducted by the ‘Cyber Ninjas' group in Arizona after the 2020 election (Colorado requires all county clerks to audit the results after each election). 

Griswold has also been front and center of the years-long effort to investigate and prosecute former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who is accused of tampering with her county’s voting machines in search of proof of fraud in the 2020 election. 

Griswold casts herself as a defender of the election system during a moment of political crisis, and her backers see her that way too.

“I think when we look back on this time, we're going to appreciate the folks who said something and we're going to really question the ones who equivocated, who engaged in false equivalency, who engaged in both-sides-ism, who engaged in denialism,” said Democratic Rep. Steven Woodrow of Denver. 

Woodrow chairs the House State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, the committee of reference for election issues. He also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to take up the Republican impeachment resolution early next week. Every House Republican supports the resolution.

“I'm not sure that they would be content with any Secretary of State unless one agrees with them,” said Woodrow. 

“That's what we're really up against. We're dealing with a group of folks who are in serious denial about the danger posed by Donald Trump.”

Woodrow noted that resolution faces virtually impossible odds in the House. The Judiciary Committee has eight Democrats and only three Republicans.

Impeachment is not the only tactic Republicans are weighing

Outside of the statehouse, Republican officials like State Party Chair Dave Williams and Congresswoman Lauren Boebert have floated the idea of trying to recall Griswold.

“I don't trust her with our elections with what she has shown, the rhetoric that she has displayed. I want Jena Griswold recalled,” Boebert told CPR News. 

She said she and Williams, who like Boebert is running for Congress, are in discussions to see what a recall campaign would actually look like “and formulating a team to go out and do that.”

Griswold faced a previous recall in 2022 which never gained traction; in the end, the group behind it failed to turn in any signatures.

However, even many of Griswold’s critics, like Republican Lynne Cottrell of Aurora, are leery of the idea of a recall. 

“I don't think we can get the job done, so I think it's a waste of time right now, but I am very opposed to what she's been doing,” she said, adding that she thinks Griswold is very partisan to an extreme. 

Republican voter Otto Burden, 68 from Parker, agrees. He said he’s not a big fan of Griswold, “but then again she's the other party.” 

Still, he thinks voters should have the final say. “Deal with it at the next election. I don’t think I’ve heard anything that would need her out now.”

Griswold is term-limited and will leave office after the 2026 election.

Unaffiliated voter Candy Helgerson of Denver, who spoke with CPR at a campaign event for a Republican congressional candidate, said recalls and other efforts should be saved for something drastic, “not because I don't like somebody's politics, and that tends to be what recalls have become.”

CPR’s Caitlyn Kim contributed reporting for this story.