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Pam Anderson wants to run ‘evidence-based’ elections if elected secretary of state

Republican is set to face Democratic incumbent Jena Griswold this fall
Pam Anderson, who is competing for the nomination from the Republican Party to run for the job of Colorado's secretary of state, is shown in her office May 10 in southeast Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)

Republican Pam Anderson said she wants to eliminate partisanship in what she views as a professional position.

That is essentially the messaging basis for her general election campaign for Colorado secretary of state, in which she hopes to deny incumbent Democrat Jena Griswold a second term.

The top election official’s job is as important as ever, following a year that saw high-profile election deniers in the state rise to national prominence and amid a persistent movement of far-right “election integrity” activists who claim, falsely, that widespread voter fraud plagues the state’s elections.

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This story is part of a project called Democracy Day, in which newsrooms across the country are shining a light on threats to democracy.

Anderson, 51, said she wants to restore voter trust through conversation and education, and eliminate activity that could be seen as self-serving.

“I see it as a professional position, not a partisan one. That’s why I’ve decided to run – to restore that philosophy and that professional ethic and thereby restore voter confidence,” she told Colorado Newsline.

Anderson’s first elected position was in 2003 as city clerk for Wheat Ridge, a nonpartisan position. She then served for eight years as the Jefferson County clerk and recorder and later as the executive director of the Colorado County Clerk Association until 2020. In those roles, she helped design the state’s all-mail voting system and influenced other election-related legislation.

Anderson handedly beat two opponents in the Republican primary in June, emerging with 43.9% of the vote against two candidates who built their campaigns around the lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. That included Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who faces a trial next year over charges that she facilitated a security breach in her county’s election system in an effort to prove fraud.

Anderson went to college at California Lutheran University in Southern California, where she met her husband, and finished her education at the University of Colorado Denver. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s of public administration. She has two adult children and lives in Wheat Ridge.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Colorado Newsline: Give me your elevator pitch. Why did you decide to run for secretary of state? What was your motivation?

Pam Anderson: I’ve been asked to run before. I really enjoy the work I do in improving elections and supporting election officials both here and nationally. In 2018, I started seeing a very disturbing trend in politicizing the offices, both at the state level and we have some pretty exceptional examples at the local level as well. While that’s always been a bit of an undercurrent, I think we’re seeing a huge turnover in our election officials. In 2018, we had a 30% turnover.

Certainly this national debate and this national dialogue really drew me to stand up and say, “Look, we need to take the politics back out of these offices.” I started seeing with the secretary of state some real flaws in managing the office and a lack of leadership. We have a completely different philosophy on how to spend scarce resources. I see it as a professional position, not a partisan one. That’s why I’ve decided to run – to restore that philosophy and that professional ethic and thereby restore voter confidence.

What do you mean by national dialogue?

Of course there’s a lot of conversation about election integrity and the lies about the 2020 election. I’ve stood up for several years, both personally and in my leadership roles as an election official. I think we have had elected officials on both the left and the right use their platform in a partisan way that throws fuel on the fire on some of the questions and mistrust around election conspiracies.

I think we’ve demonstrated in Colorado that the nonpartisan, bipartisan approach is what creates confidence. It actually means that we’re more entrepreneurial as well. I’m a big supporter of local government, because that work is what’s driven our model.

My campaign is about saying I’m incredibly proud about what we’ve built here in Colorado, but no competent election official ever thinks we’re done. If we look at it through a partisan lens, it doesn’t evolve. For example, there are things to do about voter list maintenance. I won’t be examining those projects through a political lens.

I have stood up against both parties at different points in time, and I don’t think the philosophy in the office should be about political expediency or elevating your profile. I’ve stood up on the election front on evidence-based elections – and so has my opponent – but she has also remained silent when the Democrats injected $15 million into the primary and misled voters about supporting the same people she says she is fighting against. I think that’s political expediency and not leadership.

Editor’s note: It is estimated that Democrats spent closer to $7 million to elevate far-right candidates in the primary: about $4 million for state Rep. Ron Hanks in the U.S. Senate race, $2 million for Greg Lopez in the gubernatorial race and about $300,000 for Lori Saine in the 8th Congressional District race, according to FEC filings.

Speaking of major legislation, what were your thoughts on SB22-153, the election security bill?

On introduction, I was not supportive. I think it was significantly amended to a point where I support, just like the majority of county clerks do, the security element of that. I had a real problem with the free speech part. Free speech is one of those tough problems and I don’t think you can legislate guardrails on it. As secretary, I wouldn’t want the power to do that and I think it had constitutional flaws.

I also supported something that got amended out on requiring the secretary of state to become a certified election official. My opponent opposed that and I think that’s wrong. I think it is a professional job and that there shouldn’t be any objection to that.

Earlier you mentioned spending scarce resources in the office. Can you elaborate on that?

One of the considerations when I was thinking about running was how challenging COVID was. We did an incredibly good job both here in Colorado and nationally adapting to circumstances. We had weeks before the primary to get ready. I was working with the county clerks not only on the elections front, but 16 hours a day to get them up and running and get their offices open.

The federal government issued COVID funding for the purposes of elections. It was a little over $6 million. We asked the secretary, “What’s the budget for this? How are we going to spend it?” It’s traditionally been very collaborative. But we could never get a budget and we could never get a vision on that. Having an injection of these funds, even during an emergency, is pretty unique, particularly for elections at the federal level. I think one of the reasons we didn’t get a budget is that it turns out she spent almost half of it on commercials. I don’t disagree with the message, but I think there is a higher and better use for that funding.

There were county clerks, for example, that during the primary before the funding was able to be dispersed, sent affordable postcards to voters on their list – in places like Eagle County where there is high mobility – in an effort to make sure people updated their addresses so they got their mail-in ballot so they didn’t have to come in person if they didn’t feel safe. Those kinds of requests were rejected by the secretary, and ultimately they had to use private funds to do those sorts of projects in the general election. My recommendation was to do that statewide. Instead, we got a 30-second spot with an elected official’s face on it that said “We have safe elections.” Those scarce resources could have been better used.

And then we had the spots that we saw this summer with two announced candidates in it. I was very critical and requested they be taken down. I know with the Help America Vote Act, there’s just been an additional outlay for cybersecurity and things like that. I know that there are projects on that list. We have not closed the loop on cybersecurity. There are counties out there – they did penetration testing, (former GOP Secretary of State) Wayne Williams and Jena, and they said, “Hey, we need to close the gap on the QR code.” That was three years ago. Those printers have not been replaced to do a full-face ballot. My question is whether they chose commercials over security? Which is the real, best high-use?

I don’t disagree with the message. I really disagree with the messenger in an election year. I would never do that. If you’re an announced candidate, that message can be sent with other people. For example, John Elway during a Broncos game. I think that would get a lot of attention.

Editor’s note: Every county has the hardware to print uniform ballots without QR codes. Not every county has a large enough printer currently to print that uniform ballot on one page, according to a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office.

And a non-elected person who more people might trust.

I think that what we’ve learned over the years is that local election leaders are very trusted. There’s a lot of confidence in that. Past education outreach has been done collaboratively with the locals, but what we’ve seen with my opponent is a pattern.

I was on the bipartisan election advisory committee for the presidential primary. The Legislature actually allocated funds to do voter education and outreach, and the initial outlay of radio and TV spots went out. One of the committee members said, “Hey, we’re not seeing any of this in my part of the state.” I don’t think they spent any of the money except for in the Denver metro area. I think that there’s judgment issues. I think the filter for my opponent is political, rather than operational. It’s irresponsible and a broken trust with Coloradans and a real departure from what we’ve seen. It’s one of the reasons I’m running.

Let’s talk about specific policy goals if elected. You mentioned some security issues, for example.

I do think we need to continue to expand our audits, particularly on the operational side. Some of the things that are best practices at the local level need to be codified and consistently applied statewide. Examples of that would be signature verification and working with stakeholders on the best way to do that, being very transparent. Another would be voter registration audits that we do at the local level. These are practices that have been in place, but at the same time we need to make sure that they are being consistently applied.

I also think that we need to implement something we do at the local level very well called a citizens’ academy. Law enforcement does it very well, explaining, “This is who we are. This is what we do.” I think that would be an extremely useful tool to combat mis- and disinformation. It would also create an opportunity for Coloradans to come and do a deeper dive on some of the things that people of good conscience have questions on. We’re able to answer those. The state doesn’t really engage in that way and I think that, given that we have a lot more centralized operations about elections over the last 10 years, it is past time to do something of that nature.

My first priority will be funding elections. My opponent has broken the promise to increase the reimbursement that goes to local election officials and diverted federal funds. I think we need to increase the reimbursement that hasn’t been increased in over 10 years. What we’ve learned is that there are inequitable funding streams for elections. There is federal legislation that is being considered for election funding, which I support. Primarily, I had influence in making sure there is a provision in there that 75% of it goes to local elections operations. I think we’ve learned here in Colorado that that’s important.

A big priority for me is making sure that we are resourcing our elections appropriately. It’s tough to get that support and we may need to consider general funding some of those elections. Right now, that’s done through business licensing fees and it doesn’t seem like there’s a really good nexus for that: fees and elections. That’s something we need to examine.

It’s an interesting priority, as a Republican, to increase funding for something.

I don’t think we should privately fund election administration. I think we should fully fund what we want. I was a legislative co-chair with (former Democratic Boulder County Clerk) Hillary Hall for seven of my eight years, and we consistently said, “We want to do all these things for voters. We can’t support to pay that.” Property taxes fund local counties primarily, and property values and housing aren’t doing the same thing in Montezuma County as it is doing in Jefferson County. I think that making sure it is equitable, making sure that we are keeping pace with the increase in cost – which we obviously aren’t. We really need to take a look that the funds meant to go to elections go there and that we’re supporting everything we want to do. We’re not sending out unfunded mandates to the locals.

I think that the funding crisis does contribute to the turnover, as well.

How so?

I think some of it is natural, but as the complexity of the work has increased, the funding and support hasn’t. So if you can’t hire people to support a function that needs to be done because you can’t afford it, that creates pressure on election staff and on county clerks. They work 60 or 70 hours a week, and that creates turnover.

In the primary, you ran against two people who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election. What did you learn from that primary that you can bring into the general and, if elected, into the office?

Voting integrity is not a new topic, not since Bush v. Gore. I think as a Colorado election official, not just in the primary, I’ve learned from activists how to be a better election official. I don’t think election officials have the corner on good ideas. Academics and statisticians came to us for our audit, for example.

There are some people that I’m not going to convince with our story. But there is a larger group of people – it’s Republicans, unaffiliateds and Democrats – that are in this mass media space, on social media – people of good conscience – that this raises questions for. I think making sure that we are having conversations that doesn’t throw fuel on the fire, answering questions from people and not vilifying them – once you make it partisan, there’s nowhere to go after that. That’s not our tradition in Colorado. What I learned from the primary is that that message resonates. That message, to stand up in front of a room of people who have a lot of questions and are incredibly focused on a past election, to talk about future and process and where we go from here and stand firmly on my belief in evidence-based elections and how important that is to democracy.

Also what I’ve learned as an election official, and it was reinforced in the primary, is that we share as American values around democracy far more than we differ. We want our elections to be easily accessible, we want them to be fair, we want them to be accurate and we want them to be transparent.

I’m running to bring the perspective of answering the questions, having integrity in the conversation and eliminating the partisan rhetoric that does more harm than good.

You mentioned there are people you won’t convince, and I assume you mean people who are very convinced of the “big lie” narrative. There is a portion of the Republican base that does believe the 2020 election was stolen or widespread voter fraud exists. How do you speak to them and how do you court them as a candidate?

I speak to them like I speak to everybody. I don’t carve out a certain message based on how someone is affiliated. I think that engenders trust. As an election official, people have always known where I stood. We may not agree on every issue, but I certainly feel like my experience allows me to speak with examples and also engage on where we still have to go and where we can still provide more access, more security, more testing, more evaluation. I think that message is not for just the people who are focused on the outcome of a single race. I provide resources for what I believe to be evidence-based analysis and I try to be very forthright – I read all the reports. I watched “2,000 Mules.” I will provide my perspective on that and where I think it’s based on facts and evidence and where it’s not.

There are interest groups on the left and the right that have always weighed in on election administration. We need to stop politicizing the process: stop focusing on the outcome and start focusing on the process. As long as we’re focusing on enabling people to access their constitutional rights, that is how we build. My goal is to provide that fair and equitable process so that candidates who are trying to access the process are treated fairly and initiative groups on one side or the other feel like they are treated fairly. That’s what we have lost because of this polarization and injecting partisanship into the office.

(GOP Colorado governor candidate) Heidi Ganahl’s running mate, Danny Moore, has expressed election denialism. If she is elected and you are serving in the same administration, how will you deal with serving as secretary of state when a key official has those beliefs?

I would deal with it in the same way I deal with it now, which is with thoughtful competence. I stand on what I believe and the reasons I believe it. I respect that people have different viewpoints that I do not agree with. In leadership, I have always been able to collaborate across the aisle or within my own party as well.

I haven’t always been in the majority. In my work with our election reform at the Legislature, the seated secretary opposed it. I, as the president of the association and 94% of my colleagues, supported it. I don’t have to agree, whether we’re across the aisle or on the same side. I think what is important is to ensure that we’re speaking openly, and – again, as I have with Heidi – offer to provide information and resources regarding why I believe what I do and opportunities to explore it more deeply.

How do you feel like Colorado can do better as far as voter access and enfranchising voters?

We’ve done a lot of work on that already over the last 20 years. Our model itself gives the voter a choice by proactively mailing a ballot, and then you get to decide whether you want to mail it in or vote in person. We’ve been able to utilize technology to do that safely and provide that option for everyone.

I’ve also supported the efforts we’ve done for military and overseas voters and electronic ballot transmission for our overseas citizens and military. Same with disability voting and providing those same types of tools for people with certain types of disabilities to access an electronic process. Expanding on conversations with our stakeholder groups and the accessible community are also ways we can do that.

The best way for access in this moment in time is for a trusted person to be able to stand up and be able to fight back in a way – both for the left and the right, unlike my opponent – to engender more trust, so people don’t feel like it’s a waste to cast their ballot or that it doesn’t count. Using things like the citizens’ academy, treating candidates and initiative groups fairly in the regulatory process.

Increasing trust, I think, is the biggest access point for us right now, and doing it in a way that doesn’t vilify anyone in a political sense and also doing it in a responsible way. I think that will go further than just about anything right now. Our access points are really good in Colorado. We always examine that through an evidence-based lense. Are we fairly allocating resources? Where are we putting them?

Maintaining transparency for bipartisan watchers is another way to increase access. There’s that spectrum for security and transparency and always continually assessing that and making sure we’re doing the best we can on those fronts.

Thinking of the Republican Party on the national level and thinking about what Republican majorities have done as far as restricting voting access in states like Georgia – there is some criticism that the party is anti-democratic. How do you respond to that?

Federal level positions get all the attention, but there are thousands of local election officials that stand on the front lines every single day that are contrary to that. It’s easy for one party or the other to want to brand or make it specific. I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen Republicans standing up. I’m running and competed against that for that very reason, to represent what I believe is the majority of Americans who don’t believe it and aren’t buying into it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

For me, it’s a mission. I think it’s really important that people have a fair referee and that these offices aren’t used in a partisan way by anyone. I think my opponent and I are on opposite sides of the coin on that philosophy.

The Maricopa County election official ran in 2020 as a Republican and then everything blew up. His campaign slogan was “Make the Office Boring Again,” and there is something that resonates with me about that. I see it as a professional office. It is elected and I think that part is important. It helps with responsiveness and transparency. But I think there are certain offices that should remain above that fray and that is why I’m running.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.