The three Republican candidates for Colorado Secretary of State (SOS) took part in a candidate forum on Thursday, May 12. Republicans Tina Peters, Mike O’Donnell, and Pam Anderson met for what we believe to be the first time at the Foothills Republican Club in Jefferson County.
Of course, we HAD to commemorate the event with another one of our world famous Debate Diaries.
But before we get started with our “Debate Diary,” we should note a few things that might help make sense of what you’re about to read:
♦ We’ve seen a lot of political debates in Colorado over the years. Without a doubt, this was the single most incomprehensible candidate forum we have ever witnessed.
♦ The format of the forum was bizarre, with the first candidate who answered a question getting an extra minute to add more to their response once the other candidates were finished; most of the time, nobody had any use for this extra minute. The forum moderator was also terrible (more on that in a moment), which made it difficult to understand what the candidates were supposed to be talking about.
But the biggest problem with this forum was with the candidates themselves. Anderson is clearly the most knowledgeable and qualified of the three SOS candidates, but she has a weird habit of leaving out key words or phrases in her answers or tossing out responses that need more context. For example, at one point Anderson said, “I know exactly where we need to go to solve the problem,” but it is unclear both what she means by a solution and what problem she is referencing in the first place.
O’Donnell adds nothing of substance to the conversation. He mostly talks about how he has been going line-by-line through the voter rolls and flagging things that he finds “weird.” Occasionally O’Donnell would toss in a bold statement near the end of his answer that nobody ever follows up on; for example, he alleged at one point that ballots are being bought and sold in Colorado. O’Donnell also seems to think that the SOS can overturn legislation.
And then there’s Peters. Her responses only make sense if you are VERY familiar with what Peters has been doing in the last 18 months; if you were watching this debate with a limited background on the candidates, you’d likely find most of Peters’s answers to be complete gibberish. Peters also makes no effort to give a good faith answer to any question, which limits any potential for debate. If Peters starts to get cornered on an issue, she responds by repeating the numbers of a particular statute or rattling off impenetrable acronyms.
♦ It’s hard to be bad at moderating a candidate forum, but Chris Murphy figured out a way. He’s absolutely brutal. Moderating a candidate forum is not rocket surgery; you just need to remember that a) Nobody is there to see you, and b) Questions should never be longer than the answers.
It’s clear on several occasions that the candidates don’t really know much about what Murphy is referencing in a particular question. Things get even more confusing when Murphy throws in a personal anecdote that is (at best) tangentially related to the topic.
Murphy also has a strange habit of taking a long time to set up a question and then, at the end, asking the candidates to answer a bunch of other questions. For example, Tell us how you would improve the mail ballot process, and also what is your favorite color and do you like Joe Biden and do you think Jena Griswold spells her name wrong?
♦ Tina Peters said “I broke no laws/rules” about a dozen times. It’s more than a little conspicuous.
We’re referencing the 9News live stream of the SOS debate for this diary; you can watch yourself below. 9News anchor/reporter Kyle Clark also live tweeted the debate if you’re interested in some extra reading.
Alright, let’s get to it. As always, unless otherwise noted, consider all comments paraphrased in the interest of time and/or preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
For whatever reason, the Foothills Republican Club has been a go-to candidate forum for GOP candidates in 2022. They’ve already hosted forums for Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate, Governor, and CO-07. Now they have the three Republican candidates for SOS in the same room for what might be the first time.
After some housekeeping messages and the obligatory prayer, we move along to the Pledge of Allegiance. A man named Brian in a pink shirt takes the microphone from Foothills Republican Club President Frank Teunissen, but not before Teunissen makes a joke about whether Brain remembers the words. Everyone laughs.
As it turns out, Brian does not really know the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Brian begins: “I pledge OF allegiance, to the flag…” Yes, really.
At last Frank turns things over to tonight’s moderator, a man named Chris Murray who receives no introduction. Murray takes a moment to talk about Murray; he is the attorney for the Colorado Republican Party, which is…weird. Murray takes an excruciatingly-long time to explain the rules of the forum, including a hard-to-follow allowance that every candidate who goes first in answering a question also gets time to talk more at the end.
“Even though we are going to be streamed live by 9News, I’m not Kyle Clark, so I’m not going to engage in any gotcha questions,” says Murray. A handful of people laugh at this.
At last, Mike O’Donnell kicks things off.
[Note: The times below correspond to the times on the 9News live feed]
17:05: So this is Mike O’Donnell. He’s a slight older man with white hair, bushy white eyebrows, and brown glasses who kind of looks like the older version of the late Ray Walston (“My Favorite Martian”). O’Donnell is wearing a gray jacket over a dark blue shirt. We forgot that he is Australian, so hearing his accent for the first time is a bit jarring.
O’Donnell moved to the U.S. in 1988 and became a U.S. citizen upon marrying his wife, who is from Kansas. He vaguely describes himself as some sort of business consultant who assists small businesses in doing business-y things. He claims to have helped create 26,000 jobs, and then rattles off numbers about employers and companies that do business in Colorado.
O’Donnell then pivots to election matters. It sounds like he’s all-in on the “Big Lie.” He says incumbent Democrat Jena Griswold is not a person of high integrity. O’Donnell mentions an “ongoing” federal court case that alleges that Colorado’s voter rolls “are amongst the dirtiest in the nation.”
“I’ve been personally reviewing the voter rolls myself, and I certainly agree with that court case,” he says.
O’Donnell claims that he has found many examples of voters registered at the wrong address, or too many people voting out of one home. He doesn’t elaborate on how he knows this to be true.
O’Donnell next goes into his “plan,” which begins after the election when he wants to meet with lawmakers and county clerks (because of his accent, “clerks” sounds like “clarks”) to repeal Colorado’s automatic voter registration law and another bill that he dislikes. Apparently O’Donnell is not aware that, a) He wouldn’t take office until January 2023, and b) The SOS doesn’t have the authority to repeal laws.
O’Donnell wants to raise fines for anybody caught trying to do illegal election things like ballot harvesting. We’re fine with this. Double the fines. Quadruple them! Now we just need an example of this ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN COLORADO.
19:27: O’Donnell is talking about election software that needs to be updated, or shouldn’t have been updated, or something. Then he’s back to talking about bills that he would repeal.
O’Donnell wants to crack down on overseas ballots; he says 43,000 ballots are sent out of state each election cycle, including 16,000 mailed overseas. O’Donnell says that many of these ballots are sent to addresses that don’t exist (again, is he knocking on doors in other countries?) He concludes with this: “I’d also establish a practical definition of residence for the purpose of adding voters to the Colorado voter roll. We’re very confused about when someone is a resident or not here in Colorado, and because of that, that’s part of the bloating of the Colorado voter rolls.”
In short, Mike O’Donnell wants to verify every resident of Colorado. Not for anything creepy, of course.
20:20: Pam Anderson is up next. She’s wearing a red blouse underneath a gray jacket and a black and white pair of glasses. We’d recognize her anywhere because of her mounds of curly brown hair. With a lot of hairspray, she could totally be “Sideshow Bob” at Halloween.
“Hello, I’m Pam Anderson. I’m running to be your next Secretary of State and to…beat. Jena. Griswold.”
Anderson pauses, looks up, smiles, and says “Yay!” to nobody in particular. Then she laughs uncomfortably. The rest of the room is silent.
Anderson gives her bio. Lifelong Republican. Married. Two kids. She says she was “raised by a cop,” and that both of her sisters and their husbands work in law enforcement. She checked that box from the pollster.
Anderson talks about being a municipal clerk and a two-term Clerk and Recorder in Jefferson County. She has an MA in public administration. She says that she and her husband, Jay, are business owners and entrepreneurs, which is how she transitions into the standard Republican spiel about taking lessons from the private industry and applying them to government, yada, yada.
“I implemented statewide programs for industry and business like e-recording to make it more efficient for business,” she says. “While saving taxpayer resources in the most difficult economic climate since the Great Depression.” This sentence is a perfect microcosm of Anderson as a candidate; she clearly knows what she is talking about and has the right experience and background for the job, but she’s as charismatic as a block of concrete.
Look, we get that you don’t need to have movie star charm to be an effective SOS, but candidates for ANY office have an advantage in an election when they are able to come across as interesting (for good and bad, as we’ll no doubt soon hear from Tina Peters).
It’s not bad to have a boring SOS…it’s just hard to elect one.
Anderson is now talking about how she is the only candidate in the Republican field “that is a certified election official.” Anderson is doing a good job of trying to draw clear distinctions between the candidates in terms of qualifications.
Of course…Anderson knows that she has to talk about things like “paper ballots” and “election audits,” because that’s what the Republican base needs to hear. She takes a quick detour there, then starts using the phrase “best practices” a lot, which is never a good idea if your goal is to keep your audience awake.
Anderson claims that the Heritage Foundation says Colorado has some of the best voter lists in the country. Take that, Mike O’Donnell!!!
Now it’s back to pandering to the nuts. “I agree,” she says. “Automatic voter registration with the Democratic legislature was wrong for Colorado and has eroded our voter lists. I know what they are.”
“I know what they are.” Huh?
Anderson is about out of time, so she’s rushing her statement and not making a lot of sense. She attacks Griswold for something vague, then closes with this: “I will not spend taxpayer dollars the way that she has, and I will be that fair referee.”
23:39: And now, the main event! Tina Peters takes the microphone. Peters is decked out in a black and white suit ensemble that, coupled with her white hair, gives off a very “Cruella de Vil” vibe.
Peters starts by saying, “February 12th…I saw where the Biden administration had squashed, again, the Halderman Report that showed that there was voter fraud in the United States. I could not stand to see the candidates that we had, and the one that is currently in office, continue on.”
Peters assumes the audience knows something about the “Halderman Report.” She’s probably wrong.
On the plus side, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to see a lot of punches getting pulled tonight, so that’s exciting. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t feel like we’re going to hear a lot of complete sentences.
Peters says she announced that she would run on February 14th, and “the first two weeks, I was shut down by the ‘Left’ on my campaign portal, because I was a threat to them.”
We legitimately have no idea what she is talking about. Is a “campaign portal” like a “transfer portal” in college athletics, or is it more like a portal to another universe kind of thing?
And now to the airing of grievances about Jena Griswold.
“When she deleted 29,000 election records from the server in Mesa County, I said, ‘That’s illegal, you need to go to jail,’” says Peters, providing absolutely no context for this sentence whatsoever. “But instead, what did she do? She weaponized her office to put me in jail. And I would do it again for you.”
There is much more of this. “When I saw, in report #2, that our election equipment had 36 wireless devices, I said, ‘Wait a minute. You guys have been telling me that we are the gold standard’ and that, not only does it [not] have the ability, but they’re not connected to the Internet…another lie I was told. And all 64 county clerks were told.”
Listening to Peters tossing out random numbers about things that no average person knows anything about is a lot like politely nodding while your grandmother tells you about the names of her neighbors and which of them have cats. We get that whatever Peters is saying is supposed to be a problem of some sort, but none of it makes any sense.
Peters says that she also knew something was wrong when one of the people who won a City Council election in April was known to wear a mask for protection against COVID-19. According to her, there are 8,000 ballots that have not been “confirmed,” but that “they” will say that information has been debunked. Who are “they”? We can’t help you there.
“They’ll say Fact-Check-dot-org,” she mutters. What does that mean? People look at her and literally say the phrase, ‘Fact-Check-dot-org’?” Is this like a regular occurrence? Do they not speak in full sentences in Mesa County?
Here comes the finale…
“So, I want to see evidence that they’ve been debunked,” says Peters. “I want to see people going to jail. And I went to jail for you, and I’ve proven that I can out-fundraise and that I can out-fight to win against Jena Griswold. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
26:47: Back to the moderator, Murray, who turns off his microphone and talks for about a minute to the candidates. Then he turns the microphone back on…and then back off again and talks for another 30 seconds. Someone tells him the microphone is off, and eventually we get to hear his voice again.
27:31: First question is for Pam Anderson about the Election Security Act recently passed in the Colorado legislature. Murray rambles on for a bit, then finally gets to his point about the bill transferring power from county clerks to the SOS. “In general, is that the right approach?”
28:44: Anderson says moving powers to the SOS is wrong, and she also doesn’t like Congress working on laws dealing with elections. She says she read all 970+ pages of HR1, and we believe her – mostly because that would be a really lame thing to lie about.
Then she goes base hunting:
“Jena Griswold has been pushing a bill to take over elections in Colorado, concentrate her power, and violate the Constitution and your First Amendment right to say and think what you want about how elections are conducted.”
We assume Anderson is talking about the bill in Congress (HR1), but it’s hard to know for sure.
Anderson pivots now to attack O’Donnell and specifically Peters over provisions in the Election Security Act (we’re back the the state legislature, apparently), particularly those requiring that cameras remain online in election offices at all times. Remember, Peters is accused – among other things – of turning off those cameras so that she could help someone else illegally gain access to Mesa County’s elections servers…
Anderson is going straight for the jugular. “So county clerks like Tina Peters can’t turn them off when she wants to hijack the voting system.”
Wow. Usually in forums like this, candidates dance around the edges of an attack without a full frontal assault. Anderson wisely understands that she doesn’t have time for that, though she definitely seems a little flustered. She almost looks embarrassed at having been so blunt (or, perhaps, she is terrified that Peters is going to shank her in the kidney right then and there). Whatever the reason, Anderson loses some steam at the end and finishes her answer with a gibberish line:
“I, as Secretary of State, don’t need a law to tell me to be secure.”
30:41: Peters gets a one minute rebuttal since she was mentioned by name.
“Thank you so much for bringing that up,” says Peters. We assume she’s talking to Anderson, but she won’t look at Pam, who is seated to her right. “Well, election rule 20.9.2 says that the cameras need to be on 60 days before an election and 30 days after. So, after the April 6 city municipal election [Pols note: We think she’s talking about 2021], it was past 30 days that I turned them off. It was May 17th, I believe it was.
“So, we were not in an election. They did not need to be on by election rule. And I actually turned them on 90 days before the November election. I broke no rules, thank you.”
Peters concludes with something about the SOS office having secret passwords to all video cameras.
“That’s my response to that,” says Peters. “And I’ve broken no rules or no laws. Thank you.”
Watching Peters say all of this calmly is a bit unsettling. It’s weird if Peters truly thinks she did nothing wrong. It’s doubly-weird if Peters believes this response is somehow sufficient as to the question of whether she turned off election cameras so that she could sneak someone into the elections room to copy data.
I fired the gun, your honor, but it was the bullet that killed him!
[Also, if Peters is talking about 2021…remember that she was barred from overseeing the November 2021 election in Mesa County].
30:22: O’Donnell gets one minute to respond, though we’re not sure why.
He uses his time to talk about government being inefficient and his preference for local control in all matters. “The county clarks are really a critical part of that,” he adds.
As for the question about cameras, O’Donnell says he is surprised that we don’t have MORE closed circuit cameras looking at everything.
32:50: Anderson gets another minute? Why? Nobody mentioned her by name or otherwise. But we’re here for it as long as she is going to use that time to scrap with someone.
“Well, Tina, a judge disagreed with you and a court disagreed with you when they barred you from touching an election.” She then reads off a portion of the judge’s ruling/statement in the case.
“I want to know if you are going to support increased security and the penalties for those insider threats for the people that violate them,” says Anderson. “I will, as Secretary, whether there is a bill or not.”
33:40: The entire room is excited to hear what Peters says next, but she apparently doesn’t get more time herself and we’re moving on to another question. Murray would be a terrible television producer – he changes the camera view right when things get interesting.
Murray’s question for Peters is about the fact that she is campaigning, in part, on election transparency. For a guy who made a joke earlier about no “gotcha questions,” this is basically exactly that.
“Now, would you agree that it is also important that transparency helps to build understanding of the process, and it is actually understanding that will end up building trust, or rebuilding trust. Assuming you do agree with that, how would you as Secretary of State attempt to build understanding of the election process by average Coloradans?”
This is a leading question, to be sure, but it is also intellectually dishonest. The reason many Republicans don’t trust the election system is because election officials like Tina Peters keep telling them that they can’t trust the election system. Elections are not particularly difficult to understand – you cast a ballot and someone counts it.
34:24: “I would like for more transparency in the elections process,” says the same person who just talked about how she did nothing wrong in turning off cameras in her own election office. Then Peters takes a stranger turn.
“You know, they call our tabulator ‘the black box’ because no-one really knows what’s inside of it,” says Peters. “But we do. Now we do because of ‘Report #1,’ ‘Report #2, and ‘Report #3.’”
Hmm, did it turn out to be…electronics?
What did you think was inside the box? A Smurf village?
Peters wants to use the rest of her time to respond to Anderson’s last attack.
34:46: We’re taking care to transcribe this word-for-word because, let’s be honest, there’s no way we could confidently summarize whatever Peters is trying to say most of the time. “CCR 8, 1505-19-1 says that, #1, the machines need to be in a standalone fashion,” she begins. “Which means they cannot be connected to the Internet or have the capability to be connected to the Internet.
“Number two, that I must – it doesn’t say, ‘I can,’ or ‘I shall’ – it says I must preserve the audit and the log files and who comes in and out of the system. That’s 29,000 of those that they deleted.
“And third, and most important to [Anderson’s] comment, is that I can do it in whatever way I deem most profitable and most efficient, and that’s exactly what I did. I broke no law, did no unlawful acts, and just because a judge rules something [as] we’ve seen– we’ve seen that many judges rule from the bench and not from the law. Thank you.”
This, right here, is Anderson’s biggest problem in the Republican Primary for SOS. Tina Peters is obviously about 18 sandwiches short of a picnic – you don’t need to listen to her speak for very long before you understand that this woman ain’t right. At the same time, it’s almost impossible to have a “gotcha” moment with Peters, particularly in a forum like this, because Peters will ALWAYS have a response to anything you say. That response will likely make no goddamn sense whatsoever, but Peters will say it with conviction and she’ll spit out specific state statutes to make it sound like there might actually be something in writing somewhere that vindicates her madness.
This is the professional politician version of the schoolyard classic, “I know you are, but what am I?” As long as someone is willing to just keep responding with the same line, no matter what, then it’s difficult to maneuver them into providing a damning answer. Peters is betting that she can keep saying “I know you are, but what am I” until you finally just give up trying to have a discussion.
Peters is very good at this strategy.
It’s also possible that Peters truly believes every crazy word that comes out of her mouth. But if you’re Anderson, that’s just a different way of getting to the same problem.
This approach wouldn’t work in a court of law, but that’s not where we are. Peters WANTS Anderson to attack her. She WANTS to look like the victim. Peters knows that most media outlets will report that she had an explanation for whatever accusation was sent her way, which is probably enough to maintain her base of supporters and to soothe potential supporters who know her name but not the details. Anderson MUST go after Peters aggressively – it’s the smart move at this point in the race – but she’s facing an ever-deteriorating rate of return on her attacks. If the narrative is just this back and forth until June 28th, Peters is going to win because more Republican voters recognize her name.
The other reason that Anderson can’t make these hits on Peters stick is because she is making the mistake of comparing Peters and Griswold. Whatever your partisan complaints about Griswold, what Peters has been doing is in a league of its own. If you say Peters and Griswold are the same, it moderates the actions of Peters. Anderson SHOULD say that while Republicans want to beat Griswold, they NEED to beat Peters because Peters is a threat to democracy in general.
Instead, Anderson is letting Peters claim equal ground ideologically; all things being equal, Anderson can’t win that fight. If Republican Primary voters see Anderson and Peters as being even somewhat similar, then Peters wins because her name ID is stronger.
35:38: Same question for Mike O’Donnell: How would you help build understanding about the voting process in Colorado?
O’Donnell doesn’t answer the question other than to say that the Secretary of State’s office needs to do a better job at whatever it is he thinks they don’t do well.
36:55: Same question for Anderson.
Anderson says that as Jeffco Clerk and Recorder (and as a municipal clerk), she regularly invited groups and individuals to come into the office and observe the process.
“I was an advocate for making ballots – anonymous ballots – public record and increasing that transparency.”
Anderson quickly pivots to criticizing Griswold for something about making it harder for others to get information about elections.
“I will restore the erosion that Jena Griswold has used by weaponizing the rules against people she perceives as her political enemies,” says Anderson.
38:30: Tina Peters gets to wrap up. She says that “CTCL, Center for Tech and Public Life, has eroded this trust, and one of our candidates is the director for TechAndCivicLife.org.”
“So, I don’t want the ‘Zuckerbucks.’ I don’t want someone else teaching people and our voters. I want transparency, I want truth, and I do not want partisan people being involved in our political future.”
Peters is (probably) talking about a 2020 nonprofit group, funded largely by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, that distributed $350 million to election offices around the country. It’s a popular conspiracy theory among people who pay attention to QAnon rumors and watch right-wing YouTube channels, which no doubt appeals to the kind of people who would back Peters.
BTW, we went back and listened again just to make sure we heard that last line correctly. Yes, Tina Peters really said, “I do not want partisan people being involved in our political future.”
39:15: Murray now takes a long time to set up the next question for O’Donnell after extensively quoting material that apparently is on O’Donnell’s campaign website. The gist is that the increase in the number of people voting by mail is (perhaps) more than the number of people moving to Colorado, or something along those lines; it’s hard to follow because Murray rattles off a bunch of numbers in succession.
When we finally get to the question, it is a strange two-part query: Does O’Donnell think we should get rid of mail ballots and/or does he think the number of people voting by mail indicates that the whole thing is fraudulent?
O’Donnell acknowledges that mail voting probably isn’t going anywhere because it is very popular with voters. Then he goes into a long diatribe against automatic voter registration.
“We have too many people on the voter roll, and too many people who shouldn’t be voting on the voter roll,” says O’Donnell, without citing any sort of evidence to support his claims.
O’Donnell concludes by saying that Colorado needs to get rid of automatic voter registration. This was not actually the question, but whatever.
42:30: Pam Anderson takes the microphone and immediately starts talking about the evils of automatic voter registration. It’s really not clear why Murphy is even here at this point – why have a debate moderator if you’re just going to let the candidates say whatever the hell they want at any time?
Anderson says that county clerks think that automatic voter registration is a problem. “They see that red light, they’ve identified-ed [sic] it, they’ve forwarded it to the Secretary of State, who has done nothing.”
Anderson concludes by saying, “I know exactly where we need to go to solve the problem.” It’s not clear what she means by this.
In general, this is a consistent glitch for Anderson: She kinda sorta talks about an issue or a “problem,” but she can’t explain it in a way that makes sense to someone who doesn’t already have an in-depth knowledge of voting procedures in Colorado. All we really know is that Something is wrong, and Pam Anderson says she can fix it.
43:12: Tina Peters apparently agrees with our assessment about Anderson’s vagueness. “So, what was the problem?” she asks, looking at Anderson. “What was the solution?”
After a pause, Peters says that we need to go back to “precinct voting.”
“We need to get rid of ERIC, which David Becker and ‘Seer,’ and these organizations that are not elected people use to manipulate the votes and increase the voter rolls.”
Who is Eric, and why are we shitting on him?
“I would like to do away with mail-in-voting, because there is too much fraud involved in it.” As proof, she cites the Dinesh D’Souza movie “2,000 Mules.”
“We need to get rid of the machines, go back to a simpler way that is accountable and sustainable. Always more electronics is not always better. So, mark your names off when you come in to vote. Vote, one person, one ballot.”
44:28: O’Donnell gets another minute to “wrap up,” according to Murphy, which still has us baffled. It’s not like O’Donnell said anything useful the first time.
44:38: “I have no comment,” says O’Donnell. “I’ll give you back that minute, thank you.”
This is the clearest answer we’ve heard all night.
44:45: Next question starts with Pam Anderson. Murphy talks about some rule passed by the SOS that prohibits political parties from using “watchers” to challenge “signatures at the first level of human signature review.”
Murphy wants to know if Anderson supports getting rid of this change, and if she would support making it “mandatory” for parties to challenge signatures. There might be five people in the room who know what Murphy is talking about; one of them may or may not be Murphy.
45:30: Anderson says she advocated for “the original rule” to “increase transparency.” It’s starting to feel like we’re listening in on a conversation between a couple of people at a coffee shop but we can only make out every other comment.
Anderson then says that she supports leaving on the security cameras, which is a nice dig at Peters.
47:00: “There’s a lot that needs to be changed in the Secretary of State’s office,” says Peters.
“When a Secretary of State can usurp decisions that you as voters put into your local county clerk to run your elections – that has to stop,” says Peters. Again, we can’t help you understand what this is about.
“I want more transparency,” says Peters, again. “When I asked for more transparency, she [Griswold] sued me.” This is not at all what happened.
“She asked me to recount that I wanted more transparency,” concludes Peters. “So, that’s what you’re going to get when I’m Secretary of State.”
48:09: O’Donnell is apparently concerned that we no longer check written signatures on a piece of paper, using digital methods instead. This isn’t really a SOS issue – this is just the world moving on with new technologies.
49:00: Since Anderson went first on this question, she gets another minute to say more stuff. This is the worst rule.
“So I don’t have to ponder whether I trust signature verification,” says Anderson. “We independently audit signature verification in Jefferson County.”
“I don’t have to ponder over spreadsheets whether or not the lists are clean. I know, when I see the red light flashing, how to solve that problem.” There is a red light that flashes somewhere if there is a problem with the voter rolls? Good to know.
50:15: Murphy asks a question for O’Donnell about independent risk-limiting audits. Murphy says votes are randomly selected for audits, but under former Republican secretaries (Scott Gessler and Wayne Williams), political parties could suggest races that deserved extra scrutiny. Murphy says that in 2021, he suggested some Aurora city council races for extra scrutiny and his request was denied by the SOS. This made him sad, so now we have to talk about it in a candidate forum.
“Would you support a right of candidates or parties to request RLA attention in this matter, and would you support a broader requirement for a full – not just a statistically-significant risk limiting [audit] – but a full audit for random races each cycle.”
In other words, Murphy wants to know if the candidates think the SOS office should spend extra time looking at election results simply because people like Murphy make a request.
51:44: O’Donnell says yes, and adds that Democrats no longer believe in the idea of “one person, one vote.” Okay.
O’Donnell says that he doesn’t like the random samples because they’re not really random. He says that some person in Denver “who may or may not know what that ballot already says” is telling them which ballots to look at. He goes on for awhile longer about this “person in Denver” who is pulling all the strings. Again, you know as much as we do on this topic.
53:20: Anderson says she won an award for a first-in-the-nation risk-limiting audit, which was probably a really cool trophy or something.
She then points out to O’Donnell that audits are done by publicly-selected boards at public meetings. Anderson seems legitimately annoyed that O’Donnell doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about. On this we all agree.
Anderson says “transparency” about 15 more times, then hands the microphone to Peters.
54:35: “June 17, Jena Griswold outlawed audits in the state of Colorado,” says Peters. “What is she afraid of?”
“My next report, the fourth report that is coming out, is going to show how the risk-limiting audit is a sham,” says Peters. “I want you to read the first three reports so you’ll be ready for the fourth.”
All three candidates are guilty of assuming the audience knows more than it does, but Peters is probably the worst at this. She provides no context or background information about anything she discusses. “My next report…” Report about what? Pro tip for candidates: Never just assume that the audience knows what you’re talking about.
55:20: O’Donnell wants his wrap-up minute this time.
He wants to make sure that we don’t send out ballots “to people that are going to turn around and sell them.”
Wait, what? People are selling ballots? Where? When?
56:24: Time for a new question. Murphy still wants to talk about “risk-limiting audits,” and everyone is on the edge of their seats.
Murphy wants to know if the candidates agree that we need to use machines to count ballots, particularly in large counties, and then asks them to offer up some sort of solution for “rebuilding trust” with the machines.
57:07: “Any time you have a computer or a machine, it can be hacked,” says Peters. Maybe someone should tell her about “erasers” on pencils.
Peters repeats that she wants to go back to “precinct-level voting” and says she wants election judges to count the ballots as they come in. Seems foolproof.
“We don’t need machines,” she concludes.
58:15: O’Donnell thinks it should be up to the “county clarks” to decide how to count ballots in their own counties.
This is how O’Donnell would improve things? Letting 64 counties just do whatever the hell they want?
59:30: Anderson mentions a statistic from Rice University that there is a 2% error rate with hand counting. Apparently people can be hacked, too!
Anderson then goes after Peters, asking why she didn’t hand count 2020 ballots in an audit if she was so sure there was fraud.
1:00:50: At last — we have an actual purpose for that one-minute wrap up rule. Back to Peters…
“Wow,” says Peters. “We have a state to save here, and we need to come together with one voice.”
This is a pretty weak strategy: If you can’t answer a criticism, complain that Republicans are not united.
“These machines, the way they are, are definitely flawed,” she continues. The risk-limiting audit is flawed. What I’ve done here with the Mesa County reports has gone all over the country, and we’re going to win this, and we’re going to expose this, and we’re going to make our elections more secure.”
You probably noticed that Peters did not even attempt to respond to Anderson’s question.
1:02:30: Murphy asks a long-winded question that is basically just, “Do you think the voter rolls are clean?” Murphy also wants to know if candidates would settle “the Judicial Watch lawsuit.” Was the goal to make this forum completely inaccessible to anyone who does not read about risk-limiting audits as a hobby?
1:03:15: Anderson says our voter rolls have improved because of a program she helped implement that created cross-state matching of registrations. She is unhappy with a decision in Colorado that does not remove people from voter rolls if they fail to vote in an election.
We have yet to hear from anyone about why the state of the “voter roll” is so important so long as fraud is not being committed (and there’s no evidence of fraud). If someone is registered to vote, and they don’t vote…so what?
Anderson doesn’t mention the Judicial Watch lawsuit that got Murphy really excited.
1:04:30: “Okay, we have to get rid of ERIC,” says Peters. “ERIC, David Becker, I talked about that before.” Yes, you did. It didn’t make sense then, either.
Peters is complaining about some organization, perhaps this ERIC guy, who compiles voter registration statistics. “During that time they inflate the voter rolls to where they can get their totals. It’s criminal, it’s gotta stop, and that’s where we’re gonna clean up our voter rolls.”
Again, this is why we take care in transcribing word-for-word. There is no way we could paraphrase whatever Peters just said.
1:05:10: O’Donnell talks more about how he has been manually going through the voter rolls to check for stuff. He says we should be embarrassed by our voter rolls. Duly noted.
1:06:26: Back to Anderson to answer the same question again. She uses her time to go after Peters for criticizing the same list data that she has used to verify other information.
Anderson then tells O’Donnell that the voter list he has been going through is a public list that doesn’t include all of the information that county clerks have available to them.
“Pick up the phone and call La Plata County,” she says. “They would tell you that you’re looking at a 10-year-old Google map.” Oh, snap. We like this version of Anderson.
1:07:50: O’Donnell gets the first shot at the last question, which is hard to follow because Murphy drones on forever and tries making jokes that get absolutely no response from the audience.
Eventually Murphy gets to the point, asking if the candidates agree with campaign finance regulations meant to oversee dark money groups and if current campaign finance limits might be too low.
1:09:25: O’Donnell says this is a tricky question because he hasn’t read the legislation that Murphy referenced. Basically, nobody knows what in the hell Murphy is talking about.
O’Donnell says there is a perception that you need a lot of money to win an election, but he adds that this isn’t necessarily true because of election results on the east coast in 2021.
1:10:30: Miraculously, Anderson says she is familiar with whatever the hell Murphy is talking about…but then she just starts talking about Griswold “weaponizing the office” and changing the rules to “block political access for those she disagrees with.”
“She [Griswold] re-filed against only Unaffiliated candidates,” says Anderson. “She says the rules that apply that the professional staff say, ‘This is your penalty,’ she takes them and she sends them to an administrative law judge. They set a $10,000 fine. She picks and chooses who she triples that fine to when she brings it back to her office. That’s not okay.”
We’re so lost at this point that we might need to start dropping bread crumbs.
1:11:45: We’re just going to quote Peters directly, because we can’t provide any help that might clarify her response.
“Well, Senate Bill 11-1022,” says Peters. “Yes, I would say that the limits are low for individual donors with it being $2500 per couple. But forming organizations like Center for Tech and Civic Life, which funneled $470 million dollars, of which my opponent [nods toward Anderson] is the director and the secretary is not okay. Because 94% of that money went to Democratic organizations in Democrat areas to defeat our Republican candidates. And to defeat our President Donald J. Trump. And only 4% went to Republican counties.
“So, on the one hand you have individual donors that are limited. On the other hand, you have organizations like CTCL that funnels the money into areas to help win in Democratic counties. So, no, I think this is a problem and I think it needs to be looked at closely. And as Secretary of State, I’ll do so.”
1:13:00: O’Donnell talks again and uses his time to complain that the state legislature passes too many bills. Why? Who knows?
1:14:00: Candidates can now ask a question for the other two candidates to answer. O’Donnell goes first.
O’Donnell says one of the roles of the Secretary of State is to “enhance commerce.” His question is about how the candidates would help small businesses survive and retain jobs because, as he says, Colorado is about to go into a recession.
1:15:00: Anderson says that while she was Clerk and Recorder in Jeffco, she worked on a committee with then-SOS Wayne Williams “to actually increase commerce for industry.”
“We developed the e-recording system for mortgage lenders to make it efficient for them to trade your land into capitalism, and that was extremely important for the industry.”
You did what now? This is another good point to remind you that we took extra care in transcribing these comments. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t look at us.
1:16:30: “It’s interesting how Jena [Griswold] just reduced the fee, so it means all of you have to pay for the business fees that all of the businesses are well-equipped to pay.”
So…Tina Peters, a Republican, is complaining that a Democrat reduced fees for businesses.
Peters says she doesn’t have a specific answer but would like to talk to businesspeople about their experiences with the SOS office. “I always say this – I hire people who are smarter than me, because if you’re the smartest person, then it goes down from there.”
Peters does not set the bar particularly high for her office.
1:18:10: Anderson now gets to ask a question. “As Secretary, what would you do if you had a Clerk and Recorder who refused to train to become a certified election official in accordance with state law? That refused to send ballots to overseas military voters until they re-registered to request a ballot, in conflict with federal law? That forgot to collect ballots from their ballot drop box right outside their office and didn’t find them until the next election? That violated voting system security protocols by giving away their passwords to a special interest group? That stole the identity of a constituent and gave their credentials to an unauthorized person and blew up their constituent’s lives?”
That’s some next level passive aggressiveness right there.
1:19:00: “Well, that’s a hard question for me to answer,” laughs O’Donnell, which gets plenty of laughter from the room. O’Donnell doesn’t pretend that this question is for anyone not named ‘Tina Peters,’ so he doesn’t elaborate any further beyond promising to follow the law.
1:19:36: “So, obviously I strike fear not only in Jena Griswold but also in this candidate over here [nods toward Anderson].
Then Peters laughs, but it is a very strange and forced laugh. It sounds like someone reading the words “Ha ha” out loud.
“I’ve broken no laws,” continues Peters. “I did not furnish passwords – all of these things that she’s accused me of.”
Peters then goes into the whole “innocent until proven guilty” shtick. “But, all those things she just accused me of is the same thing that Jena accused me of,” says Peters. “I think they’re more aligned than they realize.” Or…or maybe they’ve read the same stories as everyone else.
“You know, I uphold the law,” she continues. “I don’t even have a speeding ticket. I was married for almost 36 years to the same man, and lived pretty much a rule-follower life.
“But when you discover election fraud the way I did, and Merrick Garland comes to Mesa County, you know you’ve hit a nerve. The things that I’ve been accused of are pretty laughable.”
Peters’ argument here is that she didn’t get to give her side in the indictment against her. She says her attorneys laughed at the transcripts in the indictment. “So nothing is going to come of it. No rules were broken. No laws were broken. But I appreciate the question and the try.”
Welp, there you have it. Tina Peters is innocent!
1:21:30: Peters gets to ask the last question. She wants to know if Anderson and O’Donnell need new pillows.
Just kidding. Here’s her question: “How important is integrity to you?” Peters stumbles around in alleging Anderson’s involvement with CTCL and “Zuckerbucks,” then claims that Anderson falsely announced that she had been endorsed by election conspiracy group USEIP.
“In fact, they publicly stated that they did not [endorse you] and said that you are a man of no honor.” Or maybe Peters is accusing O’Donnell of falsely claiming an endorsement from USEIP. This is really hard to follow.
“How do you deal with that?” is how Peters concludes. Again, we’re at a loss.
1:22:30: Anderson says that in political campaigns people lie about you. “I want to make sure that everyone here understands that I have a reputation as a straight shooter,” she notes. This is not really a fact, but whatever.
Anderson says she doesn’t know Mark Zuckerberg and has never taken any money from him. Peters has not accused her of taking money from Zuckerberg (not tonight, anyway).
Then Anderson recovers with a solid right hook: “I’ve never ridden on the private plane of a millionaire or hidden from law enforcement at their ranch, either.”
Anderson should have stopped here, but she goes on to say that she has regularly worked with non-profit groups to increase funding for county clerks. Then she throws in a non-sequitur about Jena Griswold stealing half of the COVID-19 relief money to pay for commercials?
“Now, the data that you’re using was absolutely false,” says Anderson. “120 counties in Texas. Every elected official in the country had access to apply for these funds, and used these funds to bridge that gap.” Oh, okay, she’s talking about CTCL.
“What you’re saying is absolutely false, and I’m not surprised.”
1:24:30: Apparently Peters was saying that O’Donnell pretended to be endorsed by USEIP. O’Donnell says USEIP “wrote a nice little article about me,” but swears that he never implied an endorsement was made.
“I’ve not sought any endorsements, nor will I seek any endorsements,” says O’Donnell. This is probably a wise strategy; you can’t get turned down if you never ask!
1:26:00: Closing statements, starting with O’Donnell.
“The good thing about me going first is that you don’t have to hear me after this, which is great.” This might be a little too self-deprecating.
O’Donnell closes by claiming that there are non-profit agencies in Colorado doing ballot harvesting for homeless people.
“From the perspective of, ‘does this look like it could be weird or not,’ it possibly could.” We’ll just stop here.
1:28:13: Peters is next. She talks about ballot harvesting, and “Zuckerboxes,” and being framed for stuffing a ballot box.
“I believe that Colorado IS a red state.” She says there is proof from the “black boxes” that our leaders have been “selected, not elected. And I say that with full confidence.”
“I’m the only one that can do it,” she says, without specifying what she means by ‘it.’
1:30:00: Anderson reads from a painfully-boring closing statement, including an obligatory quote from Ronald Reagan.
“This is election [sic] for the Republican Party, not only for this race, but it will decide our relevancy in November. And whether we are the party of the rule of law and a free Democracy.” As with most of her responses tonight, Anderson just kinda skips some words here and there, which makes it difficult to understand her point.
But at least we’re done. Teunissen hands out Enstrom Candy boxes to the candidates, and that’s the end.