Swing state by swing state, former President Donald Trump is trying to get people who tried to overturn the 2020 election chosen to be in charge of the 2024 election.
Trump’s Monday endorsement of state Rep. Mark Finchem for Arizona secretary of state is the latest in a series of announcements that has alarmed independent elections experts. Trump has now backed Republicans who supported his lies about the 2020 election for the job of top elections official in three crucial battlegrounds – Arizona, Michigan and Georgia – where the current elections chiefs opposed his efforts to reverse his 2020 defeat.
If people who have sought to undermine the 2020 election are running things in 2024, when Trump might be a candidate again, experts and many Democrats fear that attempts to subvert the will of the voters stand a much greater chance of success.
“It is incredibly dangerous to support people for office who do not accept the legitimacy of the 2020 election. It suggests that they might be willing to bend or break the rules when it comes to running elections and counting votes in the future,” said Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science and co-director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center at the University of California, Irvine. “Someone who claims falsely that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump lacks credibility and cannot be trusted to run a fair election.”
Finchem attended the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington and was photographed outside the US Capitol that day (he denies any involvement in the riot there). And nearly eight months after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, he continues to urge Arizona legislators to somehow overturn Biden’s victory in the state.
The problem for the country isn’t only that prominent Republicans are supporting the lie that the election was stolen but that many everyday party voters are insisting that their candidates support such lies. A CNN poll released on Wednesday found that 63% of all respondents (correctly) thought Biden had won enough votes to win the presidency – but that only 21% of Republicans felt that way, compared to 97% of Democrats and 64% of independents.
Races around the country
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who chairs the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State political action committee and is herself up for re-election in 2022, said in a Tuesday interview with CNN that “there’s an extreme amount of concern” about the Republican secretary of state candidates who have promoted the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election.
Twenty-six states have elections for secretary of state in 2022. In addition to the three states in which Trump has endorsed so far, there is a key secretary race in Nevada, where Trump lost narrowly in both 2016 and 2020, and another in Minnesota, where he lost narrowly in 2016. And there is a secretary race in Ohio, where Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is expected to try to hold on to his seat in 2024.
While a secretary’s authority varies from state to state, many of them have power over critical elections processes – from who gets sent an application for a mail-in ballot to whose names are deleted from the registration rolls to how many ballot drop boxes are permitted to which voting technology is used to the certification of the results.
Griswold said that, if “anti-democracy” candidates are elected, “you could imagine a secretary of state refusing to certify election results,” spreading lies to influence the agenda of state legislators, even posing an “insider threat” to election security. For the country to function, Griswold said, it is essential to have state elections chiefs who “believe in democracy and believe in facts.”
Three Trump endorsements
There are numerous Republicans running for secretary of state positions, some of them without a history of incendiary public remarks. But in Trump’s endorsements so far, beginning with his backing of Georgia congressman Jody Hice over incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger, the former president has picked three candidates who have been outspoken in spreading false claims about what happened in 2020 and have tried to get the results invalidated.
Trump, whose endorsements typically carry great weight in Republican primaries, has made no secret of why he has been drawn to these candidates. Among other praise, Trump’s endorsement of Finchem cited the candidate’s “incredibly powerful stance on the massive Voter Fraud that took place in the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.” (There was no scam and no such fraud.) His endorsement of Michigan Republican activist Kristina Karamo last week said, among other things, that “she is strong on Crime, including the massive Crime of Election Fraud.” (Again, there was no massive crime.)
After CNN told Finchem on Tuesday that we were writing about Trump’s endorsements of secretary of state candidates who have promoted election lies, including him, he responded that he would not comment in detail because CNN is “predisposed to a narrative that is built on denying facts.” (On Twitter, he referred to this reporter as a “#FakeNews snake.”)
Karamo’s campaign and Hice’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Secretary of state races usually get much less attention than other races on midterm ballots. But Griswold, the Colorado secretary, said the events surrounding the 2020 election have increased the profile of the office, not only among voters but donors. She said the Democratic secretary of state PAC she chairs is having its “best fundraising cycle ever.”
The race for the Arizona secretary of state post, which is being vacated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, will be one of the most closely watched in the country. Arizona, which Biden won by just 0.3 percentage points, is home to a partisan and problem-plagued so-called election “audit” that has inspired Republicans elsewhere.
Finchem faces serious competition for the Republican nomination. One candidate, state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, has been a leading proponent of additional restrictions on Arizona voting since before the 2020 election. Another candidate, state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, put forward a bill early this year that sought to let the state legislature to reject the will of state voters in presidential elections.
Bolick’s bill, which was not passed, proposed to allow Arizona legislators revoke the secretary of state’s certification of the results at “any time” until the presidential inauguration. And Bolick launched her own secretary of state bid with a statement in which she claimed a majority of voters “now believe cheating likely affected the outcome of the 2020 election” – without making clear that this is not at all true.