Secretary of state contests — typically low-profile races that determine who helps administer elections in a state – have drawn national attention and millions of dollars in political spending this year as several Republican nominees who doubt the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election pursue the jobs.
In all, voters in 27 states will choose secretaries of state in the midterms. Fourteen of those seats currently are held by Republicans and 13 by Democrats.
But the presence of election deniers on general election ballots in key battlegrounds has set off alarms for voting rights advocates because of the pivotal role these offices will play in affirming the outcome of future elections, including a potential 2024 rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
And Trump, who attempted to pressure public officials to set aside the will of voters after he lost the presidency, has championed their candidacies.
“Even one being elected would be terrifying enough in a swing state,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and CEO of Issue One, a nonprofit group tracking these races. “We know that elections in America come down to 300,000 votes stretched across five or six swing states, so every vote counts.”
Here’s a look at 5 key secretary of state races:
In Arizona – where election conspiracy theories have flourished ever since Biden won this traditionally red state by fewer than 11,000 votes two years ago – Republican voters picked state Rep. Mark Finchem as their standard-bearer.
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Finchem, who has described himself as a member of the far-right Oath Keeper’s group, scored Trump’s endorsement back in September 2021. The GOP lawmaker has lobbied to toss out the results of the 2020 election in some of the state’s largest counties – including Maricopa, home to Phoenix, where a widely derided review of ballots ordered by Republicans in the state Senate still concluded that Biden had won more votes than Trump did.
In the state legislature, Finchem cosponsored a bill that would have allowed lawmakers to set aside election results. And before this year’s primary, he joined Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in a failed legal bid to end the use of machines to record and count voters in the state’s elections.
He faces Democrat Adrian Fontes, the former top election official in Maricopa County. He lost his reelection bid as county recorder two years ago.
During a recent debate, the two sparred over the 2020 election, with Finchem arguing that the election in some counties had been “irredeemably compromised” and should be set aside.