“When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re gonna fix the whole country and President Trump is gonna be president again,” Marchant vowed to a large crowd at a recent Trump rally in Nevada, with Trump alongside him.
Marchant, as it happens, is leading in the polls over his Democratic opponent, Cisco Aguilar. So is Mark Finchem, the GOP nominee for secretary of state in Arizona who has been one of the state’s most prominent election denialists, not to mention having been present at the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. Finchem’s current polling lead over Democrat Adrian Fontes is reportedly narrowing, however.
Finchem has said he thinks it’s impossible for a Democrat like Biden to actually win a statewide election in Arizona. When a reporter asked him whether he would certify a Biden win in 2024, he answered: “If the law is followed, and legitimate votes have been counted, and Joe Biden ends up being the winner, I’m required under the law—if there’s no fraud—to certify the election” but then added, “I think you’re proposing something that, quite frankly, is a fantasy.”
When Finchem has been asked to demonstrate examples of fraud in the 2020 election, he has pointed to a single case in Yuma County—one that only involved four ballots, and which occurred in the primary election, not the general.
In addition to Arizona and Nevada, election denialists are running competitive races, though trailing, in two other battleground states: In New Mexico, where election denialist Audrey Trujillo is facing incumbent Maggie Toulouse Oliver; and in Minnesota, where Kim Crockett, who has fundraised around showings of the conspiracist pseudo-documentary 2000 Mules, is facing incumbent Steve Simon.
Also, in Pennsylvania—another key battleground state—the secretary of state is appointed by the governor. And Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, an ardent election denialist, has vowed to appoint a likeminded person to the job if he wins election to the governorship.
“As governor, I get to appoint the secretary of state. And I have a voting reform-minded individual who’s been traveling the nation and knows voting reform extremely well,” Mastriano said in an interview with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon on his podcast. “That individual has agreed to be my secretary of state.”
All told, there are election denialists on the ballots in 13 states—11 Republicans and two independents. Some of the nominees, such as Wyoming’s Chuck Gray, Alabama’s Wes Allen, and Indiana’s Diego Morales, are running in red states that went heavily for Trump. Others, like Connecticut’s Dominic Rapini and Massachusetts’ Rayla Campbell, are running in blue states where they are unlikely to do well.
The election-denialist strategy to target state-level secretary of state offices for a Trumpist takeover springs from the aftermath of the 2020 election, when Trump infamously attempted to strong-arm a number of secretaries of state, including Georgia’s Brad Raffsenperger, into changing the outcome of the election. (Raffensperger, who refused to cooperate, won his primary race for reelection against denialist Jody Hice.)
Since then, Trump and his authoritarian cohorts have assiduously sought out and promoted Republican candidates to run for those offices—though in fact many of them wound up losing their states’ primaries. It’s a useful strategy mostly for creating chaos in the election system, not necessarily for winning elections, since secretaries of state don’t necessarily control the outcomes, but can throw a monkey wrench into the works.
There are three main ways a person with biased intent can affect the election: They can make it harder to vote, allow for endless audits of results, and refuse to sign off on election results. All three tactics have been raised as likelihoods by the denialist candidates.
And as the general election looms, a deluge of dark money has been flooding in to support the denialists’ campaigns, raising alarms among Democratic Party organizers.
“2020 was a huge seismic shift for democracy, and secretaries of state are on the front lines,” Kim Rogers, Democratic Association of Secretaries of State executive director, told CNN. “Many donors are stepping up at levels that have not happened before,” she said. “And we still need more because we’ve never been in this situation before.”
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