Republican election deniers elevate races for secretary of state

Mesa County, Colo., clerk Tina Peters
Mesa County, Colo., clerk Tina Peters, who is under indictment for a security breach of voting systems, is challenging the incumbent secretary of state.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Add one more group of contests to the white-hot races for Congress and governor that will dominate this year’s midterm elections: secretaries of state.

Former President Trump’s lies about election fraud, attempt to overturn the 2020 election and his subsequent endorsements of candidates for state election offices who are sympathetic to his view have elevated those races to top-tier status. At stake, say Democrats and others concerned about fair elections, is nothing less than American democracy.

“If they win the general election, we’ve got real problems on our hands,” said former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who has criticized the false claims made by Trump and his allies about widespread fraud in the last presidential election.


“This is an effort to replace the people who oversee these races — to change the rules to make the results come out the way they want them to,” she said.

The primary season begins in force in the coming week, with elections in Ohio and Indiana. Ohio voters will decide which candidate will emerge from the Republican primary for secretary of state, with the winner favored to win the office in November.

Primaries for the top election offices will follow over the next few weeks in Nebraska, Idaho, Alabama and the battleground state of Georgia. Although Indiana also holds a primary Tuesday, nominees for secretary of state and some other offices won’t be decided until party conventions in June.

In all, voters in about two dozen states will be deciding this year who will be their state’s next chief election official.

In three politically important states — Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — the position will be filled by whoever wins the governor’s race. In New Hampshire, the decision will be made by the state Legislature — which is currently controlled by Republicans.

States United Action, a nonpartisan advocacy organization co-founded by Whitman, has been tracking the races for secretaries of state and has identified nearly two dozen Republican candidates who deny the results of the 2020 presidential election.


Among them is John Adams, a former Ohio lawmaker who is challenging the incumbent secretary of state there, Frank LaRose, in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Adams has said “there’s no way that Trump lost” and claimed that LaRose isn’t any different from Stacey Abrams, a Democrat and national voting rights advocate who is running for governor in Georgia.

LaRose hasn’t talked much during the campaign about the 2020 election, other than to say it was secure in Ohio and to tout his office’s pursuit of voter fraud cases. This marked a shift for him; after the 2020 vote, he praised the work of bipartisan officials in running a smooth election, promoted voter access and presented statistics showing how rare voter fraud is.

Earlier this year, LaRose brushed aside questions about his shifting rhetoric.

“Unfortunately, some people want to make a political issue out of this,” he said. “Of course, it’s right to be concerned about election integrity.”

The pivot was enough to earn him an endorsement from Trump, who is considering another run for president in 2024 and said LaRose was “dedicated to Secure Elections.” LaRose has been touting the endorsement.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said it was important for Republican secretaries of state, in particular, to speak the truth about the 2020 election.

“Those secretaries who are accepting the support of election deniers or accepting the support of a former president who openly interfered with the results of a free and fair election are
abdicating their role and responsibility to stand as nonpartisan guardians and choosing to put their own partisan agendas ahead of democracy,” Benson said in an interview.


This year, the most high-profile races will unfold in four of the six states where Trump disputed his 2020 loss to Joe Biden: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Michigan. Trump has endorsed candidates for secretary of state in all but one, backing those who support his false claims.

There is no evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing in 2020, and judges, including some appointed by Trump, dismissed dozens of lawsuits filed by the former president and his allies claiming otherwise. Last year, an Associated Press review of every case of potential voter fraud in the six states disputed by Trump found nowhere near enough cases to change the outcome.

Kristina Karamo, Trump’s pick in Michigan, is the first to advance to the November election after state Republicans nominated her during the party’s April 23 convention.

A community college professor, Karamo gained prominence after the 2020 election, claiming she had seen irregularities in the processing of mail ballots while serving as an election observer in Detroit. At a rally with Trump before the convention, she accused the media of trying to demonize her, said, “Corruption in our elections systems is a national security threat.”

Karamo faces Benson, a former law school dean seeking her second term.

“All one has to imagine is what it would be like or what it would have been like if Brad Raffensperger had said, ‘Yes, I will find you those votes and deliver Georgia for you,’” Benson said. “That’s what could happen if you have an election denier serving as secretary of state.”

Raffensperger is the Republican secretary of state in Georgia who withstood enormous pressure in upholding the results of the presidential race there, won by Biden. At one point after the election, Trump called Raffensperger and asked him to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to overturn Biden’s win.


Of the 25 races for secretary of state this year, nine Republican and seven Democratic incumbents are running.

While only one Democratic incumbent has drawn a challenger, seven Republican secretaries will face at least one GOP opponent who either denies that Biden won or makes unsubstantiated claims that elections are not secure. Among them is Raffensperger, who rebuffed Trump’s demands and has drawn three primary challengers, including Trump-endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who objected to Georgia’s electoral votes being counted for Biden.

In nine states, incumbents have opted against seeking reelection, are running for higher office or are term-limited, leaving open contests.

Arizona and Nevada will hold primaries in the coming months. Both races feature Republican candidates — Arizona’s Mark Finchem and Nevada’s Jim Marchant — who have questioned the outcome of the 2020 election.

Another high-profile race is unfolding in Colorado, where a Republican county clerk under indictment for a security breach of voting systems is running to challenge Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat seeking a second term.

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters has denied the charges, calling them politically motivated. In an interview earlier this year, Peters said she hoped that “the powers that be — instead of taking time to attack me — would solve violent crime, would look into election irregularities and find the truth.”


Colorado Republicans will decide their nominee in late June.

“Americans are going to have a very simple choice — do we want people overseeing elections who believe in upholding the will of the voter, regardless of how they voted?” said Griswold. “Or do we want extremist politicians who will do anything it takes to tilt elections in their favor and claim victory, regardless of how the American people cast their ballot?”

Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.