Secretaries of State races emerge as America’s new political flashpoint

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A total of 26 secretary of state positions are up for grabs next year, 14 of which are held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats.

A Democratic group focused on these races, iVote, has raised $ 3 million and hopes to raise a total of $ 15 million to run contests in several key battlefield states, said Ellen Kurz, president of the group. Its main targets: Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Minnesota, all of which backed President Joe Biden in 2020. Arizona, Michigan and Minnesota currently have Democratic electoral leaders. Republicans control these offices in Georgia and Nevada.

Another organization, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, also set a budget of $ 15 million for the two-year cycle, a 10-fold increase from what it spent in the 2018 cycle. , the last time key election officials in those states were on the ballot, officials said.

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“The stakes are really high,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who chairs the Democratic Secretaries of State Group. “We believe democracy will be on the ballot in 2022.”

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who heads the Republican Secretaries of State Committee, declined to disclose a budget or the group’s goals: “You never telegraph a punch.

But he noted that the Republican State Leadership Committee, the parent organization funding the state group’s GOP secretaries, and its affiliated political arm raised $ 6.5 million in the second quarter of this year – a record for the group at this stage of the electoral cycle.

Long battle

Partisan struggles for the administration of the elections began long before the first votes were cast in 2020 – when Republicans, voting rights activists and Democratic groups fought in courts over the basic rules of voting as the coronavirus pandemic raged.

This year, following Trump tries to pressure election officials and others to reverse 2020 defeat, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed a series of laws that prohibit or limit the tools election administrators used to facilitate voting during the pandemic – such as large-scale distribution of ballot boxes or mailing requests for postal votes.
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In some cases, Republican lawmakers have also acted to weaken the powers of elected secretaries of state.

In Georgia, for example, the GOP-controlled legislature expelled Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from a voting seat on the State Election Council and now has the power to choose three of the five council members. electoral. (Raffensperger, who ignored Trump’s request to “find” votes to overturn his state defeat, drew a Trump ally, U.S. Representative Jody Hice, as his main opponent. Hice was one of 147 Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s victory even after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the United States Capitol on Jan.6.)

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A group of GOP lawmakers last month invoked Georgia’s new election law to ask the State Council to begin a performance review of election officials in the heavily Democratic County of Fulton – a move that could lead to a decision State Control of Election Administration in Peach State. most populous county. Fulton County includes most of Atlanta.
In Arizona, meanwhile, GOP lawmakers recently stripped Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her power to defend election lawsuits and transferred authority to the state’s Republican Attorney General.

“Our Democratic process is really, really, really struggling, and our Secretaries of State are the first responders to this emergency,” said Kurz, who founded iVote in 2014.

Hargett, who also co-chairs an electoral integrity commission set up by the Republican State Leadership Committee, said preventing electoral fraud is now an issue that animates many voters.

“I receive emails every day from people who want to protect the integrity of the elections,” he said. “What Americans want to know is that every vote has been counted accurately. They want to make sure that eligible voters have the opportunity to vote and that ineligible voters have not been given the opportunity to vote.”

Crowded field in Arizona

Arizona, a state Biden won by less than 11,000 votes, is at the center of efforts by Trump supporters to discredit last year’s election results.

An “audit” of the 2020 Maricopa County polls, initiated by the Republican-controlled state Senate and largely funded by Trump allies, has drawn widespread derision. Hobbs, who has gained national notoriety as a vocal critic of the scrutiny of the Maricopa poll, is running for governor, leaving a seat vacant.

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At least six candidates are flocking to the field, including several Republicans who have made voter fraud a major problem.

State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Republican from Scottsdale, is one of the best-known candidates for Secretary of State and has sponsored high-profile election bills during her decade in the legislature . It drafted a controversial new law this year that restricts the distribution of ballots through the state’s widely used advance mail system.
the revised measure the state’s permanent advance mail list – which allowed voters to automatically receive ballots for each election. The new law removes voters from the list if they have not voted by mail in two consecutive election cycles and have not responded to final postal notices.

Critics say the law seeks to suppress votes by removing casual voters from the list and could affect up to 150,000 Arizonans.

Ugenti-Rita championed the change. “It was irresponsible to mail hundreds of thousands of never voted ballots. My bill allows us to end this,” she said in a statement to CNN. “I still don’t understand why Democrats would oppose this common sense reform that benefits all Arizonans who care about free and fair elections.”

And although Ugenti-Rita initially supported the scrutiny of the Maricopa ballot largely overseen by Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, she now calls it a “botched” effort. Fann said she was not trying to overturn the 2020 election results, but wanted to use the review to determine whether changes in state law were needed.

“Arizona voters are anxiously awaiting the report President Fann has promised,” Ugenti-Rita said. “We need to move on to the next phase – solutions. We must now focus on what we can do to advance election integrity and restore confidence in our election results.”

Another Republican vying for Arizona Secretary of State, State Representative Mark Finchem, is a prominent supporter of the Stop the Steal campaign and was in Washington during the January 6 riot. He did not respond to interview requests this week.
And another candidate, State Representative Shawnna Bolick, introduced a bill earlier this year allow the state legislature, by simple majority vote, to remove presidential voters chosen by popular vote and appoint its own list. The measure did not gain popularity during this year’s legislative session.

In a statement to CNN via a spokesperson, Bolick said she introduced the bill to provide “an independent oversight mechanism to hold our electoral process accountable for fraud or inconsistencies. that threaten the result “. And she said she was running for the election because “51% of voters believe cheating affected the election result” and the secretary of state’s office “is not fulfilling its functions of based”.

In neighboring Nevada, Republican Jim Marchant, a former state lawmaker who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year, is running to replace Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Cegavske, a Republican who has repeatedly defended the integrity of the 2020 election, has a limited mandate.

Last year, Marchant continued unsuccessfully to overturn his loss of around 5 points and declare a new election.

Now walking supports Nevada by launching its own “audit” of the 2020 results. “There are enough anomalies that I suspect in our national electoral system,” Marchant recently told CNN.

Trey Grayson, former Republican Secretary of State for Kentucky and former chairman of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said both political parties have focused on concerns about the administration of the elections to motivate their constituents .

But he said some Republican candidates went too far. “We are seeing candidates who, for lack of a better mandate, are election deniers,” Grayson said. “They think the 2020 election was stolen and Donald Trump won and there was this widespread fraud, for which there is no evidence.”

“They don’t whisper it. They don’t tell donors or party activists in closed rooms. It’s their public message,” he said. “And I find that disturbing.”



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