A crop of election deniers — some hand-picked by former President Donald Trump — are gunning to control elections in key battlegrounds as secretaries of state.
The movement is a clear extension of Trump’s attempts to steal the 2020 election, but also something immediately more sinister: should these dyed-in-the-wool partisans take the helm, it seems likely that any Democratic victories in their states would be subject to, at the best, scrutiny, and at the worst, efforts to overturn the results completely.
These doubters and deniers are running throughout the country, though they’ll have less leeway to affect nationwide elections in virtually single-party states like Alabama and Arkansas. Some are also mounting long-shot challenges in securely blue states like Massachusetts and California.
Accordingly, Trump has focused his attention and endorsements on states that have disproportionate power in deciding presidential contests: Michigan, Georgia and Arizona. Eager deniers in Nevada and Ohio round out a picture of Trump acolytes with their sights set on offices they could use to guarantee that their preferred candidate wins, no matter the will of the voters.
Michigan: Kristina Karamo
The political neophyte and adjunct community college professor came to prominence after she claimed to witness election fraud in Detroit as a 2020 poll challenger.
That allegation propelled her to right-wing stardom. In the period between when the election was decided and insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, she testified before a state Senate committee, signed onto the unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge to the real 2020 results and appeared on shows in the Fox News universe alongside hosts Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity. She claimed that Dominion voting machines changed ballots for Trump to Biden, a popular conspiracy theory among election deniers.
Though she’d never held any elected office before, Trump endorsed her back in September.
“This is not just about 2022,” Trump said as he stumped for her. “This is about making sure Michigan is not rigged and stolen again in 2024.”
She won a three-person race for the nomination at the party’s chaotic nominating convention last weekend, where, absurdly, a gathering often themed on election denialism found itself faced with ballot issues that required delegates to vote multiple times for attorney general.
“I’m not going to answer whether or not I think the election was stolen,” she said of 2020 after winning the nomination. “The fact that we’re still asking this question is troublesome. I think the fact that people have that concern, because there is so many irregularities, so many illegal things that occurred and our questions were never answered.”
Karamo’s proclivity for belief in the fantastical extends beyond election fraud. She has pointed to everything from premarital cohabitation to Cardi B to yoga as conduits of Satan, and has attended a QAnon rally. She’s also expressed her belief that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were members of antifa in disguise.
Georgia: Jody Hice
In Georgia, the crux of Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to overturn the election and strongarm Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into “finding” some extra votes for him, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) has earned the coveted Trump endorsement.
Despite Trumpworld’s constant efforts to demonize Raffensperger for his spine — his family had to temporarily go into hiding, and reportedly started their car remotely out of fear of car bombs — the incumbent is polling neck-and-neck with Hice.
Hice has said that he’s not “convinced at all” that Biden won Georgia in 2020, and played an active role in brainstorming ways for then-Vice President Mike Pence to toss out slates of electors’ votes from key states. He objected to the certification of electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona in Congress the night of Jan. 6, when lawmakers reconvened after the attack.
He also called Jan. 6 “our 1776 moment” in an Instagram post and spread the conspiracy theory that voting machines flipped votes for Trump to Biden.
There is a wealth of election-denial riches in the Georgia race, as former Alpharetta mayor David Belle Isle is also competing. He lost to Raffensperger in a runoff in 2018 but is running again on a campaign of “strengthening election security,” these days often a right-wing code for both election denialism and efforts to make voting more difficult.
He has said falsely that Trump won in Georgia, and is focusing much of his ire on the defamed Dominion voting systems that he wants audited and removed from the process in favor of hand-tabulated ballots, which are arduous to count and much more prone to error. He has been placing third, behind Hice and Raffensperger, in most polling out of Georgia.
Arizona: Mark Finchem
The last of the trifecta to get the Trump endorsement is Arizona House of Representatives member Mark Finchem, who threw in completely with Trump’s efforts to reverse his loss in Arizona.
Finchem was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, though he says he did not enter the building. He also spoke at a rally the day before.
“When you steal something, that’s not really a win; that’s a fraud,” he said to the crowd on Jan. 5.
He held marathon hearings in late November 2020 with Rudy Giuliani during which witnesses — who weren’t under oath — expressed doubts and conspiracy theories about the election. He spearheaded a lawsuit underwritten by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell against Arizona and Maricopa County, asking a federal judge to block the use of voting machines in the 2022 elections.
In December 2020, he asked the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a “forensic examination” of voting machines.
Ali Alexander, one of the top organizers of the Stop the Steal movement, has referred to Finchem as a key ally and a “brother.” Finchem has also previously identified as a member of the Oath Keepers, the far-right militia movement.
He is currently leading the way in both fundraising and polling, though many respondents are still undecided.
State Rep. Shawnna Bolick (R) is running too. Her claim to fame is a bill that would allow the state legislature to revoke the certification of presidential election results before inauguration. She also signed on to a resolution sent to Congress, urging lawmakers to award Arizona’s electoral votes to Trump. She is married to an associate justice on the Arizona Supreme Court.
Nevada: Jim Marchant
Marchant has been something of a ringleader for the election denier secretary of state hopefuls, though he has yet to be rewarded with a Trump endorsement for his labors (he has said that he expects to get the nod.)
He brought together the “America First Secretary of State Coalition,” which includes Karamo, Finchem and Hice.
Marchant lost an election for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in 2020, and claims that the election was stolen from him and Trump. He sued to have his loss overturned on baseless fraud claims.
He has vowed to end all early voting and ban the use of voting machines until they are examined for evidence of fraud, should he win.
“We have to change the laws here. I’ve been fighting to change voter fraud for almost 10 years,” he said. “We’re all awake now.”
Marchant has been breaking down the “problem” of fraud with surgical precision, targeting specific counties that he can convince to eschew voting machines in favor of paper ballots. He successfully lobbied commissioners in Nye County, west of Las Vegas, to recommend to their county clerk that they scrap their Dominion machines in March despite there being no evidence of ballot irregularities.
Ohio: John Adams
John Adams, a former Ohio state representative, is challenging incumbent Frank LaRose. LaRose actually won Trump’s endorsement — he “did a fabulous job on redistricting,” per Trump — despite occasionally reprimanding those who sow doubt about elections. LaRose has walked something of a tightrope though, also saying that Trump is right to raise voter fraud as a serious concern.
Adams does not hedge in his election denialism, saying that the 2020 election “was clearly not legitimate. You can say stolen; I really don’t care how you phrase it.”
He scoffs at LaRose’s assertion that the election was secure, and wants to eliminate early voting, require that voters provide a reason why they’re voting absentee, eliminate drop boxes and require a specific ID for voting. He also wants to withdraw Ohio from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multi-state collaboration to improve the accuracy of voter rolls.
Reporters asked Adams what he would do if Trump lost in 2024 and asked him to help overturn the election results.
“I have two years to put into place election processes that I think will prevent and help that we don’t have to go down that road,” he responded.