By Daniel Dale, CNN
In at least 11 states, the Republican nominee for the job of overseeing future elections is someone who has questioned, rejected or tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Secretaries of state will play a critical role in managing and certifying the presidential election in 2024. The distinct possibility that some of these secretaries will be people with a history of election denial is a major challenge for American democracy — especially because former President Donald Trump, who is widely expected to run again in 2024, continues to pressure state officials to discard the will of voters.
The Republican nominees for secretary of state in the November 2022 midterm elections include three swing-state candidates who have made efforts to overturn 2020 results in their states: Mark Finchem of Arizona, Kristina Karamo of Michigan and Jim Marchant of Nevada.
The Republican nominee in Republican-dominated Alabama, Wes Allen, expressed support for a 2020 lawsuit that sought to get the Supreme Court to toss out Joe Biden’s victory. The Republican nominee in Republican-dominated Indiana, Diego Morales, has called the 2020 election a “scam,” the vote “tainted” and the outcome “questionable.” The Republican nominee in Republican-dominated Wyoming, Chuck Gray, has said that Biden’s victory was “illegitimate” and that he “absolutely” thinks Trump was the real winner.
The Republican nominee in Democratic-leaning but regularly competitive Minnesota, Kim Crockett, has described the 2020 election in her state as “lawless.” The Republican nominee in the Democratic-dominated Connecticut, Dominic Rapini, is the former chair of a group that has made baseless complaints of 2020 fraud.
The Republican nominee in Democratic-leaning but sometimes competitive New Mexico, Audrey Trujillo, has called the 2020 election stolen. So have the Republican candidates in Massachusetts and Vermont, both obscure figures who face long odds of winning their liberal states in November.
There are some significant differences in the intensity with which these 11 nominees have committed to election rejection. For example, Morales acknowledged in June that Biden “legitimately occupies” the presidency, while Finchem, a serial promoter of wild conspiracy theories about the election, has persisted this year in his impossible quest to reverse Biden’s victory in Arizona.
Twenty-seven states are holding secretary of state elections in 2022. CNN will update this list if we find information showing that the 2020 results have been disputed by additional Republican nominees. (The little-known South Dakota candidate who won the Republican nomination at a June convention, Monae Johnson, has broadly questioned the validity of US election results but we could not immediately find public comments she has made about the validity of the 2020 results in particular.)
Alabama: Wes Allen
State representative Wes Allen, who won Alabama’s Republican nomination in a June runoff election, endorsed the Texas-led legal effort to get the Supreme Court to overturn Biden’s victories in four states — tweeting in December 2020 that Alabama’s attorney general should “stand firm” in support.
Allen has vowed to withdraw Alabama from a 31-state consortium that helps member states keep their voter rolls up to date, baselessly alleging that the consortium, which is funded and run by member states, is a “leftist” entity. Alabama’s departing Republican incumbent secretary of state, John Merrill, has called Allen’s claims “patently false” and defended the consortium as an important election security tool.
The Democratic nominee is Pamela Laffitte, a corrections sergeant for a county sheriff’s office.
Allen’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Arizona: Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem is a far-right Arizona state representative who has for years promoted absurd conspiracy theories and other misinformation. Finchem has been aggressively dishonest about the 2020 election — and he continues to push to “decertify” Biden’s 2020 win in Arizona, though this cannot be done.
Finchem has repeatedly and falsely claimed that “Trump won” the election. He has falsely proclaimed that “the election was a fraud” and that it was “rigged.” He demanded in mid-2021 that liberal officials and the media prove the falsity of election conspiracy theories that had already been proven false, even selling shirts reading “#ProveIt.”
Finchem, who was endorsed by Trump last year and won the Republican primary earlier this month, played a key early role in the election-denying “Stop the Steal” movement in Arizona. After he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on January 6, 2021, he was photographed outside the US Capitol during the insurrection that day. He also tweeted a sympathetic message about the rioters, blaming Congress for refusing to acknowledge the “rampant fraud” that, again, didn’t exist. (Finchem denies any involvement in the riot and has not been charged with anything.)
On the first anniversary of the insurrection, Finchem tweeted a false claim that “the real insurrection” was how Democratic officials in Arizona had rigged the election with “tens of thousands of fraudulent votes” in two big counties won by Biden. This is just fiction.
In July, Finchem baselessly called for the arrest of incumbent Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is now the Democratic nominee for governor, and Adrian Fontes, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state who oversaw the 2020 election in Maricopa County, where many Republicans have baselessly alleged mass fraud.
Finchem’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Connecticut: Dominic Rapini
Dominic Rapini, who won Connecticut’s Republican primary on Tuesday, formerly served as board chair for a group called Fight Voter Fraud, Inc., which has had its baseless allegations about the 2020 election proven inaccurate by Connecticut’s elections enforcement commission. The Connecticut Post reported that the commission admonished Fight Voter Fraud in 2021; the commission said the group had wasted the commission’s limited resources and should “educate themselves” on the facts and the law before filing complaints.
While chairing Fight Voter Fraud, Rapini at least indirectly promoted false claims that there was massive fraud in the 2020 election. He was listed as the author of a web post linking to a document that recommended various reports that falsely alleged the election had been stolen, falsely claimed that statistics cast doubt on Biden’s win, or falsely suggested something was amiss in 2020 with voting machines. (Rapini has said he left his role at Fight Voter Fraud, Inc. in August 2021.)
Rapini, who says he has spent more than two decades in sales at Apple, said in an appearance on Hartford station FOX61 in July that “Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States.” But in various other interviews over the past year, he refused to offer a direct answer when asked if he believed Biden’s victory was legitimate or whether Trump was the real winner. Dodging the question, he told The Connecticut Examiner in 2021: “I haven’t been researching what’s happened in Arizona and Wisconsin, I haven’t studied it. I will say that Joe Biden was certified in January and we have to move on.”
He told CT Insider this May: “Listen, Joe Biden, God bless him, was the duly elected president of the United States and beyond that, there’s so many details there I can’t really dive into them, I don’t know the particulars … I think there was definitely anomalies, and there’s things we need to understand, but I have no reason to believe there was widescale fraud in Connecticut, there’s nothing there that I can prove.”
Asked for comment, Rapini said in an email: “I have stated on many occasions during my campaign that Joe Biden is the duly elected President of the United States.” CNN then sent him three examples of how he had sometimes avoided questions about the legitimacy of Biden’s victory and asked him to directly answer that question; we explained we were unclear if he was making some distinction between “duly” and “legitimately” elected. Rapini responded indirectly once more — saying he has been “very clear” in TV interviews that “Joe Biden is the duly elected president” and that reporters with “predisposed assumptions” sometimes leave out parts of his comments.
The Democratic nominee is state Rep. Stephanie Thomas.
Indiana: Diego Morales
In March, when Diego Morales was running for the Republican nomination in Indiana, he published an article on the website Hoosier State Today in which he sharply disputed the legitimacy of the 2020 election — proclaiming that “we have valid reasons to doubt the official vote tallies in key states,” that the vote was “tainted,” that “the outcome is questionable,” and that the election was a “scam.”
Morales, who served as an aide to Mike Pence when Pence was governor of Indiana, went on to argue that late changes to states’ election policies were illegitimate and — vaguely — that it was unconstitutional to subject mail-in voters and the Election Day voters to different levels of “scrutiny.”
Some of Morales’ specific claims are subjective. Nonetheless, his broad initial claim that there are valid reasons to doubt key states’ vote totals is plain false.
Morales has sometimes taken a softer line. After beating Republican incumbent Secretary of State Holli Sullivan for the party nomination at a party convention in June, he told Fox59 of Indianapolis that he had “already moved on” from 2020 to focus on future elections. Morales told journalist Brian Howey in June that Biden was elected in 2020 and “legitimately occupies that office today,” though he also maintained that “there were a number of irregularities in that election.”
Morales campaign manager Kegan Prentice touted Morales’ biography in a statement to CNN and said, “His sole focus now is on visiting all 92 counties in Indiana to listen to and learn from voters so he can best serve them.”
Morales was terminated from a job in the Indiana secretary of state’s office in 2009 for allegedly poor work performance, the Indianapolis Star reported in June. Morales faced more criticism of his work performance after returning to the office under a different secretary of state, the Star reported, and resigned in 2011 after refusing to sign on to an improvement plan.
The Star reported that Morales said: “Anybody can you write you up at any time, because their envy, selfish office rivalry, whatever you may want to call it. That’s exactly what happened.” Morales’ campaign manager also provided CNN with positive comments about him from Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who was secretary of state in 2009. Rokita wrote, “As far as I’m concerned, Diego left my office on good terms, and I consider him a long time friend.”
The Democratic nominee is Destiny Wells, an officer in the Army Reserve and a lawyer who was formerly a deputy state attorney general.
Massachusetts: Rayla Campbell
Rayla Campbell, a radio host who is running unopposed in the Republican primary in Massachusetts, falsely declared in November 2020 — after media outlets had called the election for Biden — that Trump was the actual winner.
“Our great president is the President elected for the next four years. We know it. They’re trying to steal an election because they can’t win or do anything right,” Campbell said on a November 2020 radio show during which she also promoted so-called “stop the steal” events.
On another November 2020 radio show, Campbell endorsed false conspiracy theories about election software and wrongly declared that “there’s no way, with all of the Trump rallies and the support that we had out there, that our candidates didn’t get more votes.” She also called for Republicans to adopt “dirty” tactics to combat the cheating she inaccurately claimed Democrats had done.
“They did it again with the cheating of the counting of the ballots,” she said. “And they will always do stuff like that because they can’t win legally, and that’s why we’ve got to fight a lot harder. A lot harder, and a little dirty. Because they fight extremely dirty. It’s time to beat ’em at their own game, and we can do that.”
In December 2020, after the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s victory, Campbell continued to support Trump’s efforts to overturn the outcome. And she repeated her false claim about a “stolen” election in a combative speech at the state Republican convention in May 2022.
In an interview with CNN in late July, Campbell did not back down from any of her previous claims. She called for audits of the 2020 election in all 50 states, and she repeatedly criticized the news media for supposed bias. She added, though, that she has “moved on from 2020 elections because we’re going into 2022.”
Democratic incumbent William Galvin and Democrat Tanisha Sullivan, a lawyer who is president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, are also running.
Michigan: Kristina Karamo
Kristina Karamo, who was endorsed by Trump last year and Michigan’s Republican Party at its convention this year, falsely claimed in a social media video in December 2020 “Donald Trump won Michigan” — where Joe Biden actually beat Trump by more than 154,000 votes.
Karamo, who has taught orientation and public speaking courses at a community college, rose to prominence in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when she claimed to have witnessed fraud while working as a Republican poll challenger monitoring the processing of absentee ballots in Detroit. (The Detroit Free Press found that her claims were based on misinterpretations of standard election processes; a Republican-led state Senate investigation into Michigan’s election found “no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud.”) She subsequently filed an affidavit as part of a lawsuit that attempted to get the Supreme Court to discard Biden’s victories in Michigan and three other states.
Karamo also promoted false claims about Dominion elections technology even after these claims had been thoroughly debunked, baselessly declaring in December 2020 that there were “over 200,000 votes” in Michigan that were “potentially compromised” by Dominion software. After winning the backing of the state party this April, Karamo said she was not going to say “whether or not I think the election was stolen,” Sinclair Broadcast Group reported, but she went on to complain of “so many illegal things that occurred.”
Karamo has to be chosen once more at a Republican convention later in August to become the official party nominee, but that is widely expected to happen after her dominant performance at the April endorsement convention. The Democratic candidate is incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Karamo’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Minnesota: Kim Crockett
Kim Crockett has said of the 2020 election in Minnesota: “I don’t think the word ‘lawless’ is too strong.” When an interviewer told her that he believes Minnesota’s election was “illegitimate,” she said she agreed.
Crockett, a lawyer who won Minnesota’s Republican primary on Tuesday, has been particularly focused on state Democrats’ changes to election rules amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. But she has also promoted a right-wing film that makes dubious claims about supposed 2020 cheating. She baselessly called absentee voting “frankly insecure.” And she questioned whether mail workers — who carry millions of ballots every federal election with very few problems — can be trusted to carry ballots given that “the postal union is a partisan player” in politics.
“Makes you kind of go: ‘Huh.’ After 2020, you start looking at everything,” Crockett said in a June interview.
At a state Republican convention in May, Crockett’s campaign played a video that depicted liberal billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, as a puppetmaster pulling the strings of incumbent Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and prominent Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias, who are also Jewish. The chairman of the state party issued an apology — but also claimed Crockett had been unaware the video included antisemitic tropes.
Crockett has previously worked or volunteered for conservative organizations, including a voter organization that has described the 2020 election as “rigged” and a think tank that suspended her in 2019 for comments about Somali immigrants for which she soon apologized. (However, she said this year that she was “taken out of context” by The New York Times and “would say everything today that I said in 2019.”)
In late July, CNN sent the Crockett campaign an email offering a chance to comment for this article. The email outlined many of the facts the article planned to mention and explained that Crockett would be included on a list of nominees who had denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
In response, Crockett called and left a message saying she found the request “less than open to actually finding out more about me or my campaign” and that we should look into “who I really am as opposed to who other people have said I am.” She also said, however, that she only had time to send along written comments she had previously provided to another journalist.
In those previous comments, Crockett outlined her criticism of Simon’s policy decisions, recommended a right-wing commentator’s book about how the 2020 election was “rigged” and wrote: “The corporate media narrative is that 2020 was the most secure election in the history of voting. This is propaganda designed to stop the conversation. And they viciously attack anyone who dares to question that conclusion, calling us names like ‘election deniers’ instead of engaging us on election policy.”
Nevada: Jim Marchant
Jim Marchant, a businessman and former Nevada state assemblyman, has promoted baseless conspiracy theories about not only the 2020 election but numerous past elections. Marchant has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Nevadans haven’t actually elected “anybody” for years — either “for decades” or particularly since 2006, when Republican future senator Dean Heller was serving as secretary of state.
“And in Nevada and maybe other places all over the country — we haven’t in Nevada elected anybody since 2006. They have been installed by the deep state cabal,” Marchant falsely said in podcast comments that were reported in January by liberal organization Media Matters for America.
Marchant has said he would not have certified Biden’s 33,596-vote victory in Nevada if he had been secretary of state in 2020, falsely claiming to NBC News that it is “almost statistically impossible that Joe Biden won.” Marchant attended the December 2020 event where other Nevada Republicans signed on to be phony Trump electors. And Marchant told The Guardian early this year that it was “very possible” he would be prepared to submit alternate electors in 2024.
Marchant unsuccessfully tried to get a court to order a re-vote of his unsuccessful 2020 congressional race, which he lost by more than 16,000 votes. He has been so consistent in questioning Nevada’s elections system, which his campaign has wrongly described as “fraudulent,” that he even raised doubts about his own victory in the Republican secretary of state primary this June — telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was “not really confident in the result” and that there “could have been anomalies.”
Marchant’s Democratic opponent is Cisco Aguilar, a lawyer who was formerly a staffer for late US Senator Harry Reid. They are vying to replace term-limited Republican incumbent Barbara Cegavske.
Marchant’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
New Mexico: Audrey Trujillo
Audrey Trujillo, a conservative activist whose campaign biography says she has operated a daycare, falsely claimed in a Facebook interview in March that the 2020 election was “a huge, huge, I would say coup, to really unseat a president.” On her own Facebook page, she falsely wrote in June that “Trump’s election was stolen.”
Trujillo, who ran unopposed in New Mexico’s Republican primary, falsely claimed in the March interview that votes were fraudulently switched from Republicans to Democrats in 2020 races at “all levels,” including a New Mexico US Senate race that was, in reality, won handily and fairly by a Democrat. She also falsely claimed in the interview that the US is “no better than any other communist country like Venezuela or any of these other states where our elections are being manipulated.”
When CNN asked Trujillo’s campaign in late July for comment on these claims, it responded by asking where we had gotten them from. When we provided links to the claims, the campaign did not respond again.
Trujillo’s Democratic opponent is incumbent Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
Vermont: H. Brooke Paige
H. Brooke Paige, a conservative activist in Vermont, ran unopposed for the Republican nomination for secretary of state while also running unopposed for the party nominations for state attorney general, auditor and treasurer. He plans to turn down the latter three nominations and focus on his secretary of state campaign, the Vermont website VTDigger reported.
The day after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in 2021, Paige falsely claimed on his Facebook page that the left “stole” the election through a “subversive plan” involving “stuffing the ballot box and corrupting the tabulation of the election results.” He made other false election claims in subsequent posts.
In an interview with CNN in August, Paige acknowledged that Biden was the real winner in Vermont in 2020, but said the question of whether Biden legitimately won the presidency is “such a complex question,” hinging on how someone defines “legitimately,” that he could not offer a direct answer.
Paige criticized state-level changes to voting rules in 2020, said he was disheartened by “anecdotal evidence” of suspicious behavior during the vote count — there is no indication of wrongdoing by any state’s vote-counters — and said his “biggest concern” was pro-Democratic media bias, which he argued had been a major contributor to Biden’s victory.
Democratic incumbent Jim Condos is retiring. The Democratic nominee is state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas.
Wyoming: Chuck Gray
In 2021, Wyoming state Rep. Chuck Gray falsely called Biden’s election “illegitimate,” falsely described the 2020 election as “the fraudulent election,” and told CNN that he “absolutely” believed that Trump won.
In December 2020, Gray urged Wyoming leaders to join the Texas-led lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victories in four states. When Republican Gov. Mark Gordon decided against doing so, Gray wrote on Facebook that Gordon was “totally wrong.”
Gray won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in August 2022. In June and July, he wrote on Facebook that he had sponsored screenings of the right-wing film, also promoted by Crockett, that makes dubious claims about cheating in the 2020 election; Gray told Wyoming website Cowboy State Daily in June, baselessly, that the film demonstrates how the left “has stolen elections with ballot drop boxes.”
Gray did not respond to a request for comment in August.
This story has been updated to add Wyoming nominee Chuck Gray to the list and to include comment from Vermont nominee H. Brooke Paige.
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