(WASHINGTON) — Voters will help shape the future of American democracy next week when they cast their first statewide ballots since 2020, with a new generation of Republicans who have made election denialism a centerpiece of their campaign.
Several of these Trump-backed candidates are running for positions that would oversee future elections, like secretaries of state — once seen as sleepy administrative jobs that have attracted newfound attention in this era of election denialism. If they win on Nov. 8, many have signaled an intention to tilt the scales in their party’s favor in 2024 and beyond.
Meanwhile, since 2020, a deluge of threats against election workers has prompted a mass exodus of these crucial frontline workers — an issue that experts fear will compound existing challenges with voting infrastructure, misinformation, foreign interference and voter intimidation.
As election denialism permeates the Republican Party, a slate of once-mundane races will take on new meaning in 2022 — and could very well dictate how future elections are run. From secretaries of state to county clerks, these administrative positions wield a tremendous amount of power over how and when voters cast their ballots — and what happens afterward.
Election denialism by the numbers
According to an ABC News and FiveThirtyEight tally, of the 552 Republicans running for office, 199 have fully denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Another 61 Republicans have raised questions about the results of 2020.
A total of 170 Republicans have either fully accepted or accepted with reservations those results. Another 122 have either not weighed in or avoided answering questions about 2020.
All told, approximately 60% of Americans will have an election denier on the ballot, with candidates in nearly every state expressing doubts about the outcome of the 2020 race.
Of those running for the House of Representatives, 211 are election deniers, and 13 election deniers are running for Senate. There are 17 election deniers running for governor, 10 for secretary of state and nine for attorney general.
And many of those who are denying the results of the 2020 election, are going to win their races, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Of the 496 Republican candidates running for House, Senate and governor, 225 — or 45% — are in “Solid R” races. In races for the House of Representatives, 117 election deniers and eight election doubters have at least a 95% chance of winning.
In races for the Senate, three election deniers are expected to win their races. In gubernatorial races, at least two election deniers and four election doubters are expected to win.
Races could shape 2024, future elections
As election denialism permeates the Republican party, a slate of once-mundane races will take on new meaning in 2022 — and could very well dictate how future elections are run. From secretaries of state, attorneys general, governors and county clerks, these administrative positions wield a tremendous amount of power over how and when voters cast their ballots — and what happens afterward.
Secretaries of state
The chief election official in most states, secretaries of state dictate several facets of how elections are conducted, including voter registration requirements, state voting procedures, guidelines for reporting and certifying results, and responding to voting issues and irregularities.
Democracy experts fear that election-denying secretaries of state, if elected, could refuse to certify the results of future elections they believe to be rigged.
Former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election shined a light on many of these important but oft-overlooked officials, making the likes of Georgia Republican Brad Raffensberger and Arizona Democrat Katie Hobbs household names.
In 2022, election deniers are vying for secretary of state in 10 states, according to FiveThirtyEight, including Jim Marchant in Nevada, who has said that, “when my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re going to fix the whole country – and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024.”
The newfound focus on these races is reflected in the money pouring into them. According to the Brennan Center, candidates for these crucial posts have brought in record-setting fundraising hauls.
Across six states with a secretary of state election this year, fundraising by candidates has totaled $16.3 million, which more than doubles that raised by an analogous point in 2018, according to the Brennan Center.
State attorneys general may not have a direct role in administering elections, but as partisan elected officials, they can influence election laws. State attorneys general can also leverage the resources of their office to investigate and press charges related to allegations of voter fraud or election meddling.
In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican election-denier, has touted the arrest of dozens of so-called “election criminals” accused of illegally voting in the 2020 election. Earlier this month, ABC News reported that one defendant had their case dismissed.
According to FiveThirtyEight, at least nine candidates for state attorneys general have cast doubt on the 2020 election, including Abe Hamadeh in Arizona, who has repeatedly said he would prosecute crimes that he said took place during the 2020 election.
“As the chief executive of the state, governors wield veto power against voter suppression legislation, issue executive orders for rights restoration and in nine states — including Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — the governor appoints the secretary of state,” according to Democracy Docket.
In Arizona, Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake has repeatedly said the election was “stolen” from Trump; called for her opponent, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, to be imprisoned; and accused Democrats of using mail-in ballots to rig the vote.
Governors in some states, like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas, appoint their own secretary of state, adding an additional layer of election-related weight onto these races.
County election administrators
In America’s decentralized electoral system, county and municipal clerks, recorders and election board members often control the nitty-gritty details of the election, including poll worker hiring decisions, certification of the vote, and access to voting equipment.
Democracy advocates fear that partisan officials in these roles could stoke unfounded fears of election fraud or worse, prompting concern that the foxes are in the henhouse, so to speak.
In Storey County, Nevada, Jim Hindle, a former state GOP vice chair who signed illegitimate electoral certificates in 2020, became the county clerk and treasurer, with control of elections.
A complaint filed earlier this month with Georgia’s attorney general accused Ben Johnson, chairman of the Spalding County, Georgia, election board, of election wrongdoing. Johnson, a former president of the county’s Republican Party, identified himself as an “insurrectionist” on his Facebook page, according to the complaint. Johnson has not publicly addressed the allegations.
Will midterm election losers concede?
Taking a page from former President Trump’s book, several Republican candidates have either refused to confirm they would concede if defeated or explicitly said as much.
A New York Times survey of 20 gubernatorial and senate candidates found that 12 Republicans either would not commit to accepting the results of their election or did not respond. A similar survey conducted by the Washington Post, which looked at 19 statewide races, found that 12 Republicans either refused to commit or did not respond.
Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for secretary of state in Arizona, said in July, “Ain’t gonna be no concession speech coming from this guy. I’m going to demand a 100% hand count if there’s the slightest hint that there’s an impropriety.”
On ABC News’ This Week, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake recently said she would “accept the results of this election if we have a fair, honest and transparent election.”
During primary races for the midterms, several Republicans refused to concede losses to other Republicans, often citing election fraud.
Kandiss Taylor, a Georgia gubernatorial candidate, claimed her election “was rigged” and refused to concede after winning just 3.4% of the vote.
Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert refused to concede his primary defeat, despite falling 11 points shy of the eventual winner.
Beyond choosing the figures who will run future elections, voters across the country will have the opportunity to vote directly on several election-related amendments and propositions. Americans in 36 states will decide 129 statewide ballot measures this election season, according to the Democracy Fund.
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.