Candidates who deny the results of the 2020 election have advanced to November ballots in statewide races for positions that will oversee, defend or certify elections in more than half of the states, according to a nonpartisan group tracking the races.
In the races in 27 states for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, at least one election-denying candidate will be on the ballot who has echoed former President Donald Trump’s continuing false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, according to a report to be published by States United Action, which has closely tracked the progress of election deniers throughout the 2022 primary season.
NBC News obtained the report ahead of its release this week.
Many of the general election contests will be competitive races in critical battleground states — among them Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan — whose outcomes could have enormous impacts on the results of the next presidential election in those states.
“The stakes are really high in terms of what’s on the line in 2024,” States United Action CEO Joanna Lydgate said, “with the worst-case scenario [being] that we see an election [result] that doesn’t represent the will of American voters, which is particularly a concern when we have close election results.”
According to the group’s latest “Replacing the Refs” report — the final one documenting the total progress made by election deniers running for governor, attorney general and secretary of state throughout the primary season — at least 43 election deniers running for governor, secretary of state or attorney general will move on to the November election in 27 states. (The group’s final version includes results from the last round of primaries Tuesday, in New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island.)
In three states — Arizona, Michigan and Alabama — election deniers are set to appear on general election ballots in races for all three jobs. The first two are among the states where President Joe Biden eked out his narrowest victories in 2020.
In Arizona, the Republican nominees for the top three statewide offices that administer, defend and oversee elections (Kari Lake, who is running for governor; Mark Finchem, who is running for secretary of state; and Abraham Hamadeh, who is running for attorney general) have all questioned Biden’s presidential victory or falsely said the election was outright stolen from Trump.
In Michigan, the Republican nominees for the same offices — Tudor Dixon for governor, Matthew DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state — have said the election was stolen.
Election deniers running for governor will be on November ballots in 18 states, while others running for attorney general will be on fall ballots in 10 states, and election deniers advanced in secretary of state primaries in 12, the States United Action analysis found.
Candidates who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election in their states advanced in recent weeks to the November ballots in Maryland (the GOP nominees for governor and attorney general, Dan Cox and Michael Peroutka), Wisconsin (the GOP nominee for governor, Tim Michels) and Massachusetts (the GOP nominees for governor and secretary of state, Geoff Diehl and Rayla Campbell).
Election deniers also advanced from primaries this year in crucial battleground states like Pennsylvania and Nevada.
The Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, has only doubled down on his false claims about the 2020 election. Pennsylvania’s governor gets to appoint the secretary of state, meaning the top race packs an especially strong punch in terms of the future of honoring election results there.
The Republican nominee for secretary of state in Nevada, Jim Marchant, has said he would not have certified the 2020 results. In the crucial swing state, efforts among Trump allies to overturn the last presidential election have persisted since the race.
“We don’t know how these [general election] races will pan out, but even a single election denier winning office in a single state is a five-alarm fire that puts our democracy at risk,” Lydgate said.
Ramifications for 2024
If they are elected, such candidates would have the power to oversee, administer, defend or certify elections — including in 2024, when Trump might seek re-election.
While those candidates have falsely claimed Trump won the 2020 election or cast doubt on the legitimacy of Biden’s win, their remarks are not necessarily predictive of what any of them would do in power in 2024. Experts, however, say their remarks suggest that they could use their offices to contribute to an even more robust effort to overturn the next presidential election.
“While all of these officials are required to act in accordance with the relevant state laws and election laws, there is still a fair amount of discretion that higher-level officials, like secretaries of state, have in how elections are administered,” said elections expert Rick Pildes, a New York University School of Law professor. “And even without violating the law, one can worry that officials will use that discretion in ways that make it more difficult for eligible voters to vote.”
Pildes also said “a much more dangerous scenario to worry about” would be if a secretary of state, an attorney general or a governor refuses to acknowledge the results of an election, claiming “there has been something defective in the process.”
Secretaries of state in most states oversee the state offices that administer all elections, but the two other positions also have tremendous power when it comes to elections.
State attorneys generals can launch or defend against election lawsuits that can ultimately affect how and which votes are or are not counted — such as suits seeking to include or challenge ballots. They also provide legal guidance to election officials about how to interpret state policies governing elections, and they maintain prosecutorial powers for election fraud, voter intimidation and other potential election crimes.
And without definitive action by Congress to reform the Electoral Count Act, governors continue to have the ability to exploit ambiguities in the law to ensure favored candidates succeed. (For example, if a governor recognized what critics call “fake” electors as legitimate, Congress would be obliged to count them under several conceivable scenarios. Dozens of such “fake electors” in five swing states that Biden won emerged during the 2020 election, although no governor approved any of the rival slates and Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the count, refused to validate them.)
“Of course, if any such official were to be acting illegally, one would hope the courts would overturn those actions,” Pildes said. “Even so, it would introduce a lot of instability in the election process, casts doubt on election legitimacy, and likely prolongs the resolving of the election — all of which are in and of themselves harmful.”