Election deniers overwhelmingly failed in 2022. The threat isn’t over

Voters rejected Republicans in critical state-level races running on bogus election narratives and endless grievances. After beating them, newly elected officials warn that the GOP movement of Trump loyalists and conspiracy theorists isn’t over yet, Alex Woodward reports

Wednesday 16 November 2022 15:26 GMT
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Republican candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake was defeated by Katie Hobbs.
Republican candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake was defeated by Katie Hobbs. (AFP via Getty Images)

Republican candidates who rejected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election lost every battleground statewide race for offices that control how elections are run, a major blow to Donald Trump’s movement to install loyalists in critical state-level positions that could do in 2024 what he failed to do in 2020.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected candidates who amplified the former president’s bogus narrative that the election was stolen from him, or marred by Democratic fraud or malfeasance, and pledged antidemocratic agendas that would upend the electoral process to ensure GOP victories.

That movement failed to gain any significant ground, with victories in fewer than one in six races across the US in statewide roles that oversee election administration, including governor, secretary of state and attorney general – roles that will be critical in 2024 elections.

Among the 94 races for statewide offices this year, only five new candidates who amplified election lies won their races, according to analysis from pro-democracy group States United Action.

“Trying to delegitimise democracy is not a winning strategy,” said Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state Jocelyn Benson, who defeated Trump-backed conspiracy theorist Kristina Karamo. “But we still have a presidential election [in 2024] in which we anticipate a lot of the same challenges.”

Michigan was one of two states, along with Arizona, where GOP candidates who amplified the former president’s baseless narrative were running for all three top statewide offices, including governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

All were defeated.

And not just them. Every far-right activist candidate within a coalition of secretary of state candidates seeking to subvert American elections was defeated.

Jim Marchant, the chair of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, lost his race for Nevada secretary of state after pledging to eliminate the use of electronic voting machines, voting by mail and all early voting, and adhere to a “traceable paper-ballot-only” system that would likely throw elections into chaos.

In Arizona, another state where election deniers sought the state’s three top-level offices, prominent Trump loyalist Kari Lake lost to Katie Hobbs in the governor’s race.

Democratic candidate Adrian Fontes also defeated far-right conspiracy theorist Mark Finchem in the race for secretary of state.

Mr Fontes told reporters in a briefing with other recently elected secretaries of state that his victory speaks “to something that is much deeper than the passing fad of the ‘big lie’ or any other election denialism that a variety of politicians have cooked up for their own or what they perceive to be their own benefit.”

Far-right candidate for Arizona secretary of state Mark Finchem lost his race against Democratic candidate Adrian Fontes.
Far-right candidate for Arizona secretary of state Mark Finchem lost his race against Democratic candidate Adrian Fontes. (EPA)

He condemned what he called “negacionistas” – the “the doubters, the deniers” – who continue to sow doubt about the legitimacy of elections, a movement that voting rights groups, democratic advocates and the US Department of Justice warn is at the root of violent threats and harassment aimed at election workers and volunteers.

Republican Trey Grayson, who served as Kentucky’s top elections official from 2004 to 2011, said the insurgent wave of antidemocratic candidates “was a threat we’d never faced before in this country.”

“We’d never faced a threat of secretaries of state refusing to certify a result that they didn’t like,” he said. “In every swing state, those deniers lost elections … This was a clear message that Americans believe in free and fair elections.”

Secretaries of state – both Democrats and Republicans – were critical in 2020 elections to stand up against Mr Trump and his allies from attempts to reject or overturn the results. Those officials certified results, protected election workers and volunteers from harassment and abuse, and, in at least one case, rebuffed a direct surbversive attempt – recorded on tape – from Mr Trump himself.

Georgia’s Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger gained a national profile in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when then-president Trump called him to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. He refused.

“We’re going to stand for the rule of law,” he told reporters in the briefing on 15 November. “They’re gonna stand for the Constitution. And so that’s where we are right now. And we continue to press on to make sure we have honest, fair elections.”

No non-incumbent election deniers have won any of the 36 races for governor this year.

Among the 31 races for state attorney general, only two candidates who were not incumbents have won their elections.

And only three non-incumbent candidates for secretary of state, out of 27 races, have won their elections.

Addressing a victory rally the morning after her projected victory, Arizona’s governor-elect Katie Hobbs said voters “chose solving our problems over conspiracy theories” after she defeated Kari Lake, a former news anchor who has refused to concede while her campaign attacks election administration in the state as a “third world election.”

Arizona governor-elect Katie Hobbs speaks to supporters on 15 November, the morning after her projected victory against Kari Lake.
Arizona governor-elect Katie Hobbs speaks to supporters on 15 November, the morning after her projected victory against Kari Lake. (AP)

“We chose sanity over chaos, and we chose unity over division,” Ms Hobbs said. “We chose a better Arizona, and we chose democracy.”

But she signalled that “attacks on democracy won’t end today with this victory.”

“For those of you who prefer to obstruct, spread misinformation and continue to pursue an extreme agenda out of touch with this state, take note of the results of this election,” she added. “Voters sent us a loud and clear message. They rejected the chaos, because we have urgent problems. They need and expect us to deliver.”

Despite voters rejecting his endless grievances and attempts to relitigate the 2020 election, the former president is fuelling his 2024 campaign with the same baseless narrative that tanked his allies in midterm elections.

The threat from conspiracy theory- and misinformation-fuelled campaigns to undermine elections is not likely to disappear.

At least 170 Republicans who rejected the 2020 outcome have won their races in midterm elections for the House of Representatives – eclipsing the 139 House Republicans who objected to the counting of electoral votes in the aftermath of the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

Fourteen election denying candidates won statewide office in roles that oversee election administration in 10 states.

States United Action estimates that 31 per cent of the US across 16 states will be represented by a governor, attorney general or secretary of state who has cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections and refused to accept the results.

Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson was re-elected after defeating Trump-endorsed conspiracy theorist Kristina Karamo.
Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson was re-elected after defeating Trump-endorsed conspiracy theorist Kristina Karamo. (REUTERS)

Ms Benson suggested the nation is heading into a kind of third act for the election denialist movement, one in which a “nationally coordinated effort to undermine democracy” needs to be met with a “nationally coordinated response”.

“We are really just at the halfway point of what is a multi-year, multi-faceted effort to delegitimize democracy in our country,” she said. “Act II ended with a win for democracy just as Act I did. But we now have Act III, the 2024 presidential election.”

Mr Fontes said that “moving forward … we need to make sure we promote and protect people on the ground out there” who have suffered harassment, intimidation and threats following misinformation campaigns.

He suggested that there be “stronger protections at state and federal levels for election administrators across the board” and “perhaps closer coordination with law enforcement” heading into 2024 presidential elections.

“Hopefully we’re done with this one chapter of American political history,” he said. “We’re almost there.”

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