The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Latest primaries show the insurrectionist spirit thriving in the GOP

Kristina Karamo, Republican candidate for secretary of state in Michigan, during a rally in Washington Township, Mich., on April 2. (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press/AP)
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The party primaries are just beginning, but we already have our first glimpse of how Trumpist election denialism — rejection of the 2020 results, conspiracy theories about phantom voter fraud and more — could take an even firmer hold over the Republican Party. And some of the people in the grip of this fever could be in charge of administering the 2024 elections.

There are 27 races around the country this year for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections. So far, just two initial contests have been decided.

In Michigan, Republicans at their party convention chose Kristina Karamo as their nominee. Karamo has embraced a raft of lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including that Donald Trump won Michigan and that sinister software fraudulently gave votes to Joe Biden.

Karamo may be one of the most visibly unhinged Republican candidates for secretary of state, but the issue is a matter of degree, not of kind. In Ohio, where primaries were held on Tuesday, we can see how even the supposedly more reasonable GOP candidates get sucked into the party’s mania for election conspiracies.

The incumbent in Ohio is Frank LaRose, who held off a primary challenge from the right. While he hasn’t embraced the lie that the American electoral system is corrupt to its core, he hasn’t not embraced it either. He recently fed the lie that the 2020 election was beset with widespread fraud.

And while LaRose has defended the state’s elections, he has also joined Trump on stage and stood by as Trump and MyPillow founder and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell claimed that Ohio elections were fraudulent and that Trump’s victory was larger than the vote totals showed.

In short, Republican secretary of state candidates come in essentially two forms: the loon-level conspiracy theorists, and those who stop short of that but nonetheless reinforce the Trumpian perspective about alleged voter fraud while supporting voter suppression efforts.

According to the bipartisan group States United Action, election deniers are running for secretary of state in 19 of the 27 states with such races this year. Here’s a sample:

  • Arizona: The leading candidate may be state Rep. Mark Finchem, a QAnon conspiracy theorist who wants to “decertify and set aside” Arizona’s 2020 electors. Another candidate, state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, authored a bill to allow the legislature to overrule the voters and declare whoever they wanted the winner of the state’s presidential electors.
  • Georgia: Incumbent Brad Raffensperger is being challenged by Trump-endorsed Rep. Jody Hice, whose entire campaign is based on an implicit promise to use his power to subvert future election losses in a way Raffensperger refused to do when Trump pressured him.
  • Minnesota: Kim Crockett, who calls the 2020 election in Georgia “rigged," has centered her campaign on a series of proposals to make voting more cumbersome.
  • Nevada: Jim Marchant, a former assemblyman who lost a congressional race in 2020, is now running for secretary of state; he says the election was “stolen” from both him and Trump.
  • Wisconsin: Candidate Jay Schroeder says “there is lots of reasonable doubt” about the 2020 election; he wants to remove the power to certify the election from a bipartisan commission and put it in the control of the office he’s seeking.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold — who is also chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State — points out that Trump’s pattern of endorsements suggests he is picking candidates for their willingness to undermine democracy going forward. Indeed, Trump has endorsed three of the above anti-democratic candidates.

“The former president is showing that he has a keen interest in these races,” Griswold told us.

And so, numerous full-blown Trump loyalists may win the GOP nomination to run for positions of control over our election machinery. Griswold says the question for these candidates is: “Will they be willing to do what it takes to uphold the will of the people?”

The answer, plainly, is no.

“When we say democracy is on the ballot,” Griswold says, “it literally is.”

All this points to a deep perversity about this moment. The job of secretaries of state is to safeguard the machinery of democracy and build confidence in democratic outcomes.

Yet Republicans are essentially running for these positions on a promise to carry out precisely the opposite mission — to corrupt our elections and possibly even subvert future legitimate electoral losses.

And this is the express reason Trump and his movement are endorsing them. It seems utterly crazy when described this way, but this is genuinely what is happening.

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