By Tim Reid, Nathan Layne and Jason Lange

(Reuters) – One main candidate looking for to grow to be Georgia’s chief elections official, Republican Jody Hice, is a Congressman who voted to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win within the hours after the Jan. 6 riots on the U.S. Capitol. Hice had posted on social media earlier that day: “That is our 1776 second,” referencing the American Revolution.

In Arizona, the contenders for the elections-chief workplace, secretary of state, embody Republican state lawmaker Mark Finchem, who attended the ‘Cease the Steal’ rally earlier than the lethal revolt and spoke at the same gathering the day before today. In Nevada, one robust Republican candidate for elections chief is Jim Marchant, who unsuccessfully sued to have his personal defeat in a 2020 congressional race reversed based mostly on unfounded voter-fraud claims.

The three candidates are a part of a wider group of Republican secretary-of-state contenders in America’s swing states who’ve embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims that he misplaced a “rigged” election. Their candidacies have alarmed Democrats and voting-rights teams, who concern that the politicians who tried hardest to undermine Individuals’ religion in elections final 12 months might quickly be those working them – or deciding them, in future contested votes.

Jena Griswold, chair of the Democratic Affiliation of Secretaries of State and Colorado’s high elections official, mentioned the secretary-of-state races mirror a wider exploitation of phony voter-fraud claims by Republicans looking for all ranges of elected workplace.

“That’s ‘code crimson’ for democracy,” she mentioned in an interview.

Secretary-of-state candidates face main elections subsequent spring and summer time and common elections on Nov. 8, 2022, together with the midterm congressional contests.

Reuters interviewed 9 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in 5 battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada — and reviewed public statements by the entire candidates. Ten of the 15 have both declared that the 2020 election was stolen or known as for his or her state’s outcomes to be invalidated or additional investigated.

Solely two of the 9 candidates Reuters interviewed mentioned that Biden gained the election.

The group of 15 contains Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state and the one incumbent Republican within the 5 battleground states who’s looking for re-election. Raffensperger has persistently rejected Trump’s stolen-election allegations within the face of intense strain from many fellow Republicans to overturn Biden’s win within the state.

Almost the entire Republican contenders have pressured a must curb mail-in voting, to restrict poll drop packing containers and to take different steps to curtail poll entry. A majority mentioned they backed a Republican push for extra audits or different investigations of the 2020 vote, regardless of dozens of audits, recounts and courtroom rulings that confirmed Biden’s victory.

Shawnna Bolick – an Arizona state consultant and a Republican contender for state elections chief – has gone a step additional. She proposed a legislation empowering the Arizona legislature, at present managementled by Republicans, to overrule the secretary of state’s certification of in style vote outcomes. That decision for a drastic change in how America chooses presidents comes after Trump’s unsuccessful try to get Republicans in states he misplaced to ship electors for him as an alternative of Biden to Congress. (See graphic https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/ELECTORAL-COLLEGE/qzjpqaeqapx/media-embed.html on how the U.S. Electoral Faculty works.)

Bolick mentioned she meant to make certification “extra democratic” and that her invoice didn’t permit lawmakers to select a winner.

Boris Epshteyn, a former particular assistant to Trump, mentioned the occasion is concentrated on secretary-of-state elections. So is Trump, who has endorsed candidates in three states: Hice in Georgia; Finchem in Arizona; and Kristina Karamo, a Michigan educator he praised for parroting his false claims of profitable that state.

“It’s very important they’ve the suitable beliefs,” Epshteyn mentioned of Republican secretary-of-state candidates. “That features, before everything, attending to the underside of the 2020 election in addition to ensuring widespread voter fraud doesn’t occur going ahead.”

It’s extremely uncommon for a former U.S. president to endorse secretary-of-state candidates. “President Trump is proud to endorse candidates who battle for election integrity,” mentioned Liz Harrington, a Trump spokeswoman.

Democrats and nonpartisan election specialists say it seems that Trump allies – having been foiled of their try to reverse Biden’s victory – at the moment are attempting to make it simpler to overturn future outcomes.

Republican State Management Committee spokesman Andrew Romeo mentioned his group acknowledges that Biden beat Trump within the 2020 election however that it proudly helps candidates centered on making it “simpler to vote and more durable to cheat for all Individuals.”

The Republican secretary-of-state candidates are a part of a a lot bigger occasion effort to exert extra management over election administration following Trump’s false fraud claims. At the very least 18 Republican-led states have handed voting restrictions they are saying are meant to make sure election integrity. Democrats argue such measures are meant to suppress voting as a result of Republicans fare higher in low-turnout elections.

Georgia and Arizona have put better energy over elections within the palms of Republican-managementled state legislatures. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, Republican lawmakers are pursuing partisan audits https://www.reuters.com/world/us/pennsylvania-republicans-kick-start-2020-election-review-with-hearing-2021-09-09 of the 2020 vote. The long-delayed outcomes of the audit in Maricopa County, Arizona – launched 5 months in the past – are scheduled for launch on Friday.

The false voter-fraud claims by Trump and his allies have impressed tons of of threats of hanging, firing squads, bombs and different violence in opposition to election officers and their households, Reuters has reported this 12 months. A Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-threats-law-enforcement this month revealed that U.S. legislation enforcement has held nearly nobody accountable for the barrage of threats https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-trump-georgia-threats and intimidation of election directors.

CAMPAIGN DONATIONS POUR IN

Secretaries of state oversee elections in most U.S. states and have important energy over how votes are forged, counted and authorized. They usually approve vote tallies in particular person counties and the general presidential outcomes.

In regular instances, most voters may battle to call their secretary of state or element their election-oversight duties. However these once-overlooked races are drawing much more consideration and cash this 12 months from each events, in response to interviews with occasion officers and a Reuters evaluation of political fundraising data.

Marketing campaign finance reviews from Georgia and Michigan present donors from each events piling aggressively into their races early within the cycle. Georgia candidates raised $1.8 million between February and June – practically 4 instances what was raised in the identical interval of 2017 forward of the final Georgia secretary-of-state election in 2018, in response to marketing campaign finance disclosures.

In Georgia, Trump allies are wanting to unseat incumbent Republican Raffensperger after he rebuffed Trump’s request to “discover” simply sufficient votes https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-idUSKBN2980MG to reverse Trump’s Georgia loss.

David Becker, an election knowledgeable and former Justice Division voting-rights lawyer, mentioned Raffensperger and different secretaries of state final 12 months shaped a bulwark to guard democracy beneath excessive strain from Trump and his allies. The prospect of these allies working elections, he mentioned, “ought to chill all of us.”

“If one in all these con artists turned Secretary of State, and President Trump tried to make the decision he made to Secretary Raffensperger – to somebody with much less integrity, who denies democracy – what occurs if that particular person takes that decision?”

This 12 months, one distinguished donor to pro-Trump secretary-of-state candidates is the Presidential Coalition, a conservative group based by David Bossie, a former Trump deputy marketing campaign supervisor who was initially tapped in November to guide Trump’s failed post-election courtroom challenges earlier than testing constructive for COVID-19. The coalition gave Hice $7,000 in June, marketing campaign monetary disclosures present. Bossie mentioned in an interview that the coalition is taking a look at backing Finchem in Arizona and different secretary-of-state candidates in Nevada, Michigan and “many different states.”

Democrats say they’re simply as energized to win secretary-of-state races. The occasion’s fundraising arm for these campaigns, chaired by Griswold, has raised $1.1 million within the first six months of 2021, in response to filings with the U.S. Treasury Division. Griswold mentioned they goal to boost at the very least $10 million earlier than the election.

TRUMP ENDORSEMENTS

In Arizona, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is working for governor, leaving her seat an open race. She gained by a single proportion level in 2018, and each events anticipate one other extraordinarily shut race subsequent 12 months.

Trump final week endorsed Finchem for Arizona secretary of state, praising his “highly effective stance on the large Voter Fraud.” The state lawmaker is now seen as a favourite within the Republican main. Finchem declined an interview request.

Along with selling voter-fraud claims and calling for Arizona to decertify Biden’s win, Finchem has expressed views linked to the QAnon conspiracy idea, which casts Trump as a savior determine and elite Democrats as a cabal of Devil-worshipping pedophiles and cannibals.

Finchem was a featured speaker on the Jan. 5 “pre-rally” in Washington, a warm-up for the larger gathering at which Trump himself spoke. “Once you steal one thing, that’s probably not a win; that’s a fraud,” Finchem mentioned. Addressing members of Congress, he mentioned: “This ain’t going away.”

Considered one of his rivals for the Republican nomination is Bolick, the lawmaker who launched the invoice to permit the legislature to revoke the secretary of state’s election certification. The invoice died in committee.

In an interview, Bolick tried to attract a distinction between herself and Finchem, saying she was “not a part of ‘Cease the Steal.’”

However like Finchem, Bolick signed onto a decision in December urging Congress to award Arizona’s Electoral Faculty votes to Trump, regardless of his loss to Biden by greater than 10,000 votes.

In Nevada, Marchant mentioned he expects to get Trump’s endorsement. Trump endorsed Marchant when he ran unsuccessfully final 12 months for Congress. If elected secretary of state, Marchant mentioned, he would search to finish all early voting and ban using voting machines quickly whereas the units are examined for proof of election-rigging.

Marchant couldn’t present proof of fraud in Nevada when requested for it in an interview.

In Wisconsin, businessman and secretary of state candidate Jay Schroeder is taken into account the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He mentioned in an interview that “there may be numerous affordable doubt” as as to whether Biden gained the election.

The secretary of state in Wisconsin, not like most different states, doesn’t oversee elections. Schroeder is campaigning to vary that: He advocates for stripping election oversight energy from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Fee and giving it again to the secretary of state, which managementled elections till a decade in the past.

If he will get his manner, he mentioned, he would get powerful with counties that don’t comply with the legislation: “I’d name for an audit, and if the county refused that, I’d not certify their outcomes.”

GEORGIA RACES TO TEST TRUMP’S CLOUT

Georgia is shaping as much as be a key 2022 battleground, with aggressive Senate, governor and secretary-of-state races subsequent 12 months. These elections can be a serious check of whether or not Republicans who crossed Trump can survive primaries – and whether or not those that backed his election-fraud falsehoods can win common elections in opposition to Democrats.

With Trump’s help, Hice is seen because the frontrunner in Georgia’s Republican nominating contest. Hice has raised $580,000 between February and June, greater than doubling Raffensperger’s haul of $249,000, in response to marketing campaign finance disclosures.

Hice has been among the many most strident backers of Trump’s baseless stolen-election claims. Within the hours after the Jan. 6 riots, Hice was amongst 147 Republican members of Congress https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-lawmakers-special-report/special-report-stolen-election-republican-lawmakers-paralyzed-by-trumps-false-fraud-claims-idUSKBN2A41CP who voted in opposition to certifying Biden’s election win in at the very least one in all two states that got here up for a vote.

Hice didn’t reply to requests for touch upon his candidacy, his voter-fraud allegations, or his “1776” social-media submit on Jan. 6, which was deleted after Trump supporters breached the Capitol.

Bossie’s group supported Raffensperger in 2018 however now condemns his failure “to battle for what the overwhelming variety of Republican voters in Georgia have been demanding, which was poll integrity,” Bossie mentioned. “2020 was a complete shame.”

A number of recounts and audits have confirmed Biden gained Georgia by about 12,000 votes. Raffensperger has repeatedly described the November election as safe and instructed Reuters in a latest interview that Trump’s surrogates don’t have the info to help their allegations.

Because the vote, Raffensperger and his household have been inundated with threats of violence, inflicting them to enter hiding at one level and to take different precautions, together with beginning their automotive remotely to protect in opposition to bombs, the Reuters investigations revealed.

Hice’s candidacy is just not with out danger for Republicans. His vocal help of Trump’s false voter-fraud allegations may drive away some moderates and independents in a common election, political consultants mentioned.

One other Republican contender in Georgia is David Belle Isle, who misplaced a runoff to Raffensperger in 2018 and is working once more subsequent 12 months.

Belle Isle acknowledged he had no “smoking gun” to show widespread fraud. However he mentioned he believes Biden mustn’t have been declared the winner as a result of too few absentee ballots have been rejected regardless of their potential for fraud.

Raffensperger, he mentioned, “licensed the flawed consequence.”

 

(Reporting by Tim Reid, Nathan Layne and Jason Lange; extra reporting by Linda So; modifying by Soyoung Kim and Brian Thevenot)