When Americans go to the polls in the 2022 middeltermyn, the most important elections won’t be for office in Washington. The most high-stakes races will be statewide contests, in some cases for long overlooked offices, that have profound consequences for the future of free and fair elections in America.
The races for governor and secretary of state, the chief election official in many places, will determine which officials have control over setting election rules and the post-election certification process.
Allies of Donald Trump and others who have spread baseless conspiracy theories about the election have launched campaigns for several of those offices, both at the statewide and local level, in an effort to take control of election machinery. Trump is expected to run for president in 2024, and if his allies are successful, there are fears they could use their positions to block Trump’s opponent from taking office should Trump lose.
Democrats are seeking to hold on to governor’s offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, three crucial swing states. The Democratic incumbents in all three states have blocked efforts by GOP-led legislatures to enact voting restrictions so far. There will also be hotly contested elections in Arizona and Georgia, where Republican candidates who have spread lies about the results of the 2020 election are running for governor.
Republicans who have embraced lies about the election are also running for secretary of state offices in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Overlooked for years, there is now a broader awareness of the enormous power these secretaries of state wield over how elections are run and ballots are counted. That power was on unprecedented display in 2020, when secretaries of state made decisions about things like how to establish ballot drop boxes and whether to automatically send out mail-in ballot applications to voters.
Secretaries of state wield enormous unilateral power and, if they were elected, election deniers could do extensive damage in future elections.
“It feels like the future of democracy depends on our wins,” said Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, who is chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.
Few states better encapsulate the stakes for 2022 than Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat seeking re-election, vetoed a suite of new voting restrictions in Augustus, but Republicans are still chomping at the bit to overhaul the state’s election system. Republicans have launched their own, widely criticized review of the 2020 election and are pushing to get rid of the bipartisan election commission that runs elections in the state. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin’s Republican US senator, has called for the legislature to unilaterally take control of federal elections.
Rebecca Kleefisch, a leading Republican candidate for governor, has said she would eliminate the agency if elected. She has also refused to say whether she supports legislation that would allow the Wisconsin legislature, where Republicans essentially hold a permanent majority because of gerrymandering, to overturn election results. Kleefisch’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
There’s a similar dynamic in Michigan. After Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat seeking re-election, vetoed a package of new voting restrictions, Republicans moved aggressively to try to enact them around her veto. There’s also a push to unseat Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s top election official, who became one of the most visible secretaries of state in 2020 when she took steps to make it easier to vote by mail. One of the leading candidates in the GOP field vying to replace Benson is Kristina Karamo, endorsed by Trump, who has claimed Antifa was responsible for the 6 January attack, accused Democrats and Republicans of being “traitors”, and falsely said there was widespread fraud in the 2020 verkiesing. Karamo’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.
“It’s certainly not by accident that we’re seeing individuals who don’t believe in democracy aspire to be our state’s’ chief election officers, particularly in the states that were under the greatest spotlight in 2020,” Benson said in an interview.
“Observers of democracy should be very concerned about what appears to be a coordinated effort to place people in positions of authority over elections who do not believe in elections and would have willingly overturned election results.”
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf, a term-limited Democrat, also vetoed GOP-backed voting restrictions earlier this year. The GOP candidates running to replace him include Lou Barletta, a former congressman and close Trump ally who has supported the false claim that the election was stolen. Doug Mastriano, a state senator and Trump ally who is one of the most prominent advocates of the election fraud narrative, is also weighing a campaign. Mastriano was at the US capitol aan 6 Januarie, pushed baseless voter fraud claims to the justice department, and championed an unusual post-election review in Pennsylvania.
In Arizona, Trump has endorsed Kari Lake, a former news anchor seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination who has called for “decertifying” die 2020 election results, something that is not legally possible. Mark Finchem, a Republican state representative who attended the 6 January rally has called for “decertification” of the election results as well.
And in Georgia, Trump has endorsed former GOP senator David Perdue in a primary challenge to Republican governor Brian Kemp. Trump has fumed at Kemp, blaming him for not doing enough to overturn the election results last year. Perdue gesê het he would not have certified the 2020 election results, even after several recounts and audits showed no widespread fraud. The winner will face Stacey Abrams, who made defending voting rights a core issue in her 2018 gubernatorial campaign and has focused on it since.
Republicans are also seeking to oust Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state who refused to find enough votes to overturn the election for Trump. Trump’s pick to replace Raffensperger is Jody Hice, a GOP congressman who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
Griswold, who is also running for re-election in 2022, said that putting someone who doesn’t believe in elections in charge of running them was akin to “putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department”. While she said she has been encouraged by a surge in interest among grassroots activists and some donors in secretary of state races, “it is not enough”.
“Imagine on January 6 if you had secretaries of state, disregarding all fact, disregarding all law, saying the election was stolen," sy het gese. “That is what may be coming.”