Secretary of state candidates Jim Marchant in Nevada, Mark Finchem in Arizona, Jody Hice in Georgia.
John Locher/AP (L), Steve Helber/AP (M), Ben Gray/AP (R)
A coalition of Trump-supporting candidates is running for secretary of state in battleground states.
The candidates have made election denial a key part of their campaigns. Some have links to QAnon.
Experts fear they could use their positions to subvert the electoral process.
Roused by the stolen election myth, Republicans allied to former President Donald Trump are looking to take back power from the bottom up.
“We’re going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct,” Steve Bannon, former White House strategist and Trump ally, said on his podcast last year, according to ProPublica.
Republicans loyal to Trump and his false election fraud claims have formed a nationwide alliance to target the formerly obscure offices of secretary of state in battleground states, hoping to exert more significant partisan influence over how elections are run.
“The Coalition of America First secretary of state candidates” is working behind the scenes to “fix” the electoral system, which they believe is corrupt, Nevada candidate Jim Marchant told Insider.
A secretary of state is usually the state’s most senior election official, with duties such as maintaining voter rolls, allocating voting machines, and overseeing the administration of elections.
While secretary of state races have typically been inconspicuous affairs featuring low-profile bureaucrats, these positions have gained new significance as Trump-supporting Republicans have doubled down on claims that the last election was stolen.
The coalition includes at least six candidates, including Jim Marchant in Nevada, Mark Finchem in Arizona, and Jody Hice in Georgia, who have all made election denial key parts of their campaign.
It also includes Kristina Karamo in Michigan, David Winney in Colorado, and Rachel Hamm in California. Marchant said he is currently recruiting candidates in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor in Pennsylvania, is also working with the coalition, as he would be responsible for appointing the secretary of state, Marchant said.
All these states, except for Democratic stronghold California, were narrowly won by Joe Biden in the 2020 election and are set to be battleground states in 2024.
This is in addition to at least another nine election-denying Republican candidates running for secretary of state positions, who are not part of the Coalition of America First.
Trump has endorsed some of these candidates, including Hice, Finchem, and Karamo.
Michigan Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo speaks at the Michigan State Capitol as demonstrators gathered to demand a forensic audit of the 2020 presidential election on October 12, 2021.
Nic Antaya/Getty Images
Jim Marchant, a former Nevada state assemblyman, ran for Congress in 2020 but lost and believes that he and Trump were victims of electoral fraud. Like Trump, Marchant unsuccessfully challenged his election loss in the courts.
When questioned about who could have committed fraud in these elections and why Marchant said he didn’t know but that it had to be “very powerful people” with “a lot of money.”
Marchant told Insider that he decided to run for secretary of state at the urging of “people that are very close to Trump.”
“I said ‘sure’ because I realized how important the secretary of state races are to the election process,” Marchant said.
When pressed, Marchant would not name specifically who in Trump’s circle asked him to run, as he said they would “probably be upset with me if I did that.”
Although some reports have suggested that Trump allies Mike Lindell and Patrick Byrne helped fund the coalition, Marchant told Insider that Byrne has only donated a little and Lindell has donated nothing. Byrne said he gave the group $15,000, according to The New York Times.
But despite it being early in the 2022 election cycle, these races are already attracting more funding than usual, according to nonpartisan law and policy institute The Brennan Center for Justice.
Across three states with available data, the center found that fundraising in the secretary of state races is two and a half times higher than it was by the same point in either of the last two election cycles.
Marchant told Insider that if elected, he would introduce a range of electoral reforms, including getting rid of Dominion voting machines, “cleaning up” voter rolls, and stopping mail-in ballots, factors which Trump supporters have blamed for his 2020 election loss.
From national to local action
The new focus on the secretary of state races is just one part of a bigger picture of Trump-allied Republicans looking to gain control from below.
Jared Holt, a resident fellow who studies extremism at think tank The Atlantic Council, told Insider that after the January 6 insurrection, right-wing extremists had changed tack to focus on local over national action.
“These national movements are kind of breaking apart from the big national stage in DC and taking it down to the states, even sometimes down to regions or locales,” Holt said.
“By doing that, they are sometimes able to avoid national scrutiny successfully, whether that be from law enforcement or journalists, or the public at large, and additionally, they can oftentimes be more effective on these smaller scales.”
The shift to local politics was in part popularized by Steve Bannon, former White House strategist and Trump ally, who took to his “War Room” podcast last year to encourage followers to get involved.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon gestures during a speech at the “Take Back Virginia” rally in Henrico County, Va., on September 13, 2021.
AP Photo/Steve Helber
Bannon’s call to action led to an influx of Trump supporters signing up for low-rung local party positions, such as precinct workers, the outlet reported.
ProPublica contacted GOP leaders in 65 key counties, and 41 reported an unusual increase in signups since the start of Bannon’s campaign.
Candidates have links to the QAnon conspiracy theory
Along with promoting conspiracy theories about electoral fraud, several of the Trump loyalist secretary of state candidates have been linked with the QAnon conspiracy theory.
In October, Jim Marchant first publicly discussed the coalition at the Patriot Double Down conference in Las Vegas, organized by a QAnon influencer and used QAnon imagery and phrases in its promotional materials.
Along with Marchant, coalition members Mark Finchem and Kristina Karamo also spoke.
When asked about his links to the conspiracy theory, Marchant told Insider: “Well, what is the QAnon movement? Can anybody even explain that? I don’t even know what it is. I know what the media tells me it is. But do they really know?”
Marchant said that while he was not a “QAnon type person,” he believes people have the right to do and believe what they want.
Fears these candidates could subvert the electoral process
Edward B. Foley, a professor of constitutional law at Ohio State University who heads the university’s election law program, told Insider that it was a “disturbing development” to see the pervasiveness of election denial in the secretary of state races.
“There’s no more basic function in a democracy than casting and counting votes. So if you can’t have that based in reality, that’s really problematic,” he said.
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the US Capitol in Washington.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File
Foley noted that Trump tried to reject the outcome of the 2020 election despite his defeat being “undeniable” and said that this could be particularly dangerous if the next election results are not as clear-cut.
“When things are in that zone of uncertainty, and you have somebody who thinks their job is to be a Trump loyalist, and I think we could include some of these candidates in that, that’s much more worrisome.”
Foley pointed to the Georgia secretary of state race, where Trump has endorsed election denier Jody Hice against incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger. The latter famously turned down Trump’s demand to “find” 11,780 votes to swing the election in his favor.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Donald Trump and his allies went to great lengths to try and stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
In 2024, the Coalition of America First secretary of state candidates could use their positions to subvert or overturn the results of a future presidential election.
In an interview with The Guardian published last month, Marchant said that if he were secretary of state in 2024, he would be open to possibly sending an alternative slate of electors from Nevada to vote against the results if Biden won.
When questioned by Insider, Marchant walked back on that claim but said he “probably would not have certified” Biden’s victory in Nevada in 2020 without an audit.
Despite these fears, Foley explained that states have to lay out their rules for appointing electors ahead of time and cannot change the rules after election day if they are unhappy with the results.
Foley said that the best way to prevent any attempts to subvert the electoral process is to update the Electoral Count Act, which would “significantly reduce the capacity for malevolent behavior.”
Politics, Donald Trump, Jim Marchant, Jody Hice, 2020 election, QAnon, Republican, UK Weekend, News UK
All Content from Business Insider