December 6, 2022
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Five secretary of state races to watch, starting Tuesday

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Once-sleepy secretary of state contests are taking on new urgency in the aftermath of efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election outcome.

Twenty-seven states will pick election chiefs in this year’s midterm elections, and some of the biggest races will develop in four of the six states where Trump’s allies sought to challenge his loss to President Joe Biden: Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.

Trump has endorsed candidates in all but one of those states, Nevada.

We’re using this edition of the newsletter to highlight five key races to watch this primary season, starting today.

Georgia

Voting ends today in the contests that decide who will advance to the November ballot in one of country’s most closely watched battles for secretary of state.

The GOP primary pits the current officeholder Brad Raffensperger against three opponents. His most prominent rival: Rep. Jody Hice, a four-term congressman endorsed by Trump.

Raffensperger, who is seeking a second term as Georgia’s election chief, rebuffed Trump’s demand to “find” the votes the then-President needed to overcome Biden’s nearly 12,000-vote victory in Georgia in 2020. That call now is part of a special grand jury investigation into whether Trump or his allies committed any crimes in their quest to overturn the election results.
And while Raffensperger has defended the 2020 election process, he also has embraced a controversial law enacted last year in Georgia that imposed an array of new voting restrictions, including requiring identification to vote absentee.

And, as he works to burnish his conservative credentials, he has pushed for a constitutional amendment to ban noncitizen voting, although it’s already illegal under Georgia law.

Hice, meanwhile, was one of 147 GOP members of Congress who objected to certifying Biden’s victory on January 6, 2021, and he has centered his campaign on false claims about the 2020 election.

(For the record, three recounts in the state confirmed Biden’s win. And just last week, the Georgia State Election Board voted to toss out complaints alleging illegal ballot collection in that election.)

Among Democrats, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who helped lead the charge against voting restrictions passed by the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature, is the best-known candidate outside the state in a five-person race for her party’s nomination and has scored a slew of prominent endorsements in her bid.

Her methodical takedown of voter fraud claims advanced by a Trump ally during a December 2020 legislative hearing went viral, immediately boosting her national profile.

Other Democratic contenders include former Cobb County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Owens, former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler and John Eaves, a former chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, which oversees government functions in the state’s most populous county.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in a June 21 runoff election.

Nevada

Nevada’s current Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, is term-limited, leaving an open seat. She defended the integrity of the 2020 election in the Silver State following Biden’s win and was censured by members of her own party.

Cisco Aguilar, a Las Vegas attorney who worked for late US Sen. Harry Reid, is already the choice of Democrats.

Among the Republican contenders, Jim Marchant, a former state assemblyman and unsuccessful candidate for the US House of Representatives, is arguably the best-known. He has said he would not have certified Biden’s win — although Trump lost the state by more than 33,000 votes.
And Marchant has pushed to eliminate voting machines, early voting and mail-in voting.

Other candidates on the Republican ticket include Kristopher Dahir, a Sparks city council member; Jesse Haw, a former state lawmaker and real estate developer; former Las Vegas TV anchor Gerard Ramalho and former District Court Judge Richard Scotti.

Nevada’s primary is June 14.

Colorado

Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold is seeking a second term as Colorado’s top election official in a state viewed as reliably blue. Biden won Colorado by double digits in 2020.

But the Republican nomination battle has seized the spotlight.

Tina Peters, the Mesa County clerk indicted by a county grand jury earlier this year as part of an local investigation into a security breach of voting systems, is running to face Griswold this fall.
And many of her fellow Republicans have brushed past Peters’ legal woes; she received some 60% of the vote at a recent gathering of Colorado Republicans, making her a front-runner for the GOP nod.

Peters has denied the charges, saying the investigation is partisan and politically motivated. A county judge, however, has barred Peters from overseeing either the June primaries or the November general election in the county — even as she seeks run elections statewide.

Colorado Republicans will officially pick their nominee in late June.

Peters faces two other GOP contenders: former Jefferson County clerk Pam Anderson, who served as executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association and Mike O’Donnell, who founded a nonprofit small-business lending firm.

The primary is June 28.

Arizona

Arizona, a state that Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes, has become a hotbed of fringe conspiracy theories about election fraud.
Exhibit A: The widely discredited Cyber Ninjas review of election results in Maricopa County, commissioned by the Republican-led Arizona Senate.

The conspiracies dominate the fight over who will oversee elections in this battleground state during the 2024 presidential race.

State GOP Rep. Mark Finchem, who earned an early endorsement from the former President in his bid for secretary of state, has called for the decertification of the 2020 presidential results.

He recently filed a lawsuit with another Trump-endorsed candidate, gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, seeking to ban the use of any machines to cast or count votes in this year’s elections.

Other GOP contenders: Advertising executive Edward “Beau” Lane, state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and state Rep. Shawnna Bolick.

State Rep. Reginald Bolding, the minority leader of the Arizona House of Representatives, and Adrian Fontes, the former head election official in Maricopa County, are vying for the Democratic nomination.

Current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, is running for governor this year.

Not only does the secretary of state set the ground rules for elections, the officeholder is first in line to succeed the state’s governor in the event of illness, death or removal from office. Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor.

That primary is August 2.

Michigan

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, is looking to win another four-year term.

Benson rose to national prominence amid the 2020 election fallout — as she defended the election process and results, in the face of efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. At one point, she said, armed protesters showed up outside her home to demand she reverse the outcome.
This fall, Benson is expected to face Kristina Karamo, a political newcomer and community college professor who was endorsed at the Michigan GOP state convention earlier this year. Karamo’s nomination is expected to be reaffirmed at an official party vote in August.
Karamo, who has won Trump’s endorsement, gained attention after the 2020 election when she alleged witnessing fraud as a poll challenger during the counting of absentee ballots. She also signed on to an unsuccessful US Supreme Court challenge to Biden’s win.
Two hundred and fifty post-election audits by Michigan’s secretary of state confirmed the accuracy of the 2020 election and that Biden won the state by more than 150,000 votes. In addition, a GOP-led state Senate investigation found no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.

You need to read

  • Fredreka’s profile of Democrat Bee Nguyen, a state lawmaker and the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, who hopes to make history in her bid to become Georgia’s elections chief.
  • The New York Times’ deep dive into how deeply Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election have infiltrated state legislatures. The analysis found that 44% of Republican legislators in nine key states have used their power to try to undermine the results of the 2020 election.
  • A look by CNN’s Steve Contorno at the newly appointed Florida secretary of state, who is a Republican state lawmaker and self-described “gun lawyer.”
  • The Washington Post’s overview of how a good year for Democrats in redistricting has turned bad.



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