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Special Report – Backers of Trump’s false fraud claims seek to control next U.S. elections By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump arrive by bus in Phoenix ahead of protests against President-elect Joe Biden’s election, U.S. January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara/File Photo

By Tim Reid, Nathan Layne and Jason Lange

(Reuters) – One leading candidate seeking to become Georgia’s chief elections official, Republican Jody Hice, is a Congressman who voted to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win in the hours after the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Hice had posted on social media earlier that day: “This is our 1776 moment,” referencing the American Revolution.

In Arizona, the contenders for the elections-chief office, secretary of state, include Republican state lawmaker Mark Finchem, who attended the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally before the deadly insurrection and spoke at a similar gathering the previous day. Jim Marchant is Nevada’s strong Republican candidate to be the elections chief. He unsuccessfully tried to reverse his defeat in 2020 Congress due unfounded voter fraud claims.

The three candidates are part of a wider group of Republican secretary-of-state contenders in America’s swing states who have embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims that he lost a “rigged” election. Their candidacies have alarmed Democrats and voting-rights groups, who fear that the politicians who tried hardest to undermine Americans’ faith in elections last year may soon be the ones running them – or deciding them, in future contested votes.

Jena Griswold is the chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. She also serves as Colorado’s top election official. Jena Griswold said that the secretary-of state races are a reflection of a wider exploitation of phony voter fraud claims by Republicans at all levels of government.

“That is ‘code red’ for democracy,” she said in an interview.

The primary and summer elections in 2022 for the office of secretary-of state will take place next spring as well as general elections, which will take place on Nov. 8th 2022.

Reuters interviewed nine Republican presidential candidates in Arizona, Georgia Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada for their candidacies to be secretary of state. The candidates also provided public statements. Ten of the 15 have either declared that the 2020 election was stolen or called for their state’s results to be invalidated or further investigated.

Two of nine candidates Reuters interviewed claimed that Biden had won the election.

Brad Raffensperger is the Georgia secretary-of-state and only Republican who has been elected in each of the battleground states. Raffensperger has consistently rejected Trump’s stolen-election allegations in the face of intense pressure from many fellow Republicans to overturn Biden’s win in the state.

Nearly all the Republican candidates have stressed that it is important to stop mail-in votes, limit ballot drop boxes and take other measures in order to prevent ballot access. A majority said they backed a Republican push for more audits or other investigations of the 2020 vote, despite dozens of audits, recounts and court rulings that confirmed Biden’s victory.

Shawnna Bolick, an Arizona state representative who is also a Republican candidate for the position of state elections chief, has taken it one step further. She proposed a law empowering the Arizona legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, to overrule the secretary of state’s certification of popular vote results. That call for a drastic change in how America chooses presidents comes after Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to get Republicans in states he lost to send electors for him instead of Biden to Congress. (See graphic on how the U.S. Electoral College works.)

Bolick said she intended to make certification “more democratic” and that her bill did not allow lawmakers to pick a winner.

Boris Epshteyn is a former Trump special assistant and said that the party’s focus now lies on Secretary-of-State elections. Trump has also endorsed three candidates: Hice and Finchem in Georgia. Kristina Karamo is a Michigan educator whom he extolled for making false claims about his state’s victory.

Epshteyn stated that Republican secretaries-of-state candidates must have “the right ideals.” “That means, first and foremost, getting down to the bottom for the 2020 election, along with making sure that widespread voter fraud doesn’t occur going forward.”

It’s highly unusual for a former U.S. president to endorse secretary-of-state candidates. “President Trump is proud to endorse candidates who fight for election integrity,” said Liz Harrington, a Trump spokeswoman.

Democrats and nonpartisan election experts say it appears that Trump allies – having been foiled in their attempt to reverse Biden’s victory – are now trying to make it easier to overturn future results.

Republican State Leadership Committee spokesman Andrew Romeo said his organization acknowledges that Biden beat Trump in the 2020 election but that it proudly supports candidates focused on making it “easier to vote and harder to cheat for all Americans.”

The Republican secretary-of-state candidates are part of a much larger party effort to exert more control over election administration following Trump’s false fraud claims. At least 18 Republican-led state legislatures have passed restrictions on voting that they believe are necessary to maintain election integrity. Democrats say such voting restrictions are designed to restrict voting since Republicans do better in low-turnout election.

Georgia and Arizona have put greater power over elections in the hands of Republican-controlled state legislatures. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, Republican lawmakers are pursuing partisan audits of the 2020 vote. On Friday, the long-awaited results from the Maricopa County audit (Arizona) – which was initiated five months ago – will be published.

Reuters reported that Trump’s false claims of voter fraud have sparked hundreds of threats to the lives of election officials, their families and others. A Reuters investigation this month revealed that U.S. law enforcement has held almost no one accountable for the barrage of threats and intimidation of election administrators.


Secretaries of state oversee elections in most U.S. states and have significant power over how votes are cast, counted and certified. They approve both the total vote count for each county and overall presidential results.

Normal times are difficult for most voters to identify their secretary of states or describe their duties in election oversight. According to interviews with party leaders and Reuters’ review of the records for political fundraising, these overlooked races attract far more attention and funding this year.

Both Michigan and Georgia have campaign finance records that show both party donors investing aggressively in their races at the beginning of the cycle. Campaign finance disclosures show that Georgia’s candidates collected $1.8 Million between February and June. This is nearly four times more than the money raised by the parties in the same period last year, ahead of the state secretary election in 2018.

In Georgia, Trump allies are eager to unseat incumbent Republican Raffensperger after he rebuffed Trump’s request to “find” just enough votes to reverse Trump’s Georgia loss.

David Becker is an expert in election law and a former Justice Department voting rights attorney. He said Raffensperger, along with other secretaries, formed a stronghold to defend democracy against Trump’s extreme pressure. The prospect of those allies running elections, he said, “should chill all of us.”

“If one of these con artists became Secretary of State, and President Trump tried to make the call he made to Secretary Raffensperger – to someone with less integrity, who denies democracy – what happens if that person takes that call?”

This year, one prominent donor to pro-Trump secretary-of-state candidates is the Presidential Coalition, a conservative group founded by David Bossie, a former Trump deputy campaign manager who was initially tapped in November to lead Trump’s failed post-election court challenges before testing positive for COVID-19. Campaign financial disclosures reveal that Hice was given $7,000 by the coalition in June. Bossie said in an interview that the coalition is looking at backing Finchem in Arizona and other secretary-of-state candidates in Nevada, Michigan and “many other states.”

Democrats say they are just as energized to win secretary-of-state races. The party’s fundraising arm for those campaigns, chaired by Griswold, has raised $1.1 million in the first six months of 2021, according to filings with the U.S. Treasury Department. Griswold indicated that the party aims to raise at most $10 million prior to the election.


In Arizona, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is running for governor, leaving her seat an open race. Both parties are expecting another closely contested race next year. She was elected by one point in 2018.

Trump last week endorsed Finchem for Arizona secretary of state, praising his “powerful stance on the massive Voter Fraud.” The state lawmaker is now seen as a favorite in the Republican primary. Finchem refused to answer a request for interview.

In addition to promoting voter-fraud claims and calling for Arizona to decertify Biden’s win, Finchem has expressed views linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which casts Trump as a savior figure and elite Democrats as a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles and cannibals.

Finchem was featured at the Washington “pre-rally” on Jan. 5, which was an introduction to the larger gathering, at Trump’s invitation. “When you steal something, that’s not really a win; that’s a fraud,” Finchem said. Addressing members of Congress, he said: “This ain’t going away.”

One of his competitors for the Republican nomination is Bolick, the lawmaker who introduced the bill to allow the legislature to revoke the secretary of state’s election certification. The bill was defeated in committee.

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

But like Finchem, Bolick signed onto a resolution in December urging Congress to award Arizona’s Electoral College votes to Trump, despite his loss to Biden by more than 10,000 votes.

In Nevada, Marchant said he expects to get Trump’s endorsement. Trump supported Marchant last year when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress. Marchant claimed that, should he be elected secretary-of-state, he would try to eliminate early voting and prohibit the temporary use of voting machines, while they are examined for evidence about election-rigging.

Marchant was unable to provide any evidence that fraud occurred in Nevada.

Jay Schroeder (businessman, secretary of state candidate) is Wisconsin’s frontrunner for Republican nomination. In an interview, he stated that there is “lots of reasonable doubt” about whether Biden won.

He said that Wisconsin’s secretary of state does not supervise elections, which is a departure from other states. Schroeder has a campaign to change this: He wants the Wisconsin Secretary of State to take away the election oversight authority from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. The secretary would then be able to retake it. The Wisconsin Elections Commission controlled elections for ten years.

If he gets his way, he said, he would get tough with counties that don’t follow the law: “I would call for an audit, and if the county refused that, I would not certify their results.”


Georgia is shaping up to be a key 2022 battleground, with competitive Senate, governor and secretary-of-state races next year. This election will test whether Republicans who have crossed Trump’s path can survive the primaries and whether his election-fraud lies can be used to win general elections against Democrats.

Hice, with Trump’s backing is considered the frontrunner for Georgia’s Republican nomination contest. Campaign finance disclosures show that Hice has raised $580,000 between Feb. and June. This is nearly twice Raffensperger’s total of $249,000.

Hice has been among the most strident backers of Trump’s baseless stolen-election claims. In the hours after the Jan. 6 riots, Hice was among 147 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying Biden’s election win in at least one of two states that came up for a vote.

Hice did not respond to requests for comment on his candidacy, his voter-fraud allegations, or his “1776” social-media post on Jan. 6, which was deleted after Trump supporters breached the Capitol.

Bossie stated that his group supported Raffensperger but condemns Hice’s failure to “fight for what the overwhelming majority of Republican voters from Georgia wanted, which is ballot integrity.” “2020 was an embarrassment.”

Multiple audits and recounts confirm that Biden won Georgia by approximately 12,000 votes. Raffensperger has repeatedly described the November election as secure and told Reuters in a recent interview that Trump’s surrogates don’t have the facts to support their allegations.

Raffensperger’s family has been bombarded with violence threats since the election. They have had to hide at times and take additional precautions like starting their cars remotely in case of an attack by bombers.

Republicans have to be cautious about Hice’s candidacy. His vocal support of Trump’s false voter-fraud allegations could drive away some moderates and independents in a general election, political consultants said.

David Belle Isle (a Republican hopeful in Georgia) is also running. Belle Isle lost to Raffensperger and is again in the race next year.

Belle Isle acknowledged he had no “smoking gun” to prove widespread fraud. He said that he believed Biden shouldn’t have been named the winner, despite there being potential fraud in too many absentee votes.

Raffensperger, he said, “certified the wrong result.”