“Campaigning to Oversee Elections, While Denying the Last One”


Nearly two dozen Republicans who have publicly questioned or disputed the results of the 2020 election are running for secretary of state across the country, in some cases after being directly encouraged by allies of former President Donald J. Trump.

Their candidacies are alarming watchdog groups, Democrats and some fellow Republicans, who worry that these Trump supporters, if elected to posts that exist largely to safeguard and administer the democratic process, would weaponize those offices to undermine it — whether by subverting an election outright or by sowing doubts about any local, state or federal elections their party loses.

For decades, secretaries of state worked in relative anonymity, setting regulations and enforcing rules for how elections were administered by local counties and boards. Some held their jobs for many years and viewed themselves not as politicians but as bureaucrats in chief, tending to such arcane responsibilities as keeping the state seal or maintaining custody of state archives.

The aftermath of the 2020 presidential election changed all that.

In the two months between Election Day and Congress’s certification of President Biden’s victory, Mr. Trump and his allies pressured Republican secretaries of state, election board members and other officials in battleground states to overturn his defeat. In a phone call that is now the subject of an Atlanta grand jury investigation into Mr. Trump’s actions in Georgia, the former president urged Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, to “find 11,780 votes” — the margin by which Mr. Trump lost the state to Mr. Biden.

That intense focus on a once-obscure state-level office has dramatically transformed its place in American politics — and the pool of candidates it attracts. Campaigns for secretaries of state this year are attracting more money, more attention and more brazenly partisan candidates than ever before.

All told, some 21 candidates who dispute Mr. Biden’s victory are running for secretary of state in 18 states, according to States United Action, a nonpartisan group tracking races for secretary of state throughout the country.

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