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In 4 Swing States, G.O.P. Election Deniers Could Oversee Voting

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PHOENIX — With Tuesday’s primary victories in Arizona and Michigan added to those in Nevada and Pennsylvania, Republicans who’ve disputed the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and who could affect the consequence of the following one are on a path toward winning decisive control over how elections are run in several battleground states.

Running in a yr during which G.O.P. voters are energized by fierce disapproval of President Biden, these newly minted Republican nominees for secretary of state and governor have taken positions that might threaten the nation’s traditions of nonpartisan elections administration, acceptance of election results and orderly transfers of power.

Each has spread falsehoods about fraud and illegitimate ballots, endorsing the failed effort to override the 2020 results and keep former President Donald J. Trump in power. Their history of anti-democratic impulses has prompted Democrats, democracy experts and even some fellow Republicans to query whether these officials would oversee fair elections and certify winners they didn’t support.

There is no such thing as a query that victories by these candidates in November may lead to sweeping changes to how thousands and thousands of Americans vote. Several have proposed eliminating mail voting, ballot drop boxes and even using electronic voting machines, while empowering partisan election observers and expanding their roles.

“If any one in every of these election deniers wins statewide office, that’s a five-alarm fire for our elections,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United Motion, a bipartisan legal and democracy watchdog organization. “It could throw our elections into chaos. It could put our democracy in danger.”

In Arizona, Republicans nominated Mark Finchem, who marched on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest Mr. Biden’s victory, for secretary of state, the highest election official within the state. Additionally they elevated Abraham Hamadeh, who called his opponents and other Republicans “weak-kneed” for supporting certification of the 2020 election, as their nominee for attorney general.

And with votes still being counted, Kari Lake, who has said she wouldn’t have certified Mr. Biden’s 10,000-vote victory in her state, held a slight lead within the G.O.P. primary for governor.

Each Ms. Lake and Mr. Finchem have made their willingness to flout some democratic norms and their promotion of conspiracy theories central to their campaigns. Ms. Lake has said she doesn’t imagine the state holds fair elections. Even before votes were solid, Mr. Finchem was preparing for a recount of his race “if there’s the slightest hint of impropriety.”

“Ain’t going to be no concession speech coming from this guy,” he said in June.

On Tuesday, each Ms. Lake and Mr. Finchem claimed that there was fraud within the state’s primaries.

While the Trump wing of the Republican Party flexed its muscle, voters in deep-red Kansas delivered a loud warning to the G.O.P. on abortion rights.

In Michigan, Tudor Dixon, who has at times falsely argued that Mr. Trump won the state in 2020 (he lost by greater than 150,000 votes), clinched the Republican nomination for governor, while Kristina Karamo, who has called the 2020 election fixed and baselessly claimed that Dominion voting machine software flipped votes to Mr. Biden, is the party’s presumptive nominee for secretary of state. Matthew DePerno, the presumptive G.O.P. nominee for attorney general, was a central player in 2020 election challenges in Michigan and has pledged to research current state officials.

They join Jim Marchant, the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Nevada, who has said he wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election and desires more sheriffs on the polls, and Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, who led the push to overturn the state’s 2020 results. If he wins, Mr. Mastriano would appoint Pennsylvania’s top elections official.

Though state legislatures write the laws governing how elections are conducted, secretaries of state have significant power over how elections are run, often determining how resources are distributed and what rules local officials must follow. In the course of the pandemic, secretaries of state ordered absentee ballot applications to be mailed widely in an effort to make voting safer.

As top election officials, secretaries of state could also use their power to discourage voting and erode trust. In several states, they’ll order investigations or expansive audits, potentially legitimizing bogus election claims or pressuring local election officials to conduct unnecessary recounts and hunt for fraud.

Secretaries of state and governors also play a central role in formally certifying election winners, a largely ceremonial act but one by which allies of Mr. Trump have sought to dam results. Though many legal experts say the courts would probably disagree, the prospect of a rogue governor or secretary of state refusing to certify an election could create the atmosphere for a constitutional crisis.

In Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada, Republican nominees for secretary of state (or governors who would appoint them) have indicated, or outright declared, that they might not have certified the 2020 election.

“They may tilt the counting, casting and certification of ballots, and that is absolutely harmful,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a distinguished Republican election lawyer who has been critical of efforts to undermine the electoral process. “They’ve said that they’ll check registration harder, they may reduce polling places in non-Republican friendly areas, they may put up a wide selection of barriers to voting — which can be harmful to the essential principle of each legal voter gets to vote.”

Governors who reject lies in regards to the 2020 election have halted Republican-controlled state legislatures from enacting latest laws that will restrict voting or grant partisan lawmakers greater control of election administration. Over the past two years, governors in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania vetoed nine bills that will have added restrictions to voting, in response to Voting Rights Lab.

A lot of these proposals were a part of a push for “election integrity,” responding to Republicans voters’ unfounded worries about fraud. (Despite Mr. Trump’s claims, there was no fraud within the 2020 election that will have affected the consequence, and nearly all of his allegations have been repeatedly debunked by local election officials, law enforcement and the courts.)

With an agreeable Republican governor or secretary of state, such far-reaching policies could turn out to be a reality.

Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Mr. Trump, wrote on social media that when Ms. Lake, Mr. Hamadeh and Mr. Finchem took office in Arizona, “then the actual count will occur, and the Biden Electors decertified.” He was referring to the speculation that the 2020 election can still be decertified, which has no legal basis within the Structure. Mr. Bannon added that after this happened, “Arizona shall be FREE.”

Each Ms. Lake and Mr. Finchem have made daring plans for overhauling elections within the state. They recently filed a lawsuit in search of to ban using electronic voting machines, and Mr. Finchem has previously tried to undo Arizona’s long-established and widely popular vote-by-mail system.

Should they win, they might probably find support for his or her election proposals within the Republican-controlled Legislature. One potential hurdle fell Tuesday, when Rusty Bowers, who because the Republican speaker of the House blocked probably the most extreme efforts to overturn the 2020 results, lost his primary bid for a State Senate seat.

Some Democrats are preparing to portray these candidates as dangerous extremists.

“We’re going to concentrate on a return to stability and predictability,” said Adrian Fontes, who’s leading the Democratic primary for secretary of state in Arizona, and said he would concentrate on the “wild-eyed fanaticism” of Republicans, including Mr. Finchem. “They’ve gotten themselves to this point down this rabbit hole, I don’t think they’ll see the sunshine of day.”

It’s unclear just how much leading Democrats will attempt to appeal to voters on threats to democracy in the autumn. Some top party officials imagine that while the problem may motivate committed Democratic voters, it’s unlikely to influence swing voters who’re more focused on gas prices, inflation and health care. These Democrats imagine that painting Republicans as extreme on abortion, for instance, could also be more practical than specializing in the mechanics of elections.

Still, money has poured into some races for bureaucratic posts. Fund-raising by candidates for secretary of state in six battleground states has already topped $16 million, greater than double that in the identical time period of the previous cycle, in response to the Brennan Center for Justice. The evaluation found that the fund-raising race to this point appears to barely favor candidates running against election deniers.

The following big test comes next week in Wisconsin, where Republican candidates for governor have vowed to overhaul the state’s election system in response to unfounded claims about problems in 2020. All of the foremost G.O.P. candidates within the race have pledged to eliminate the Wisconsin Elections Commission, a bipartisan agency that oversees state elections. It was created by Republicans in 2015, however the party turned on it after commissioners issued guidance that made voting easier through the pandemic.

Republicans are attempting to oust Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who for the reason that 2020 election has vetoed greater than a dozen bills advanced by the Republican-controlled Legislature to alter how Wisconsinites vote. The laws would have, amongst other things, allowed legislators to withhold money for the elections commission, made it harder for voters confined to their homes to vote remotely and prohibited private organizations from donating funds to assist with elections.

The most important debate among the many candidates running to tackle Mr. Evers, nonetheless, is essentially a symbolic one. The candidates are split on whether to pursue decertifying Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory within the state — a legal impossibility that nonetheless has turn out to be an obsession of Mr. Trump and his most devoted followers.

Mr. Trump’s preferred candidate, Tim Michels, a construction magnate, has said he’ll consider it. “Once I’m sworn in, in January, I’ll take a look at all of the evidence and every little thing shall be on the table,” he said this week. One rival, Tim Ramthun, has said he would sign decertification laws “in a nanosecond.”

Only Rebecca Kleefisch, who has sought to present herself because the candidate of the Wisconsin Republican establishment, has said she is more focused on establishing latest voting rules than revisiting the 2020 election.

“Because the governor of a state, you have to be grounded in point of fact,” she said in an interview on Tuesday in Sheboygan. “You make decisions based on data and facts, statistics and truth. And you may’t live in a land of your individual imagination.”

Jennifer Medina reported from Phoenix, Reid J. Epstein from Sheboygan, Wis., and Nick Corasaniti from Recent York.

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