Republicans who rejected and sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results lost nearly every statewide race in which they sought to take control over how elections are run, a result hailed as a significant victory for free and fair elections in the US.
Voters rejected election deniers who sought to become the top election official in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan – all key battleground states – as well as Minnesota and New Mexico. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, a state senator who has been among the most prominent spreaders of election misinformation, lost his bid to be the state’s top election official. Kari Lake, a Republican who built her campaign around election denialism, also is projected to lose her bid for governor in Arizona.
“We see the voters clearly saying trying to delegitimize democracy is not a winning strategy,” said Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who defeated Kristina Karamo, a Republican who spread baseless misinformation about the 2020 election results, to win a second term last week. “But we still have a presidential election now under two years away in which we anticipate a lot of the same challenges.”
In Michigan, Democrats defeated election deniers in the governor and attorney general’s race as well, beating back what many feared could be an election denialism trifecta in a key battleground state.
In 94 statewide races this fall, just five non-incumbent election deniers won their elections as of Monday afternoon, according to States United Action, a group that has been tracking election deniers running. Those candidates won in Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Wyoming.
Several of the candidates who lost were members of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which is led by Jim Marchant, a former Nevada lawmaker who lost his bid on Tuesday to be secretary of state. Just one member of the coalition, Diego Morales, won his bid to be secretary of state in Indiana, which is solidly Republican.
“The voters have spoken. And they spoke to something that is much deeper than the passing fad of the big lie or any other election denialism that a variety of politicians have sort of cooked up for their own, or what they perceive to be their own benefit,” said Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who is projected to beat Republican Mark Finchem, who tried to overturn the 2020 election, in Arizona’s secretary of state race.
“The American people are not gonna be swayed, regardless of their political leanings.”
The sweeping defeats came in an election cycle when there was increased attention to secretary-of-state races, long overlooked as inconsequential downballot contests, because of the enormous power the office has over how votes are cast and counted. There was deep concern that, if elected, election deniers could use the positions to undermine and potentially try and overturn the results of future elections, including the presidential contest in 2024.
“This was a threat we’d never faced before in this country. We’d never faced a threat of secretaries of state refusing to certify a result that they didn’t like. We can now say with certainty that this movement was rejected by the American people in this election,” said Trey Grayson III, a Republican who served as Kentucky’s top election official from 2004 to 2011.
“In every swing state those deniers lost elections, as well as in many other races across the country. This was a clear message that Americans believe in free and fair elections.”
In separate interviews, several Democrats who won their races shared a similar roadmap for beating back election denialism. First, they committed to telling the truth about the 2020 elections and the lack of voter fraud, betting that voters would reward them for defending the integrity of US elections.
In Michigan, Benson said a strategy was “really hammering that the choice isn’t a partisan one, but it’s one between truth versus lies. And chaos versus clarity. And that the battle is really over whether the voters will have a voice and a vote in future elections. And that impacts everything else.”
That strategy worked for Jeff Zapor, a 46-year-old counselor in South Lyon, a Detroit suburb, who voted for Benson last week. He said the secretary of state race was the most important contest on the ballot. “When you’re running on a platform of complete abject falsehoods, to me, that shows a complete lack of character. And you’re running for the exact wrong reason,” he said after he voted.
Steve Simon, Minnesota’s secretary of state, said focusing on the truth about elections was not a matter of instantly getting voters to change their minds, but rather chipping away at moving them towards convincing them they can trust the election results.
“I’m not naive and most people aren’t. I’m not saying that just by saying the truth in the face of disinformation that it will just wither and shrivel and go away,” said Simon, who defeated Kim Crockett, a Republican who said the election was “rigged”.
“Not everyone has to make a 180 [turn]. They might do a 12. They might do a 27. They might do a 38. And that’s worth something. It’s not a light switch. It’s not this choice between believing or not believing.
“But if you can, over time, say what the truth is enough so that people start to weigh that as they’re processing those other arguments.”
The winning candidates also said they focused on making threats to democracy less abstract, focusing instead on concrete issues voters care about.
“When I called my mom and said, ‘We’re gonna save democracy,’ she was like: what does that mean?” said Cisco Aguilar, a Nevada Democrat who defeated Marchant in the Nevada secretary of state’s race. “In the very beginning we had to educate the voter about the importance of the secretary of state’s race. How the secretary of state provided access to the ballot box to the kitchen table issues that the voter cared about.”
“Talking in the abstract about democracy being under attack, while that’s real and I’ve certainly done that over the last few years and will continue to do so, we really also need to talk in the specifics about what that actually means,” Benson said.
“What it means to empower folks who have been lying to voters as opposed to holding them accountable and rejecting them.”
Democrats running against election deniers also benefitted from bipartisan support, according to a post-election memo from DemocracyFirst, a Pac focused on defeating election deniers (Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, two Republicans who have been vocal about threats to democracy backed Democrats running against election deniers. And they were buoyed by a flood of money in their election bids, outraising election deniers by a three-to-one margin, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Democratic-aligned outside groups, including iVote and the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, spent millions of dollars, unprecedented money in a secretary of state’s race, that was unmatched by election deniers, the Brennan Center noted.
“It appears that election denial was a stronger asset to fundraising in the primary season than it has been in the general. Candidate strategy may have played a role in this,” Ian Vandewalker and Maya Kornberg of the Brennan Center wrote in their analysis tracking candidate spending.
They noted that Finchem and Marchant stopped running online advertisements after their primaries (Finchem started running them again in October).
Despite those victories, the threat of election denialism is unlikely to disappear from American politics any time soon. More than 170 of the 291 election deniers who ran for Congress or in statewide elections this year were elected, according to a Washington Post tally.
Trump, who has made the myth of a stolen election central to his post-presidency, is expected to launch a 2024 presidential bid for the White House on Tuesday.
“While 2022 was indeed for the voters, for democracy, we are really just in the halfway point of what is a multi-year, multi-faceted effort to delegitimize democracy in our country,” Benson said.
“We are just two-thirds of the way in,” she said. “Act II ended with a win for democracy just as Act I did. But we now have Act III, the 2024 presidential election.”