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After beating election deniers, bipartisan group of secretaries of state talk democracy

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(WASHINGTON) — With some races still outstanding, the 2022 midterm elections proved to be a particular blow to the Republican secretary of state candidates who supported former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 contest was stolen.

At a joint news conference on Monday, a panel of bipartisan secretaries of state or secretaries-elect from some of the most contested battlegrounds where Trump tried to overturn his 2020 defeat — including Arizona, Georgia and Michigan — said the squashing of election deniers last week was a signal that Americans were also rejecting evidence-free claims of election-rigging.

Supporters of 2020 election denialism — which was investigated and rejected by the courts and local officials of both parties across the country — have so far won races for secretary of state in Alabama, Indiana and Wyoming. Such offices are often the top election administrators in a given state.

Other such candidates lost in 10 states, according to counts from States United Action, a nonpartisan group that closely tracked election-denying nominees throughout the 2022 election cycle.

“I believe that most people are good … That’s what we just saw. The good people raised up, they got out, they voted and what they voted for — they voted for normalcy,” Georgia Secretary Brad Raffensperger said at the event, organized by States United Action.

Raffensperger, a Republican, on Tuesday won a second term in office. He had gained a national profile after the 2020 election, when Trump asked him to “find” enough votes to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia and Raffensperger refused, later facing a Trump-endorsed challenger in his primary and testifying at the House Jan. 6 hearings.

At the news conference, Raffensperger said that in light of the midterm election results, the public “voted for people who are going to do their job, and we’re going to stand for the rule of law. They’re gonna stand for the Constitution. And so that’s where we are right now. And we continue to press on to make sure we have honest, fair elections.”

In races that have been called so far, 14 election deniers have won a statewide role in election administration in 10 states, States United Action found, while 28 election deniers have lost 26 races for a statewide role in election administration in 20 states.

According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis, 60% of Americans had a candidate on the ballot last week who had either fully denied or raised questions about the legitimacy of the last presidential election.

“We’ve got to maintain [fair elections] and we’ve got a bit of a struggle ahead. But I think we got to follow what the voters have said,” Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State-elect Adrian Fontes said.

He narrowly defeated Republican Mark Finchem, who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but said he didn’t go inside.

“They’ve led us to a place where I think we can see the light of day at the end of the tunnel and get past all of this,” Fontes said. “And hopefully I’ll be a key player on this team to push things forward.”

Beyond the secretary of state races, some of the other most prominent election-denying candidates also lost on Tuesday, including Doug Mastriano for governor in Pennsylvania. If elected, he would have been able to appoint the secretary of state.

Along with Finchem in Arizona, Trump-backed Jim Marchant in Nevada and Kristina Karamo of Michigan also lost.

“I think what we’ve heard from voters, especially in Nevada, is they’re looking for somebody who’s gonna be honest with them, who’s going to eliminate the chaos in our voting system,” the state’s Democratic Secretary of State-elect Cisco Aguilar, who won by two points over Marchant, said Monday.

“Nevada is a major battleground state and the [2024] election for president is going to be a big one. And we’re going to be ready and we’re going to do it with great pride,” Aguilar said.

States United Action estimates that 31% of the population, living in 16 states, will now have an election denier as their governor, attorney general or secretary of state, with some oversight power over local elections.

The secretaries of state and secretaries-elect on Monday said they would continue to work against baseless doubt in the election process, including by introducing legislation to make it a felony to harass election workers and volunteers, among other measures.

“What the 2020 election showed was that democracy can prevail against an unprecedented effort to overturn the election results of a fair and free and accurate election,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who was reelected to a second term on Tuesday.

“What 2022 demonstrated is that when we need accountability for those who are trying to undermine democracy at the ballot box, the voters are ready to exact that accountability — rejecting election deniers, rejecting an effort to replace the referees, those who would only call balls and strikes that further their own team’s advantage, by simply ensuring that we have professionals in these roles as secretaries of state,” Benson said.

But, she said, “In my view, we are really just now two-thirds of the way. Act two ended with a success for democracy just as act one did, but we now have act three: the 2024 presidential election.”

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