Special Report – Backers of Trump’s false fraud claims seek to control next elections

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By Tim Reid, Nathan Layne and Jason Lange

(Reuters) – One starring campaigner seeking to go Georgia’s chief elections official, Republican Jody Hice, is simply a Congressman who voted to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 statesmanlike triumph successful the hours aft the Jan. 6 riots astatine the U.S. Capitol. Hice had posted connected societal media earlier that day: “This is our 1776 moment,” referencing the American Revolution.

In Arizona, the contenders for the elections-chief office, caput of state, see Republican authorities lawmaker Mark Finchem, who attended the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally earlier the deadly insurrection and spoke astatine a akin gathering the erstwhile day. In Nevada, 1 beardown Republican campaigner for elections chief is Jim Marchant, who unsuccessfully sued to person his ain decision successful a 2020 legislature contention reversed based connected unfounded voter-fraud claims.

The 3 candidates are portion of a wider radical of Republican secretary-of-state contenders successful America’s plaything states who person embraced erstwhile President Donald Trump’s mendacious claims that helium mislaid a “rigged” election. Their candidacies person alarmed Democrats and voting-rights groups, who fearfulness that the politicians who tried hardest to undermine Americans’ religion in elections last twelvemonth whitethorn soon beryllium the ones moving them – oregon deciding them, successful aboriginal contested votes.

Jena Griswold, seat of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and Colorado’s top elections official, said the secretary-of-state races bespeak a overmuch broader exploitation of phony voter-fraud claims by Republicans seeking each levels of elected office.

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

Secretary-of-state candidates look primary elections next outpouring and summertime and general elections on Nov. 8, 2022, on with the midterm legislature contests.

Reuters interviewed 9 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for caput of authorities successful 5 battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada — and reviewed nationalist statements by each of the candidates. Ten of the 15 person either declared that the 2020 predetermination was stolen oregon called for their state’s results to beryllium invalidated oregon further investigated.

Only 2 of the 9 candidates Reuters interviewed said that Biden won the election.

The radical of 15 includes Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia caput of authorities and the lone incumbent Republican successful the 5 battleground states who is seeking re-election. Raffensperger has consistently rejected Trump’s stolen-election allegations successful the look of aggravated unit from galore chap Republicans to overturn Biden’s triumph successful the state.

Nearly each of the Republican contenders person stressed a request to curb mail-in voting, to bounds ballot driblet boxes and to instrumentality different steps to curtail ballot access. A bulk said they backed a Republican propulsion for much audits oregon different investigations of the 2020 vote, contempt dozens of audits, recounts and tribunal rulings that confirmed Biden’s victory.

Shawnna Bolick – an Arizona authorities typical and a Republican contender for state elections chief – has gone a measurement further. She projected a instrumentality empowering the Arizona legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, to overrule the caput of state’s certification of fashionable ballot results. That telephone for a drastic alteration successful however America chooses presidents comes aft Trump’s unsuccessful effort to get Republicans successful states helium mislaid to nonstop electors for him alternatively of Biden to Congress. (See graphic https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/ELECTORAL-COLLEGE/qzjpqaeqapx/media-embed.html connected however the U.S. Electoral College works.)

Bolick said she intended to marque certification “more democratic” and that her measure did not let lawmakers to prime a winner.

Boris Epshteyn, a erstwhile peculiar adjunct to Trump, said the enactment is focused connected secretary-of-state elections. So is Trump, who has endorsed candidates successful 3 states: Hice successful Georgia; Finchem successful Arizona; and Kristina Karamo, a Michigan pedagogue helium praised for parroting his mendacious claims of winning that state.

“It’s captious they person the close ideals,” Epshteyn said of Republican secretary-of-state candidates. “That includes, archetypal and foremost, getting to the bottommost of the 2020 predetermination arsenic good arsenic making definite wide elector fraud doesn’t hap going forward.”

It’s highly antithetic for a erstwhile U.S. president to endorse secretary-of-state candidates. “President Trump is arrogant to endorse candidates who combat for predetermination integrity,” said Liz Harrington, a Trump spokeswoman.

Democrats and nonpartisan predetermination experts accidental it appears that Trump allies – having been foiled successful their effort to reverse Biden’s triumph – are present trying to marque it easier to overturn aboriginal results.

Republican State Leadership Committee spokesperson Andrew Romeo said his enactment acknowledges that Biden bushed Trump successful the 2020 predetermination but that it proudly supports candidates focused connected making it “easier to ballot and harder to cheat for each Americans.”

The Republican secretary-of-state candidates are portion of a overmuch larger enactment effort to exert more control over predetermination medication pursuing Trump’s mendacious fraud claims. At slightest 18 Republican-led states person passed voting restrictions they accidental are intended to guarantee predetermination integrity. Democrats reason specified measures are intended to suppress voting due to the fact that Republicans fare amended successful low-turnout elections.

Georgia and Arizona person enactment greater powerfulness over elections in the hands of Republican-controlled authorities legislatures. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, Republican lawmakers are pursuing partisan audits https://www.reuters.com/world/us/pennsylvania-republicans-kick-start-2020-election-review-with-hearing-2021-09-09 of the 2020 vote. The long-delayed results of the audit successful Maricopa County, Arizona – launched 5 months agone – are scheduled for merchandise connected Friday.

The mendacious voter-fraud claims by Trump and his allies person inspired hundreds of threats of hanging, firing squads, bombs and different unit against predetermination officials and their families, Reuters has reported this year. A Reuters probe https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-threats-law-enforcement this period revealed that U.S. instrumentality enforcement has held astir nary 1 accountable for the barrage of threats https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-trump-georgia-threats and intimidation of predetermination administrators.

CAMPAIGN DONATIONS POUR IN

Secretaries of authorities oversee elections in astir U.S. states and person important powerfulness implicit however votes are cast, counted and certified. They typically o.k. ballot tallies successful idiosyncratic counties and the wide statesmanlike results.

In mean times, astir voters mightiness conflict to sanction their caput of authorities oregon item their election-oversight duties. But these once-overlooked races are drafting acold much attraction and wealth this twelvemonth from some parties, according to interviews with enactment officials and a Reuters reappraisal of governmental fundraising records.

Campaign concern reports from Georgia and Michigan amusement donors from some parties piling aggressively into their races aboriginal successful the cycle. Georgia candidates raised $1.8 cardinal betwixt February and June – astir 4 times what was raised successful the aforesaid play of 2017 up of the past Georgia secretary-of-state predetermination successful 2018, according to run concern disclosures.

In Georgia, Trump allies are anxious to unseat incumbent Republican Raffensperger aft helium rebuffed Trump’s petition to “find” conscionable capable votes https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-idUSKBN2980MG to reverse Trump’s Georgia loss.

David Becker, an predetermination adept and erstwhile Justice Department voting-rights attorney, said Raffensperger and different secretaries of authorities past twelvemonth formed a bulwark to support ideology nether utmost unit from Trump and his allies. The imaginable of those allies running elections, helium said, “should chill each of us.”

“If 1 of these con artists became Secretary of State, and President Trump tried to marque the telephone helium made to Secretary Raffensperger – to idiosyncratic with little integrity, who denies ideology – what happens if that idiosyncratic takes that call?”

This year, 1 salient donor to pro-Trump secretary-of-state candidates is the Presidential Coalition, a blimpish radical founded by David Bossie, a erstwhile Trump lawman run manager who was initially tapped successful November to pb Trump’s failed post-election tribunal challenges earlier investigating affirmative for COVID-19. The conjugation gave Hice $7,000 successful June, run fiscal disclosures show. Bossie said successful an interrogation that the conjugation is looking astatine backing Finchem successful Arizona and different secretary-of-state candidates successful Nevada, Michigan and “many different states.”

Democrats accidental they are conscionable arsenic energized to triumph secretary-of-state races. The party’s fundraising limb for those campaigns, chaired by Griswold, has raised $1.1 cardinal successful the archetypal six months of 2021, according to filings with the U.S. Treasury Department. Griswold said they purpose to rise astatine slightest $10 cardinal earlier the election.

TRUMP ENDORSEMENTS

In Arizona, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is moving for governor, leaving her spot an unfastened race. She won by a azygous percent constituent successful 2018, and some parties expect different highly adjacent contention adjacent year.

Trump past week endorsed Finchem for Arizona caput of state, praising his “powerful stance connected the monolithic Voter Fraud.” The authorities lawmaker is present seen arsenic a favourite successful the Republican primary. Finchem declined an interrogation request.

In summation 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 arsenic a savior fig and elite Democrats arsenic a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles and cannibals.

Finchem was a featured talker astatine the Jan. 5 “pre-rally” successful Washington, a warm-up for the bigger gathering astatine which Trump himself spoke. “When you bargain something, that’s not truly a win; that’s a fraud,” Finchem said. Addressing members of Congress, helium said: “This ain’t going away.”

One of his competitors for the Republican information is Bolick, the lawmaker who introduced the measure to let the legislature to revoke the caput of state’s predetermination certification. The measure died successful committee.

In an interview, Bolick tried to gully a favoritism betwixt herself and Finchem, saying she was “not portion of ‘Stop the Steal.’”

But similar Finchem, Bolick signed onto a solution successful December urging Congress to grant Arizona’s Electoral College votes to Trump, contempt his nonaccomplishment to Biden by much than 10,000 votes.

In Nevada, Marchant said helium expects to get Trump’s endorsement. Trump endorsed Marchant erstwhile helium ran unsuccessfully past twelvemonth for Congress. If elected caput of state, Marchant said, helium would question to extremity each aboriginal voting and prohibition the usage of voting machines temporarily portion the devices are examined for grounds of election-rigging.

Marchant could not supply grounds of fraud successful Nevada erstwhile asked for it successful an interview.

In Wisconsin, businessman and caput of authorities campaigner Jay Schroeder is considered the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He said successful an interrogation that “there is tons of tenable doubt” arsenic to whether Biden won the election.

The caput of authorities successful Wisconsin, dissimilar astir different states, does not oversee elections. Schroeder is campaigning to alteration that: He advocates for stripping predetermination oversight powerfulness from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission and giving it backmost to the caput of state, which controlled elections until a decennary ago.

If helium gets his way, helium said, helium would get pugnacious with counties that don’t travel the law: “I would telephone for an audit, and if the region refused that, I would not certify their results.”

GEORGIA RACES TO TEST TRUMP’S CLOUT

Georgia is shaping up to beryllium a cardinal 2022 battleground, with competitory Senate, politician and secretary-of-state races adjacent year. These elections will beryllium a large trial of whether Republicans who crossed Trump tin past primaries – and whether those who backed his election-fraud falsehoods tin triumph general elections against Democrats.

With Trump’s support, Hice is seen arsenic the frontrunner successful Georgia’s Republican nominating contest. Hice has raised $580,000 betwixt February and June, much than doubling Raffensperger’s haul of $249,000, according to run concern disclosures.

Hice has been among the astir strident backers of Trump’s baseless stolen-election claims. In the hours aft the Jan. 6 riots, Hice was among 147 Republican members of Congress https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-lawmakers-special-report/special-report-stolen-election-republican-lawmakers-paralyzed-by-trumps-false-fraud-claims-idUSKBN2A41CP who voted against certifying Biden’s predetermination triumph successful astatine slightest 1 of 2 states that came up for a vote.

Hice did not respond to requests for remark connected his candidacy, his voter-fraud allegations, oregon his “1776” social-media station connected Jan. 6, which was deleted aft Trump supporters breached the Capitol.

Bossie’s radical supported Raffensperger successful 2018 but present condemns his nonaccomplishment “to combat for what the overwhelming fig of Republican voters successful Georgia were demanding, which was ballot integrity,” Bossie said. “2020 was a full disgrace.”

Multiple recounts and audits person confirmed Biden won Georgia by astir 12,000 votes. Raffensperger has repeatedly described the November predetermination arsenic unafraid and told Reuters successful a caller interrogation that Trump’s surrogates don’t person the facts to enactment their allegations.

Since the vote, Raffensperger and his household person been inundated with threats of violence, causing them to spell into hiding astatine 1 constituent and to instrumentality different precautions, including starting their car remotely to defender against bombs, the Reuters investigations revealed.

Hice’s candidacy is not without hazard for Republicans. His vocal enactment of Trump’s mendacious voter-fraud allegations could thrust distant immoderate moderates and independents successful a wide election, governmental consultants said.

Another Republican contender successful Georgia is David Belle Isle, who mislaid a runoff to Raffensperger successful 2018 and is moving again adjacent year.

Belle Isle acknowledged helium had nary “smoking gun” to beryllium wide fraud. But helium said helium believes Biden should not person been declared the victor due to the fact that excessively fewer absentee ballots were rejected contempt their imaginable for fraud.

Raffensperger, helium said, “certified the incorrect result.”

(Reporting by Tim Reid, Nathan Layne and Jason Lange; further reporting by Linda So; editing by Soyoung Kim and Brian Thevenot)

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