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In 5 key battlegrounds, most GOP nominees are election deniers

Former President Donald Trump gets ready to speak during a Save America rally on October 1, 2022 in Warren, Michigan.

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Nearly 6 in 10 Republican state legislature nominees in five key battleground states deny the results of the 2020 election, according to an analysis by a group tracking the races.

Of those 450 Republican nominees — including incumbents running for re-election and nonincumbents — in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Minnesota, 58% of them have echoed former President Donald Trump‘s lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him, according to research shared exclusively with NBC News by The States Project, a left-leaning group that tracked state legislative races in battleground states.

Experts warn that if enough of these election-denying nominees are elected, Republican majorities in the state houses of these crucial battlegrounds could have the power to rewrite election laws and affect future elections, including in 2024 when Trump might run again.

“When election deniers are in control, they will do whatever they can to undermine free and fair elections,” said Daniel Squadron, The States Project’s executive director.

“We know that the rules for elections and determining the winners are set through the legislative process, so what these folks do would have enormous impact” on “everything from who can register and who can vote to how the results are counted,” Squadron added.

Those five states (and many others) also feature election deniers as the Republican nominees in races for governor and secretary of state — offices that have the power to oversee, administer and certify elections. If election deniers in those races win, their ability to affect future elections could be made more robust by having cooperative election deniers in their state houses to help push legislation remaking certain election laws in those states.

“People who have such extreme views about the last election might push for changes to the voting process that would both make it harder to vote for eligible voters and make it much harder to administer elections,” said elections expert Rick Pildes, a New York University School of Law professor.

Pildes pointed to various proposals in states like Arizona and Nevada that would mandate counting ballots by hand and cut back on mail-in and absentee voting. Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican nominee for governor, suggested last weekend that she would support efforts to curtail early voting if elected.

Republican gubernatorial candidate for Arizona Kari Lake speaks to supporters during a campaign event at the Whiskey Roads Restaurant & Bar on July 31, 2022 in Tucson, Arizona.

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Since Jan. 1, 2021, lawmakers in 21 states have passed at least 42 laws that feature voting restrictions, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Twenty-four bills that interfere with election administration have already been signed into law across 17 states in 2022, with hundreds more introduced, according to the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center. Many of the most severe proposals could allow state lawmakers to more easily overturn election results, like bills in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan that would give legislators some or total control over election outcomes. Others would allow the partisan majority in a state legislature to conduct election audits or to have more power to submit their own electors (though experts like Pildes have suggested such proposals might be ultimately deemed unconstitutional).

The potential impact that state legislatures could have on elections moving forward could expand even further, depending on how the Supreme Court rules next year on a major elections-related case. The case, Moore v. Harper, primarily revolves around Republicans seeking to limit the power of state courts to review gerrymandered maps and restrictions on voting. But if the justices embrace a conservative legal theory — known as the independent state legislature theory — in their ruling, it could have the effect of granting to state legislatures the sole power to set elections rules and provisions in the states.

Trump’s supporters advocated that position during disputes over the 2020 presidential election, saying state courts had no authority to modify the rules for casting ballots by mail. Those arguments did not prevail, but at least four members of the U.S. Supreme Court found them to have some appeal.

The court is set to hear arguments in that case in December.

An election worker processes vote-by-mail ballots at the Orange County Registrar of Voters less than two weeks before midterms Election Day on October 27, 2022 in Santa Ana, California.

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How critical battlegrounds like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan run their future elections could very well determine the winner of future presidential races.

“State legislatures have a lot of discretion within the rules that federal law imposes on how to regulate the election process — and there are many reasons, based on [what] some of the candidates in these states have said, to worry about how that discretion may be used,” Pildes said.

“These are critical presidential swing states, where razor-thin margins determine winners,” Squadron added.

In its analysis, The States Project, a Democratic group that focuses on winning state elections, defined an election denier as a nominee who questioned or denied the results of the 2020 election. In making its determinations, the group reviewed the public comments, social media posts and policy pledges by every Republican state legislative nominee in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

The group’s analysis found that election deniers were most prevalent in Arizona state legislative races, where they made up 87% of all Republican nominees in those races. 

Among them are state Sen. Wendy Rogers and state Rep. Jake Hoffman, who have called for their state’s 2020 elections results to be decertified, and state Senate candidate Justine Wadsack, who has expressed support for QAnon-pushed conspiracy theories.

Hoffman was also among a handful of so-called fake electors in the state who signed documents asserting they were their state’s rightful electors and that Trump — not Joe Biden — had won the state.

Supporters of former US President Donald Trump outside Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In both Pennsylvania and Michigan, 62% of all Republican state legislative nominees in each state were election deniers, the group found.

That included at least eight Michigan state Senate candidates or incumbents who’d signed various letters or briefs that had sought to overturn the 2020 results in the state or delay the certification of the results.

In Minnesota, 42% of all Republican nominees in state legislative races were election deniers, while in Nevada, 31% were. That included several incumbents and candidates in Minnesota who’d who had questioned or challenged the results of the 2020 election.

“We have good reason to worry about the integrity of the [electoral] process at every level and a primary concern among those worries is what state legislatures might do,” Pildes said.

Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.

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