Wisconsin’s secretary of state has no role in the election, but that could change if Republicans can flip the seat this year and pass a law that would empower the office with far more responsibilities.
All three GOP candidates vying for the nomination in Tuesday’s primary are supporting the shift and repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election.
If successful, the move would be a bold attempt to shift power to an office that Republicans hope to control going into the 2024 presidential election, and would represent a reversal from just six years ago, when Republicans established the Wisconsin Board of Elections with bipartisan support. In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes in the presidential race.
“This is not about politics,” said David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney who heads the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. “It’s about the election results and only the election results.”
Once an under-the-radar contest overshadowed by campaigns for governor and attorney general, races for secretary of state are attracting huge interest and money this year, largely because of the 2020 election, when voting systems and processes came under attack by the Trump and his supporters. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of electoral systems that occurred in the 2020 election.
There are also primaries Tuesday in the Secretary of State races in Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont. In Minnesota, the leading Republican candidate has called the 2020 election “rigged” and has faced criticism for a video attacking three prominent Jewish Democrats, including the current secretary of state, Democrat Steve Simon, who is seeking re-election.
Although the stakes are high, the Wisconsin primary for secretary of state has been mostly quiet. The incumbent, Democrat Doug La Follette, has barely campaigned. In June, the 81-year-old, who was first elected to the post in 1974, opted to take a two-week trip to Africa.
La Follette has raised about $21,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. This is not unusual because the office’s only duties are to sit on a state timber board and verify certain travel documents.
La Follette said he decided to run again to prevent Republicans from meddling in the election, citing Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after the 2020 election to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. La Follette’s primary challenger, Dane County Democratic Party Executive Board Chairwoman Alexia Sabor, has raised about $24,000.
Republican candidates argue that disbanding the election commission and authorizing the secretary of state to oversee elections would allow voters to put someone in charge of major election-related decisions. All have strongly criticized the decisions taken by the commission for the 2020 elections when the COVID-19 pandemic brought major challenges to the conduct of the elections.
To achieve their goal, Republicans would also have to defeat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who would block such a move, in November.
The top fundraiser among GOP secretary of state candidates is state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, who has reported about $94,000 in contributions. The other two Republicans are businessman Jay Schroeder and Justin Schmidtka, who hosts a political podcast. Liberal candidate Neil Harmon is also on the ballot.
In Minnesota, the leading Republican candidate for secretary of state, Kim Crockett, called the 2020 election a “wreck” and accused state election officials of using the pandemic as “cover to change the way we vote, but also the way we count of votes. .”
While Crockett does not usually publicly claim that the election was stolen by Trump, she has associated with those who do and has campaigned at events with them.
At the state party convention in May, at which Crockett was endorsed by the convention delegates, she showed a video depicting billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros as a puppet, pulling the strings of Simon, the current secretary of state and prominent election lawyer Marc. Elias, with a caption that read, “Let’s ruin the election once and for all.”
All three men are Jewish. The state GOP chairman soon apologized, arguing that Crockett did not mean to be anti-Semitic. Crockett did not apologize, and a day after the president’s apology, she sent a fundraising letter titled “Media Collusions and Communist Tears” and claiming she was the victim of “fabricated and false political attacks.”
In their respective primaries, Crockett and Simon face lesser-known opponents — Republican Erik van Mechelen and Democrat Steve Carlson.
The Connecticut and Vermont races have drawn a lot of interest after two longtime Democratic secretaries of state said they would not seek re-election.
Much of the debate in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in Connecticut has centered on voter ID requirements. A Connecticut voter can sign an affidavit instead of presenting an ID, and there are many forms of ID accepted, including a bank or utility bill.
Republican candidate Dominic Rapini, who is a former board chairman of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc., has called for stricter ID requirements and a cleanup of the state’s voter rolls. While Rapini says he is suspicious of voter fraud in Connecticut and believes reforms are necessary, he has not echoed Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
Rapini faces state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, who has also called for stricter voter ID rules and cleaning up voter rolls.
On the Democratic side, both candidates oppose the GOP’s voter ID proposals. State Rep. Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk, who won the party’s endorsement at the state convention this spring, faces Marija Bond, New Haven’s city health director.
In Vermont, the Democratic primary has gotten the most attention. For the first time since 2010, Secretary of State Jim Kontos, a Democrat, will not be on the ballot after announcing plans to retire.
All three Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s primary are vowing to continue efforts to make elections in the state as accessible and safe as possible. Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring general election ballots to be mailed to all registered voters, though people can still choose to vote in person on Election Day.
The nominees are Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters, who has worked in the office for 25 years. State Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, who co-sponsored last year’s election law; and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, who has overseen elections in Vermont’s capital for the past decade.
A perennial candidate for office, H. Brooke Paige, is the only person running in the GOP primary. He also appears on the ballot for three other statewide offices.
Cassidy reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont contributed to this report.