After months of national debates over election laws, and as Congress prepares to consider the election reform “For the People” Act on its return from recess, national party organizations are turning their eyes to state-level races; specifically to the position of Secretary of State, which plays a key role in running elections. Following the controversy regarding the general election in 2020, ensuring the integrity of elections in the future has been a top priority for Republicans, while Democrats want the position in order to stop alleged voter suppression.
Five crucial battleground states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio are set to hold elections for the position next year.
And both Democratic and Republican groups have plans to spend millions of dollars on these campaigns. These states are huge political prizes in presidential elections, and each side hopes to win the offices in order to have control over the election process in 2024.
One such Democratic group is iVote, which plans to spend millions to put Democrats into the office in crucial swing states. On a donation page, the group pledges to “[fight] to elect pro-voting secretaries of state and [work] to pass Automatic Voter Registration in states across the country.” In 2018, iVote carried out a similar campaign with the goal of putting Democrats into the Secretary of State positions across the United States with remarkable success. With their help, Katie Hobbs won in Arizona, Jena Griswold won in Colorado, Jocelyn Benson won in Michigan, and Maggie Toulouse Oliver won in New Mexico. Now, the group has similar plans for 2022.
But this big funding will not go unchallenged. In several states, prominent Republicans have announced their candidacy for the office. The Republican State Leadership Committee funded several key state-level elections in 2020, and is likely to throw resources into Secretary of State elections next year.
Here are the most important Secretary of State elections to look out for in 2022.
A major battleground in 2020, Arizona’s election has remained an ongoing source of contention as the state carries out a forensic audit of the results of that election, which President Joe Biden was reported to have won. Currently, Democrat Katie Hobbs occupies the office; but Hobbs has announced a gubernatorial run in 2022, opening the gates for a wide field of opponents. The most prominent Republicans vying for the office in 2022 are state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, state Rep. Mark Finchem, and state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.
Shawnna Bolick is a current member of the Arizona House of Representatives. On the “Priorities” page of her campaign website, election issues are front and center: “Arizonans should be able to trust that their elections are conducted with integrity and transparency” and “Restoring trust in elections will be her priority goal as Secretary of State.”
During her time in the Arizona House, Bolick has sponsored several elections bills, including H.B. 2095, a bill designed to legally prohibit the delivery of early ballots to those who have not requested them, and H.B. 2362, a bill designed to ensure the privacy of citizens’ ballots.
Another current member of the Arizona House, Mark Finchem announced his candidacy for Secretary of State with similar priorities. On his campaign website, Finchem writes: “Since my very first election, I knew something was very wrong with our elections process … Then on November 3rd, 2020, the unthinkable happened: Americans witnessed real-time reallocation of votes from one candidate to another, broadcast on national television.”
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Finchem explained his positions further and highlighted some of his plans for the office. First, Finchem criticized Hobbs’ actions during the 2020 election: “Katie Hobbs … [permitted] continued registration of voters past the legislatively-set deadline for registration. They said it was because of COVID … It wasn’t just because of COVID—people had two years to get registered to vote!” Finchem also expressed concern over what he perceived as the taboo on scrutinizing the 2020 election, saying “The American people have never surrendered their right to scrutinize an election. They have consistently asked for assurances that fraud wasn’t in the system.”
When asked what distinguished him from his Republican opponents for the office, Finchem said “I’m coming to the table with solutions, not to talk about other people.” He then elaborated on what his proposed solution is. Most specifically, he said, is his creation of the Ballot Integrity Project, a “process of watermarking and ballot identification that protects anonymous nature of voting while leaving behind an audit trail.” He noted that this project has been so successful that over 30 other states have reached out to him to express interest in establishing the processes in their own state elections.
Finchem concluded: “The important thing is for people to evaluate candidates on what solutions are they bringing forth … I’m the only one that’s brought serious reasonable measures to the table to help restore voter trust in our system. My focuses are fraud-free elections, transparent processes, protection of the voters’ right to scrutinize an election, and faithfully executing the laws that the legislature has put in place.”
Finally Michelle Ugenti-Rita, an Arizona State Senator, announced her own candidacy.
Ugenti-Rita’s voting record has caused her some problems, however—especially her vote in the Senate against a Republican-sponsored bill that would have made large-scale changes to state election laws. Ugenti-Rita was booed off the stage at a Turning Point USA rally in a show of displeasure with the candidate.
Still, Ugenti-Rita took to Twitter afterward to defend her vote, saying that S.B. 1241 was “‘show’ legislation that does nothing to strengthen election integrity and [was] introduced for self serving reasons.”
The prominent forerunner for the Democrat ticket at the moment is Arizona House Minority Whip Reginald Bolding. In an interview with azcentral, Bolding said that “democracy is under attack, our election systems are under attack.” It is likely that other Democrats will announce a run as the election date inches closer.
The surprise flip of Georgia to Biden in 2020 has been especially controversial. Many Republicans doubt the election’s validity, while Democrats insist that record-level turnout, not fraud, was responsible for Biden’s razor-thin victory. Still, this flip is one that Republicans cannot afford in the future, and it is almost certain that extreme funding and advertising for the state will be near the top of Republicans’ priorities.
Brad Raffensperger is Georgia’s current Secretary of State and is seeking reelection in 2022. Like others, Raffensperger has also emphasized election issues. On a video posted to his Twitter, he said that “Making sure that only American citizens vote was my top priority when I ran for Secretary of State in 2018” and asked for a constitutional amendment to prevent illegal immigrants from voting in Georgia. After Raffensperger and President Donald Trump clashed in 2020, many Republicans have criticized him as inept. These factors make his renomination in 2022 unlikely.
Republican challenger and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) is among Raffensperger’s critics. Hice is the most likely candidate for the Republican nomination, having received Trump’s endorsement.
Featured on Hice’s campaign website platform is a goal to “renew the integrity” of elections. Hice goes on to say that the Democrats’ proposed “For the People” Act would constitute a “national takeover of elections” and “could be the end of our democracy.” He warns that if the bill should pass the Senate, it will be up to Georgia’s Secretary of State to defend the state. Hice says he is ready to do that, even if it means “facing a lawsuit from the Biden Justice Department.”
On the Democratic side of the aisle, only Bee Nguyen, a Georgia State House representative, has announced candidacy. However, given the national significance of Georgia in the 2020 election, it is likely that other Democrats will announce candidacy in the coming months.
Given its critical roles in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, Michigan will be a critical target for both parties hoping to ensure control of elections in the state.
So far, the field in Michigan is narrow.
Incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson has announced a reelection campaign and will likely be the Democratic nominee. Benson’s bio page on her office’s website says that she “is focused on ensuring elections are secure and accessible.”
The most prominent Republican challenger is Kristina Karamo, a poll watcher who spent the final weeks of 2020 challenging the state’s election results. On her campaign website, three of Karamo’s top six issues are: ensuring election integrity, that voting machines are secure, and investigating voter fraud.
The current Secretary of State of Nevada is Republican Barbara Cegavske, who has served in the office since 2015. Because of the state’s two-term limit, Cegavske will not be eligible for reelection in 2022, opening the field to other Republican and Democratic hopefuls.
So far the only announced candidate for Nevada is Republican Jim Marchant. Marchant, like other Republicans, considers voter fraud the most prominent problem to address in the office. On his campaign website, under the “About” tab, Marchant’s campaign writes that “In 2020 Jim ran for Congress for Nevada’s Congressional District 4 and was a victim of election fraud.”
Marchant was endorsed by Trump in 2020. Nevada was a key battleground state in that election, and it is likely that other Republicans and Democrats will announce their candidacy. Given its “swing state” status, Nevada will likely be a prime target for funding and advertising in 2022. The iVote group considered the state a “target state” in 2018, but failed to secure victory for Democrat Nelson Araujo.
Ohio was a key swing state in the 2016 and 2020 elections. In each, Trump won by a safe margin. But in both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the Rust Belt state went to President Barack Obama. In the 2018 midterm, iVote considered Ohio another target state, but failed to beat out Republican Frank LaRose. Now, in 2022, it is possible that they will try to flip Ohio’s Secretary of State again.
At the time of publication, LaRose is the only announced candidate. On his website, LaRose focuses equally on Ohio’s economic growth under his tenure and on Ohio’s lack of election problems. On one page the website reads “despite great challenges Ohio set an example for the nation in 2020, running its most successful election in history.”
Still, given the wide margin of Trump’s victory in 2020 (53.5 percent to Biden’s 45.2 percent), Democrats may focus their funding elsewhere.
While preparations for the 2022 elections are only just beginning to get underway, it is reasonable to expect hopefuls in other states to enter the field—especially in battleground states. Both parties will direct funding to key swing states in the hope of reinforcing their 2024 presidential nominees in these critical states. Though this position has historically gone largely unnoticed, it has taken national significance in recent months; in these and other key states, fighting for the position is poised to be more fierce than ever.