Replacing the Refs

TRACKING THE TREND OF ELECTION DENIERS RUNNING FOR STATEWIDE OFFICE IN 2022

A project of States United Action

Since 2020, lies and conspiracy theories have continued to fuel efforts to undermine our free and fair elections. The anti-democracy playbook is simple: Change the rules, change the referees, in order to change the results. Politicians who continue to deny the results of the 2020 election want the power to overturn the will of American voters in the future if they don’t like the results. In 2021, legislators introduced more than 260 bills that would interfere with the nonpartisan administration of elections. Today, Election Deniers are lining up to oversee voting at all levels of the system — from top state offices to precinct-level poll workers. It’s all connected.

It’s critical to pay attention to this trend. Research suggests that hyper-partisan or poorly trained election administrators can negatively impact voter experience and affect outcomes. In 2021, some Election Deniers won their seats — and in 2022, certain candidates are running on election lies as a campaign issue and earning the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and others who promote the myth that the 2020 election was “stolen.” In fact, there is a coalition of “America First” Secretary of State candidates — a group of at least eight people running for the post this cycle — that all backed former President Trump’s efforts to undermine the will of the voters in 2020.

Incumbents from both parties who defended the legitimate results of the 2020 election are attracting Election Denier challengers or primary opponents. In some states, more than one Election Denier is slated to run in the primary.

The data below tracks Election Deniers running for office at the statewide level. In 2022, there will be contests for governors, attorneys general, and secretaries of state — the statewide officials who run, oversee, and protect our elections. We will be tracking these contests throughout the midterm cycle. As filing deadlines pass, primaries occur, and more information becomes available, we will update the tracker.

THE ELECTION DENIER LANDSCAPE

As of May 4, 2022

Governors: In 2022, 36 states have contests for Governor. As of May 4, 2022, at least 50 Election Deniers are running for Governor in 24 states.

To learn more about this trend in 2022 Governor contests, check out the dashboard here.

Attorneys General: In 2022, 30 states have contests for Attorney General. The District of Columbia will also elect an Attorney General this cycle. As of May 4, 2022, at least 15 Election Deniers are running for Attorney General in 14 states.

To learn more about this trend in 2022 Attorney General contests, check out the dashboard here.

Secretaries of State: In 2022, 27 states have contests for Secretary of State.[1], [2] As of May 4, 2022, at least 23 Election Deniers are running for Secretary of State in 18 states.

To learn more about this trend in 2022 Secretary of State contests, check out the dashboard here.

THE PRIMARIES

With primaries happening right now, we also looked at election turnout in the last midterm year to better understand the overall dynamics. 2018 was a year when voters were really tuned in. 60% turned out in the general election. And even that year, just 27% of eligible voters participated in the primaries. When voters sit these races out, they are letting a tiny sliver of the country have a huge say over who will eventually oversee our elections. To learn more about this trend check out the dashboard here.

THE RESEARCH

What we are tracking: Announced and/or filed candidates running for three statewide offices: Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State in 2022.[3]

Methodology: To qualify as an Election Denier, a candidate must meet one or more of the criteria below:

  • Falsely claimed former President Trump won the 2020 election instead of the legitimate winner, President Joe Biden.
  • Spread lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election in public fora, including in social media, press statements, and/or comments to press.
  • Called for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election after the results were certified and/or officially audited and/or stood up to multiple legal challenges.
  • Promoted conspiracies about the 2020 presidential election in public fora, including in social media, press statements, and/or comments to press.[4]
  • Took actions to undermine the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, including: filed or supported litigation seeking to overturn the results; and/or promoted/participated in a Stop the Steal sponsored/branded event or rally.

For more information about the campaign financing of Election Deniers in key states, please see this report from the Brennan Center for Justice.


[1] In 2022, Washington State has a special election for Secretary of State.

[2] In Illinois and Wisconsin, the Secretary of State signs the certificate of ascertainment but does not oversee election administration. There is a push by a number of Wisconsin candidates running in 2022 to change the duties of the office. In Alaska, the Lieutenant Governor oversees election administration. In South Carolina, the executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission administers elections.

[3] In some states, there are candidates with filings/open campaign committees that have not taken any public actions since October 2021 to indicate they are active candidates. They are not included in our tracker. If any one of these candidates take steps that indicate they are actively running this cycle, we will add them.

[4] Common conspiracies include any host of debunked claims and myths about the 2020 election. These include sharing or liking videos by Project Veritas, amplifying claims that voting machines were tampered with, Dominion Voting Systems’ machines rigging the election, dead people voted, noncitizens and/or foreign countries were involved, voter registration numbers not matching final vote counts, ballot harvesting, and other claims about “stolen elections.”