Secretary of state races come under red-hot focus

Republicans and Democrats are increasingly setting their sights on installing their candidates in top election posts across the country as the issue of voting rights takes center stage in Washington. 

The focus is likely to turn secretary of state races across the country into high-profile battles as both parties see the power the position has over election practices as critical.

Republicans are pushing the issue of election integrity, while Democrats are seeking to roll back voting restrictions. 

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And both parties are bringing cash to the fight.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which handles secretary of state races among other state-level contents, and its strategic policy partner, the State Government Leadership Foundation, raised a record $14.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2021, bringing the groups’ annual total to $33.3 million in the off-election year.

“National liberals are ramping up their investments in secretary of state races because they see control of these offices as a way to change the rules to compensate for their inability to win elections with their failed socialist agenda,” said RSLC communications director Andrew Romeo.

“The RSLC is focused on continuing to accelerate our fundraising efforts so we can stop them,” he added. 

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State (DASS) raked in $1 million during the first six months of 2021, a marked improvement from raising $202,000 in the first half of 2019, according to a report released on Wednesday from the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. 

“We are growing our organization to the biggest it’s ever been in terms of fundraising, in terms of staffing,” said Kim Rogers, executive director of the DASS. “We are working across the party committees and with progressive allies to ensure folks know what’s at stake in these races.” 

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The Brennan Center report also found that individual candidates running for secretary of state in various states saw a surge in fundraising. It found that fundraising for the position in Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota is already more than double what it was at this point in the 2018 and 2014 midterms. 

In Georgia, incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) raked in roughly $400,000 so far, a stark contrast to the $100,000 he raised at this point four years ago. However, his Trump-backed primary challenger Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceSecretary of state races come under red-hot focus Watchdog finds fundraising spikes for Ga., Mich., Minn. secretary of state candidates Raffensperger knocks 'double-minded' Trump-endorsed challenger MORE (R-Ga.) is outraising the entire field with more than $575,000. 

In Michigan, another pivotal state in the presidential race, incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn (D) raised $1.2 million, while her Trump-supported Republican challenger Kristina Karamo has raised more than $164,000. 

“The battleground map is similar to what you would think of as traditional swing states, but it also can expand beyond that just because of the amount of money Democrats are willing to spend on these races,” said one Republican strategist. 

The increased national focus on these races is, in large part, a result of former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE’s targeting of elected elections officials, most notably Raffensperger, over the 2020 presidential election results. 

Since then, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas have seen GOP-led audits. To be clear, the audits were the product of Republican-majority state legislatures, but the measures illustrate how much the former president’s baseless election fraud claims have infiltrated the party. 

“The ‘big lie’ is getting bigger, and it’s turning into a big threat to election officials across the nation. Secretaries of State have received countless death threats for upholding the will of the people and certifying the free and fair election in 2020,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) told The Hill. 

Additionally, Democrats argue that 2020 was proof of their strong record of keeping elections secure.

“We’re running on success,” Rogers, of the DASS, said. “You have Democratic secretaries in these key states who administered one of the safest, most secure, most accessible elections in our nation’s history and they did that all during a pandemic.”

The spotlight on the secretary of state campaigns comes as the issue of voting rights takes the national stage. On Tuesday, Biden argued for passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John LewisJohn LewisSenate Democrats eye talking filibuster NAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Schumer tees up showdown on voting rights, filibuster MORE Voting Rights Advancement Act. The measures would essentially cancel out voting restrictions passed at the state legislature level. 

Republicans and conservatives argue that Biden is overstepping his authority through making the issue of election laws a federal issue. 

“From our perspective, we have 2 million grassroots activists across the country,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of the conservative Heritage Action for America. “They’re opposed to the federal takeover.” 

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Republicans also argue that measures like voter identification and "cleaning up" voter rolls are needed to ensure secure and fair elections. 

“If the voters of Georgia or any other state vote one way that the Democratic Party doesn’t like then they have set the table for their voters to doubt the legitimacy of those elections,” said Jason Snead, the executive director of the right-leaning Honest Elections Project. 

Both sides of the debate maintain that they do not believe the secretary of state position should be partisan. 

“What I think is important is that we don’t allow the secretary of state position to be politicized in any way,” Anderson said. “It really is an enforcement of the law and managing election day operations.” 

However, that may be too late given the amount of national partisan attention and cash these incumbents and candidates have received. 

“Both parties are highly focused on winning these races,” said Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It carries this implication that they need to win this race in order to win this race that these people are going to run, and we don’t want to think that the people who are running elections are just helping their side win.”