These candidates who ran on democracy prepare to defend it

Arizona Governor-elect Katie Hobbs faced severe criticism in the days leading up to last month’s election.

As Hobbs campaigned against the threat to democracy posed by abstainers, Democrats privately worried that she hadn’t had enough of a presence, that her campaign was being too low-key, and that she had made a terrible decision against Republican opponent Kari Lake, a passionate, to debate a supporter of former President Trump, who said she did not confirm President Biden’s 2020 victory in the state.

But Hobbs found that her plan to characterize the race as “a choice between sanity and chaos” resonated with voters, and she went on to beat Lake by 17,000 votes.

“We had a campaign strategy and we stuck to it [focus] on it, and it was the right strategy,” Hobbs said in an interview. “So I don’t know why they were worried.”

In battleground states, candidates for offices that play key roles in electoral administration — secretary of state, governor, and attorney general — made defending the election process against opponents who had helped spread misinformation a central part of their campaigns. Now they are preparing for the next challenge: the 2024 presidential election.

After races seen by many as referendums on voter denial, the winners say voters chose them to challenge conspiracy theories and restrictive electoral laws. To strengthen their state voting systems, they are pushing for new protections for workers, a limit on efforts to block results certification, and an increase in funding for equipment and safety measures.

“I think 2020 was an election that set a precedent because the loser didn’t accept the results,” said Hobbs, who gained prominence through her defense of the 2020 presidential election, which she led as Arizona Secretary of State. “That seems like a losing strategy, but I don’t think Democrats can take that for granted. We need to focus on our campaign promises.”

As Secretary of State, Hobbs worked with Democratic state lawmakers on legislation that would have simplified mail-in ballot counting, required county officials to disclose how many uncounted ballots remained when reporting election results, and expanded early voting. Hobbs said the legislation will provide a “framework” for her administration’s agenda, though it has made no progress and will likely face a difficult road in a Republican legislature next year.

In the 2022 midterm elections, hundreds of Republican candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and congress attempted to challenge the results of the 2020 election or focused their campaigns on baseless fraud theories. Trump made a point of supporting candidates who helped spread the false claim that his last election was stolen due to widespread fraud, particularly those who would be able to administer elections in 2024. Trump launched his third presidential campaign last month.

Voters rejected many of his elections, including members of the so-called America First coalition of foreign secretary candidates led by prominent electoral denials and Trump-backed gubernatorial hopes in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Those losses have sparked a reckoning in the national Republican Party.

“The message from the public has been that they want to protect their elections,” said Lawrence Norden, executive director of election and government programs at the Brennan Center for Justice. Election officials “now have an opportunity to capitalize on this, to demand more and to play a role that says the role of election officials, regardless of political party, is to ensure free and fair elections,” he said.

Norden pointed to several areas where he believes state and federal governments could make progress ahead of the next election, including improving security for poll workers and poll officials, preventing the misuse of polling equipment and increasing funding for polling stations.

A Democracy Fund/Reed College survey of election officials released last month found that one in four election officials has faced abuse, threats or harassment.

Cisco Aguilar, the new Democratic Nevada secretary of state, defeated former Nevada state representative Jim Marchant, whose coalition of American candidates for first secretary of state included those in Michigan, Arizona, California, Colorado and Georgia. Marchant promised that if they won, Trump would be elected in 2024. All but one, Indiana Republican Diego Morales, lost.

Aguilar vowed during his campaign to support laws that would make it a crime to harass or threaten poll workers. He said he believes the bill has bipartisan support and plans to discuss it with Republican Governor-elect Joe Lombardo.

“We need to remind poll workers that they are protected and that we stand behind them,” Aguilar said in an interview. “They need to know they can do their job in a safe environment without fear.”

A handful of states have enacted laws protecting poll workers, including California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation in September allowing poll workers to sign up for address confidentiality programs to prevent their private identifying information from being maliciously released online.

In Arizona, Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes said she will work within existing state laws to hold people accountable for harassment of poll workers. Mayes, the predicted winner, defeated Republican Abe Hamadeh by just over 500 votes. The razor-thin rim triggered an automatic recount.

“Going forward, we will ensure that anyone making death threats or attempting to disrupt our elections is investigated and, if justified, prosecuted,” Mayes said.

But obstacles remain for newly elected officials hoping to protect the election process, as some local and state officials take steps that undermine trust in the system, including allowing third parties unauthorized access to voting equipment or refusing to take vote counts and Voting motions to authenticate initiatives.

Last month, officials in conservative-leaning Cochise County, Arizona, and Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, missed statutory deadlines for confirming midterm election results. After both counties faced lawsuits, they later complied.

“There’s still a lot of cause for concern, in part because there are still places where voters do not have some power,” said Rick Hasen, UCLA law professor and director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project.

Although there are several legal ways to challenge election results, county officials in Arizona and other states lack the ability to unilaterally withhold election results by blocking certification. Election experts say there is a need to clarify the limits of what state law officials can and cannot do and the consequences of non-compliance. Hasen has called for the elimination of bodies that have purely ceremonial roles in voice certification.

In Michigan, voters have approved a constitutional amendment that codifies language that requires electoral commissions to certify election results “based only on official records of votes cast.” The amendment, passed by 60% of the vote, also changed the state elections law, allowing for nine days of early voting and state-funded mail-in mailboxes.

“It really underscores that we have a mandate, elected officials in Michigan have a mandate, not just to defend democracy, but to work to protect and expand it,” said Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State, who challenged fended off Trump-backed candidate Kristina Karamo.

Michigan Democrats gained control of both houses of the legislature for the first time in 40 years. Voters also re-elected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Atty. General Dana Nettle and Benson.

Benson said she wants legislation to increase penalties for those who threaten poll workers and increase transparency in officials’ financial disclosures. She is also seeking funding from the Michigan Legislature to implement the state’s new voting procedures.

Benson and other state officials also anticipate additional federal election funding as Congress considers a total spending bill that is expected to include $400 million in election security grants. Since 2018, Congress has approved nearly $1.3 billion in election funds after years of poor funding under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which set federal standards for elections and gave states $3.2 billion in grants.

Much of the funding would go to local election officials to replace aging equipment. It would also fund the implementation of security measures like panic buttons, bulletproof glass and metal detectors – “a lot of things that election administrators never had to think about before, but which are kind of standard now given the new environment we’re in.” re in,” said Adrian Fontes, Arizona’s new Democratic secretary of state, who recently traveled to Washington to lobby Congress for the money.

One of the biggest challenges for election officials may be stopping the spread of misinformation and increasing voter confidence in the voting system. Fontes and Aguilar said they plan to tour their states to meet with local election officials and begin building relationships.

Benson said some state and local election officials have also been increasing communications to strategize and share ideas, with plans for future virtual and in-person meetings.

“What I expect is that we’re going to have a much more sophisticated, much more comprehensive and much better coordinated news strategy to proactively and reactively disseminate trusted information and really undermine efforts to misinform voters,” she said. These candidates who ran on democracy prepare to defend it

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