GOP Secretary of State Candidates See Corrupt Political System

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Four Republicans seeking to overhaul the way elections are conducted by becoming state election chiefs said Saturday they are fighting a corrupt system – even pointing the finger at mysterious forces within in their party.

The candidates — Mark Finchem of Arizona, Kristina Karamo of Michigan, Jim Marchant of Nevada and Audrey Trujillo of New Mexico — appeared at a conference inside a South Florida hotel ballroom that featured several speakers that falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen by former President Donald Trump.

“Our biggest enemy is our own party,” said Marchant, a businessman and former state lawmaker who has been among the most vocal Trump supporters challenging President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Nevada. “Even though we’re Republicans, we’re kind of underdogs. We have a battle, but we’re not giving up.”

All are members of the Coalition for America’s First Secretary of State, which is calling for sweeping changes in elections. While not officially affiliated with Trump’s America First movement, it is part of a larger effort to promote conservative candidates who align with the former president’s views.

Abolishing voting machines, postal ballots and early voting are among their plans. The coalition also supports a hand count of all ballots and a polling day for all Americans, with few exceptions. They did not say whether election day should be a national holiday.

Many of their ideas are based on baseless claims that voting machines are rigged. Nearly two years after the 2020 election, no evidence has emerged to suggest widespread fraud or manipulation, and state-by-state reviews have confirmed results showing Biden won.

The four are among nearly 1 in 3 Republican candidates running for statewide office who play a role in overseeing, certifying or defending elections who have advocated overturning the results of the 2020 presidential contest, according to an Associated Press review. Press.

Election experts say candidates who challenge the results of valid elections in which there is no evidence of tampering run the risk of interfering in future elections. They warn it could cause chaos if they refuse to accept or challenge results they don’t like.

With less than nine weeks to go before the November election, the candidates took time off from campaigning in their home states to appear at the event, organized by the Secretary of State’s coalition and The America Project’s Florida affiliate. The America Project was founded by Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general and former national security adviser to Trump, and Patrick Byrne, founder of Overstock.com.

It was the latest in a nationwide effort to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election and promote conspiracy theories about voting machines and the operation of polling stations. The forums, which ran for well over a year, helped undermine confidence in the election among large sections of the Republican Party.

A few hundred people attended Saturday’s conference, which included numerous panels alleging that the election is rigged in various ways. One panel consisted of former candidates — Democrats and Republicans from across the country — who sought to challenge their election losses in their efforts to challenge elected officials in their states.

Karamo, a community college professor, gained attention after the 2020 election for claiming she saw irregularities in the handling of mail-in ballots while serving as an election observer in Detroit. He called the electoral system corrupt.

“This is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of freedom,” Karamo said. “That’s why you see people in our own party, who claim to be Republicans, trying to silence us and stop us. Even though we are the Republican candidate for this office, we have people in our own party who are trying to make us lose. Because he’s in it.”

A wide-ranging review of Michigan’s 2020 election by Republicans who control the state legislature found no systemic fraud and no issues that would have changed the results. Similar reviews in other battleground states have reached the same conclusion. Dozens of lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies have been dismissed, and even the former president’s own Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread fraud.

But the Republican nominees for secretary of state speaking Saturday spoke of a system they see as hopelessly corrupt.

Finchem said he was doing his job as a state legislator by calling a public hearing to discuss election concerns and noted how Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican in his last term, dismissed the effort: “How do you like it now, Doug?” Finchem said.

He added: “We are in a battle against a cartel.”

Finchem was at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, before Trump supporters stormed Congress and lobbied to overturn Biden’s Arizona victory, which the law provides no way to do.

False claims about the 2020 election have led to threats against election officials and workers, prompting some to leave the profession and raising concerns about the loss of experienced professionals overseeing elections in November.

Repeated false allegations of rigged elections have also eroded trust in American elections. A 2021 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that about two-thirds of Republicans say they don’t believe Biden was legitimately elected.

Trujillo, a small business owner from the central New Mexico city of Corales, said she wants state officials to follow the law when it comes to elections and increase transparency. For example, he raised concerns about the security of ballots used to return postal ballots, even though there is no evidence of widespread problems with the ballots.

He also criticized election officials for being dismissive or even condescending to voters who have doubts.

“We have questions as voters and we have to ask them,” Trujillo said in an interview after speaking as part of the panel. “We shouldn’t feel like, ‘OK, we can’t ask this because it’s taboo and we’ll look like we’re trying to challenge the election’. Because the integrity has to be there. It has to be very transparent.”

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