GOP seeks power over elections in Wisconsin, Minnesota

Wisconsin’s secretary of state has no role in elections, but that could change if Republicans are able to flip the seat this year and pass a law that would give the office far more responsibility.

All three GOP candidates vying for the nomination in Tuesday’s primary support the shift, echoing former President Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election.

If successful, the move would be a bold attempt to shift power to an office that Republicans hope to control going into the 2024 presidential race, and would represent a reversal from just six years ago when Republicans established the Wisconsin Election Commission with bipartisan support. In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes in the presidential election.

“This is not about politics,” said David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney who directs the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. “It’s about election results and only election results.”

Once an under-the-radar contest overshadowed by campaigns for governor and attorney general, races for secretary of state are attracting huge interest and money this year, driven largely by the 2020 election, when voting systems and processes were attacked by Trump and his supporters. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting systems in the 2020 election.

There are also primaries Tuesday in secretary of state races in Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont. In Minnesota, the leading Republican candidate has called the 2020 election “rigged” and has faced criticism for a video attacking three prominent Jewish Democrats, including current Secretary of State Steve Simon, who is seeking re-election.

Although the stakes are high, the Wisconsin secretary of state primary has been largely quiet. The incumbent, Democrat Doug La Follette, has barely campaigned. In June, the 81-year-old, who was first elected to the position in 1974, chose to take a two-week trip to Africa.

La Follette has raised about $21,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports. It is not unusual because the office’s only duties are to sit at a government log desk and verify certain travel documents.

La Follette has said he decided to run again to stop Republicans from meddling in elections, referring to Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after the 2020 election to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. La Follette’s primary opponent, Dane County Democratic Party Executive Board Chairwoman Alexia Sabor, has raised about $24,000.

The Republican candidates argue that disbanding the Election Commission and giving the secretary of state the power to oversee elections would allow voters to hold someone accountable for key election-related decisions. They have all sharply criticized decisions taken by the commission heading into the 2020 elections, as the COVID-19 pandemic posed major challenges to conducting elections.

To achieve their goal, Republicans must also defeat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who would block such a move, in November.

The leading fundraiser among GOP state candidates is state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, who has reported $94,000 in contributions. The other two Republicans are businessman Jay Schroeder and Justin Schmidtka, who hosts a political podcast. Also on the ballot is Libertarian candidate Neil Harmon.

In Minnesota, the leading Republican candidate for secretary of state, Kim Crockett, has called the 2020 election a “train wreck” and accused state election officials of using the pandemic as “cover to change how we vote, but also how the votes are counted. .”

While Crockett does not usually publicly claim that the election was stolen from Trump, she has associated herself with those who did and has campaigned at events with them.

At the state party convention in May, where Crockett was supported by convention delegates, she showed a video depicting billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros as a puppet master, pulling the strings of Simon, the current secretary of state, and prominent election lawyer Marc Elias, with a caption that said : “Let’s destroy elections forever and ever and ever.”

All three men are Jewish. The GOP state chairman soon apologized, claiming that Crockett did not intend it to be anti-Semitic. Crockett did not apologize, and a day after the chairman’s apology, he sent a fundraising letter titled “Media Speck and Communist Tears” claiming she was the victim of “contrived and false political attacks.”

In their respective primaries, Crockett and Simon face lesser-known opponents – Republican Erik van Mechelen and Democrat Steve Carlson.

Races in Connecticut and Vermont have sparked interest after two longtime Democratic secretaries of state said they would not seek re-election.

Much of the debate in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in Connecticut has centered on voter ID requirements. A Connecticut voter can sign an affidavit instead of presenting an ID, and there are several forms of ID accepted, including a bank statement or current utility bill.

Republican candidate Dominic Rapini, who is the former chairman of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc., has called for tougher ID requirements and cleaning up the state’s voter rolls. Although Rapini says he is suspicious of voter fraud in Connecticut and believes reforms are necessary, he has not repeated Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

Rapini faces state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, who has also called for tighter voter ID rules and cleaning up voter rolls.

On the Democratic side, both candidates oppose the GOP voter ID proposals. State Representative Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk, who won the party’s endorsement at the state convention this spring, meets Maritza Bond, health director for the city of New Haven.

In Vermont, the Democratic primary has drawn the most attention. For the first time since 2010, Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat, will not be on the ballot after announcing plans to retire.

All three Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s primary pledge to continue working to make elections in the state as accessible and secure as possible. Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring ballots to be mailed to all registered voters, although people can still choose to vote in person on Election Day.

The candidates are Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters, who has worked in the office for 25 years; state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, who sponsored last year’s ballot measure; and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, who has overseen elections in Vermont’s capital for the past decade.

A perennial candidate for office, H. Brooke Paige, is the lone person running in the GOP primary. He also appears on the ballot for three other state offices.

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Cassidy reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn., and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont contributed to this report.

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