Election deniers who lost secretary of state races now run several state GOP operations
Republican Kristina Karamo campaigns in Lansing, Michigan, on Aug. 27, 2022. Karamo, an activist who rose to prominence for her efforts to overturn Michigan’s 2020 presidential results, was recently elected chair of the Michigan GOP at the party’s convention. (Allison R. Donahue/Michigan Advance)
Many of the election deniers who ran last year for positions that would have given them control over state elections systems lost their races. But several have found a new path to exert influence: as chair of their state Republican Party.
On Saturday, Kristina Karamo, an activist who rose to prominence for her efforts to overturn Michigan’s 2020 presidential results, was elected chair of the Michigan GOP at the party’s convention.
A week earlier, Mike Brown, a former county commissioner who has stoked fears that the 2020 election was stolen, won the same job at Kansas’ convention.
And in July, Idaho Republicans chose Dorothy Moon, a former state legislator who has said there was a “big problem” with the 2020 vote and made unfounded claims about illegal voting, as their leader.
Meanwhile, Tina Peters announced last week that she’s running for state GOP chair in Colorado. A former county election clerk, Peters is facing felony charges in connection with an alleged scheme to breach secure voting equipment in order to show that her state’s 2020 vote was rigged.
All four Republicans ran unsuccessfully last year for secretary of state, which would have made them their state’s chief election official. Karamo won the Republican nomination, then was defeated in the general election by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. Brown, Moon, and Peters all lost in the GOP primaries.
Spokespeople for the Kansas and Idaho Republican parties said the chair position is unsalaried. The Michigan party did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
A new platform
The emerging trend of election deniers running for secretary of state before going on to lead their state party gives deniers yet another platform from which to exert influence, by stoking unfounded fears about election systems and pushing for restrictive voting policies.
Already, hundreds of deniers are in office across the country. A Brookings Institution study found that 226 out of 345 candidates who ran for congressional, state legislative, or statewide positions — 66% — won their races. And, as States Newsroom recently reported, at least five states have deniers running their election systems as secretary of state.
“State party chairs have tremendous power in our two-party system: to appoint poll workers and poll watchers, to influence who makes it on the ballot,” said Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who co-authored the study of election-denier candidates. “They can direct funding and support to these individuals. They shape the national Republican Party platform and operation. State parties have a lot of power and that means state party chairs have a lot of power.”
That could offer a valuable boost to former President Donald Trump in these states — though none of the three chairs has yet endorsed a GOP presidential candidate.
The trend also highlights how, despite some high-profile defeats last year, denialism and extremism maintain a hold on many rank-and-file Republican activists and voters.
Karamo has said the January 6, 2021, insurrection was a false-flag operation. “I believe this is completely Antifa posing as Trump supporters,” she said the following day, referring to left-wing anti-fascist activists.
And she never conceded her 14-point loss to Benson in November. “Why would I concede to a fraudulent process?” she asked, according to the Detroit Free Press. In winning the party chair post, Karamo defeated another election denier, Matthew DePerno, who lost his race last year for attorney general.
As a legislator, Moon worked to tighten Idaho’s voting rules, introducing a bill that would have banned the use of student IDs to vote, eliminated the use of affidavits for voters without proper ID, and ended same-day voter registration.
Arguing for the measure, which ultimately did not pass, Moon spread stories about people crossing into Idaho from Canada to vote illegally. The secretary of state’s office said that wasn’t happening.
Campaigning last year for secretary of state, Brown raised unfounded fears about the security of Kansas’ elections and questioned the 2020 presidential results. After the incumbent secretary of state, Scott Schwab, said there were no major problems with the state’s voting, The Associated Press reported, Brown responded: “Because he said so? Or because he can prove it?”
“His answer is, ‘There is nothing to see here, keep moving,’” Brown added. “You should start looking and you should stop moving.”
Eisen warned that, despite the losses last year by several prominent election deniers, the ascension of deniers to state chair posts underscores the threat that the ideology continues to pose.
“When you combine that with the fact that election deniers have taken control in other places, it represents a clear and present danger,” Eisen said. “We must celebrate the successes we had, but keep our guard up, remain at high alert, and redouble efforts to prevent this election denial philosophy from destroying American democracy.”