The new battleground races
Republicans and Democrats gear up for intense campaigns for state-level secretaries of state
U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., has what must be considered a safe seat in Congress. In both 2018 and 2020, he won Georgia’s 10th Congressional District with more than 62 percent of the vote. But in 2022, Hice is giving up his House seat to run for a different office—not senator or governor, but Georgia secretary of state.
Hice’s unusual political move highlights the emergence of the state-level secretary of state as a high-profile office in the 2022 campaign. Claims of fraud and skepticism over voting laws have dominated the post-2020 presidential election conversation, and secretaries of state are at the center of the controversy. Secretaries of state are responsible for administering elections, keeping records, and maintaining results. Both Republicans and Democrats are pouring money into what could become the most expensive secretary of state races ever as the parties jockey for an advantage going into the 2024 presidential race.
Twenty-six of the 47 prized offices—the position does not exist in Hawaii, Alaska, and Utah—that oversee state and national elections are up for grabs in 2022. Of those positions, Republicans hold 14 and Democrats 12.
The position has come under attack amid claims of election fraud in 2020. In June, Arizona’s GOP-majority legislature transferred the authority to defend election results in lawsuits from Secretary Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to the attorney general, a Republican. Arizona’s Maricopa County is well into its fourth month of a controversial forensic audit to investigate ballot fraud.
In Georgia, Hice is trying to unseat fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Hice. The key distinction between the two candidates: One fell out of favor when he certified Biden’s win in Georgia; the other claims the election was stolen. In June, Georgia’s Republican Party censured Raffensperger, saying he created ways to vote illegally. Raffensperger rejected claims of a stolen election after three audits indicated no widespread fraud. At a Jan. 4 rally, Trump promised to campaign against Georgia’s “crazy secretary of state.”
Democrats want to control secretary of state offices to stop Republican efforts to tighten voting rules. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, the chair of the Democrat Association of Secretaries of State (DASS), complains about what she calls “coordinated attacks on the right to vote and the integrity of our elections nationwide.”
Both parties’ concerns might foreshadow high turnout in 2022. Thomas Ivacko, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, says a national focus on elections raises the profile of these races: “If people think that their secretary of state looked the other way or, even worse, participated in fraud, that will be an issue that brings a lot of people to the polls.”
Republican and Democrat committees, meanwhile, have ramped up fundraising for state races. The Republican State Leadership reported in July a record $6.5 million raised in its second quarter for a vast array of races, including secretary of state. The committee said it will “enhance fundraising efforts” in the coming months. DASS has raised $2 million so far but plans for a record $15 million over the next two-year cycle, 10 times more than what it budgeted for the 2018 elections. iVote, a Democrat group focusing on secretary of state races, has also budgeted up to $15 million compared to a reported $5 million spent on races in swing states in 2018.
Ivacko said partisan divides are only increasing: “The next sets of elections here are going to be pretty tribal with people either on the Democrat or Republican sides digging into their trenches.”
This story has been updated to correct the results of the 2020 race in Georgia's 10th Congressional District.
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