WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — Four Republicans seeking to overhaul the way elections are run by becoming their state’s election chief said Saturday they were battling a corrupt system — even pointing the finger at mysterious forces within their own 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 in the ballroom of a South Florida hotel that featured many speakers falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
“Our greatest enemy is our own party,” said Marchant, a businessman and former state lawmaker who was among Trump’s staunchest supporters challenging President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Nevada. “Even though we are Republicans, we are sort of underdogs. We have a battle, but we are not giving up.
All are members of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which calls for large-scale changes in elections. While not officially tied to Trump’s America First movement, it’s part of a larger effort to promote conservative candidates who align themselves with the former president’s views.
Eliminating voting machines, mail-in ballots and early voting are part of their plans. The coalition also supports manual counting of all ballots and a single voting 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 unsubstantiated claims that voting machines are manipulated. Nearly two years after the 2020 election, no evidence has emerged to suggest widespread fraud or manipulation, while state-by-state reviews have confirmed results showing Biden won.
The four are among nearly one in three Republican candidates vying for statewide positions that play a role in overseeing, certifying or advocating for elections that supported the nullification of election results. the 2020 presidential race, according to an Associated Press review.
Election experts say candidates who challenge the results of a valid election in which there was no evidence of wrongdoing pose a risk of interference in future elections. They warn it could trigger chaos if they refuse to accept or challenge results they don’t like.
With less than nine weeks to go until the November election, candidates took time off the campaign trail in their own state to participate in the event, hosted by the coalition secretary of state and the Florida affiliate of The America Project . The America Project was founded by Michael Flynn, 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 challenge the results of the 2020 election and promote conspiracy theories about voting machines and the operation of election offices. The forums, held for more than a year, have 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 claiming the election was being manipulated in various ways. A panel was made up of former candidates — Democrats and Republicans from across the country — who sought to challenge their electoral losses in an effort to challenge their states’ elected officials.
Karamo, a community college professor, rose to prominence after the 2020 election for claiming to have seen irregularities in the processing of mail-in ballots while she was an election observer in Detroit. She called the electoral system corrupt.
“It’s not a partisan issue. It’s a freedom issue,” Karamo said. “That’s why you see people in our own party, pretending to be Republicans, trying to silence us and stop us. “Even though we’re the Republican candidates for this office, we have people in our own party trying to make us lose. Because they’re in on it.”
A thorough review of Michigan’s 2020 election by Republicans who control the state legislature found no systemic fraud or issues that would have altered the results. Similar reviews in other battleground states have come to the same conclusion. Dozens of court cases 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.
Nonetheless, the Republican nominee secretary speaking on Saturday spoke of a system they see as hopelessly corrupt.
Finchem said he did his job as a state legislator by calling a public hearing to discuss election concerns and noted how Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican in his last term, has dismissed the effort: “How do you find me now, Doug?” Finchem said.
He added: “We are in battle against a cartel.”
Finchem was in the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, before Trump supporters attacked Congress and pushed to have Biden’s victory in Arizona taken away, which the law provides no way to do.
False claims about the 2020 election have led to death threats against election officials and workers, prompting some to leave the profession and raising concerns about the loss of experienced professionals overseeing the November elections.
Repeated false allegations of a stolen election have also eroded faith in US elections. A 2021 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that about two-thirds of Republicans say they don’t think Biden was legitimately elected.
Trujillo, a small-business owner from the central New Mexico town of Corrales, said she wants state officials to uphold the law on elections and increase transparency. For example, she raised concerns about the security of drop boxes used to return mail-in ballots, even though there is no evidence of widespread problems with drop boxes.
She also criticized election officials for being dismissive or even condescending to doubting voters.
“We have questions as voters and we should be able to ask them,” Trujillo said in an interview after speaking on the panel. “We shouldn’t be like, ‘OK, we can’t ask for 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.”