Although traditionally behind the scenes, the heroes of the 2020 election were, without question, my fellow secretaries of state.
President Trump spent months insisting the election was rigged by Democrats. His allies in the states sought to block absentee voting, mail ballots, ballot drop boxes and other tools designed to make voting easier and safer during a global pandemic — all while his lawyers filed dozens of lawsuits to make it more difficult to vote, an intensification of the GOP’s legacy of voter suppression tactics. And they spent the days, weeks and months following November 3 trying to steal the election that Trump had lost — with lawsuits, conspiracy theories and attempts to strong-arm state and local officials, all culminating in his supporters’ deadly storming of the Capitol on January 6.
Throughout it all, Democratic secretaries of state stood strong in the face of these attacks. Despite constant denigration from Trump campaign officials and allies, as well as the President himself, we did not back down. Instead, we stayed focused on ensuring integrity and accuracy in counting ballots, as well as making sure every eligible American could vote safely and securely during the pandemic. Our due diligence resulted in the 2020 election ultimately being the most secure election in our nation’s history.
And yet, well into President Biden’s administration, the battle is still not over. Republicans have introduced an entirely unprecedented number of bills — more than 400 in 47 states — to try to suppress the vote. In Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Arkansas and Montana, bills limiting voting periods and imposing new ID restrictions have already become law, and bills in Ohio and Texas are all but certain to pass as well.
In Arizona, the state Republican Party has ordered an audit — led by a partisan firm with absolutely no election experience — of the 2.1 million votes cast last year in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Georgia’s Fulton County appears to be following suit, with an audit there set to move forward after a judge ruled that absentee ballots could be unsealed for parties looking to examine them for evidence of fraud.
And now, the same Trump cronies who have been pushing the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen are running to be states’ top election officials as secretaries of state in several key battleground states.
This includes Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, one of Trump’s key backers on this issue, who voted against certifying the 2020 Electoral College results and who has repeatedly claimed the elections in Georgia were rife with “fraud” and that ballots were sent to “illegal voters”; Arizona State Representative Mark Finchem, a top proponent of the ongoing sham audit in Arizona and a “Stop the Steal” organizer; Nevada’s Jim Marchant, who baselessly alleged voter fraud in his own five-point congressional loss last year and sued to have it overturned; and Michigan’s Kristina Karamo, who spent weeks challenging the election results in the state, testifying before a legislative committee about “irregularities” and taking part in various lawsuits trying to reverse the count.
Make no mistake: these conspiracy theorists want these secretary of state positions to try to bend democracy to their will. This is nothing more than an ongoing, coordinated effort to suppress voters and grab power. It’s undemocratic, un-American and just wrong. We cannot let this become our standard for elected officials.
We are 503 days out from the 2022 elections. While that seems far away, electing Democratic secretaries of state must be a priority if we are to continue protecting our democracy from relentless attacks.
In every state, we need to elect secretaries of state who believe in democracy and who believe every eligible American should be able to choose their elected leaders at the ballot box. That is how we protect our democracy. We cannot elect officials as chief election officers who spread lies in order to pass voter suppression laws to help their political allies.
We, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, is fighting against these voter suppression bills, making our election systems more secure and accessible and ensuring all voters can have their say at the ballot box. We are working day in and day out to push back against election lies and to stop these conspiracy theorists from achieving higher office and dismantling democracy from the inside.
Voters need to pay close attention to secretary of state races, and elect leaders who will defeat these attacks and ensure every American can cast their ballot freely and fairly, regardless of where they live, the color of their skin or amount of money in their bank account. Democracy will be on the ballot in 2022.
Jena Griswold is the Colorado Secretary of State and Chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State (DASS).