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Election deniers are seeking to become their state's top election official

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Democracy is on the ballot. That assertion has been a common refrain this election cycle, and that is because across the country, Republicans who falsely argue the 2020 election was not legitimate are running for positions that affect how ballots are cast and counted.

NPR's Miles Parks is tracking these races all over the country. He's in the studio now. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I want to ask about the scale of this. How many Republicans are running for positions that are involved in the voting process even as they deny or question the 2020 election?

PARKS: It really is everywhere. The majority of Republicans who are running for congressional or statewide races this year, on the ballot this year, either question or deny the results of the 2020 election.

KELLY: The majority.

PARKS: The majority...

KELLY: OK.

PARKS: ...According to a recent Washington Post analysis. I've been most focused on tracking the secretary of state races because those races, in most states, oversee voting, oversee the election. In some states like Wyoming, there will be an election denier secretary of state after this election because they're running unopposed. But in a number of other swing states, voters will have a choice basically between a candidate who's peddling misinformation and one who isn't.

KELLY: OK. Let's zoom in on a few of the more interesting races. Arizona - what's happening there?

PARKS: So really, you can argue that Arizona has been the epicenter in a lot of ways of the lies around the 2020 election. We saw right after that election Sharpiegate, which is a very popular conspiracy theory. 2021, we saw the Cyber Ninjas' failed or questionable audit in that election. And then now, Arizona has election deniers running up and down the ballot.

In the secretary of state race, a man named Mark Finchem is the Republican nominee. He's a member of the extremist group the Oath Keepers. And he was actually at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 when rioters stormed, though he said he did not go inside the building. I asked him earlier this year whether he still thought the 2020 election was stolen.

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MARK FINCHEM: I would say that it's irredeemably compromised. And I suppose that would lead somebody to the conclusion that it was "stolen," in air quotes.

PARKS: Now, he has not provided any evidence for that claim, but he has also been a supporter of people themselves going to monitor polling places and ballot drop boxes, which has been really controversial. He's running against Democrat Adrian Fontes, who used to administer elections in Maricopa County, Ariz.

KELLY: Giving Arizona a run for its money as another epicenter of election denial is Michigan. What is going on there, particularly with down-ballot races?

PARKS: Yeah. So here again, we have another slate full of election deniers. The Republican secretary of state there - candidate there, Kristina Karamo, rose to prominence by falsely claiming she saw election fraud in 2020. She spread a lot of other conspiracies as well. She hosted a podcast episode, for instance, shortly after January 6 where she spread the conspiracy that it wasn't actually Trump supporters in the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRISTINA KARAMO: Based on the series of evidence and knowing how these situations work, how these anarchists operate, I believe this is completely Antifa posing as Trump supporters.

PARKS: She's running against the current secretary of state of Michigan, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

KELLY: You are also watching Nevada. What do we need to know?

PARKS: Yeah, Nevada sometimes feels like the under-the-radar election denial state, but polls show the election denier running there, Jim Marchant, has a real chance at winning here. He claims without evidence that he lost his election in 2020, and he wants to eliminate most forms of early voting in the state. He's also led a charge in the state to go back to hand-counting ballots, even though research has shown time and time again that that is a more expensive and, more importantly, less accurate way to count votes. He's running against Democrat Cisco Aguilar, who does have a fundraising lead there, but I should say Jim Marchant has the endorsement of former President Trump, which can really matter in these down-ballot races considering we know midterms usually have lower turnout than general elections.

KELLY: Thank you, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Miles Parks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.