Election deniers are winning primary races, raising the stakes for November’s midterms

Candidates who continue to falsely claim the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent are winning Republican primary races in critical battleground states. Their victories have raised the stakes for the November midterms with the possibility that some of them could be granted the power to oversee future elections. Amy Gardner of The Washington Post joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This midterm election cycle, candidates are vying for state offices that are responsible for running and certifying elections. Several among these candidates continue to deny the results of the 2020 election.

    Amna Nawaz has more on what's at stake.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    Election deniers are winning Republican primary races in critical battleground states. Their victories have raised the stakes for the November midterms, as the power to oversee elections could be granted to the same people who falsely claim the last one was fraudulent.

    Following all of this closely is Amy Gardner of The Washington Post, who joins me here.

    Amy, welcome back. Thanks for being here.

  • Amy Gardner, The Washington Post:

    Glad to be here. Thanks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So you did a deep dive into a number of things. One I want to ask you about first is looking specifically at six states that were key to the 2020 election. Those states were Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

    And you looked specifically at the Republican nominees for certain offices, people who repeated that 2020 election lie, people you call election deniers, right? Which offices did you zero in on, and why? And how prevalent was that lie among those Republican nominees?

  • Amy Gardner:

    We wanted to look at the offices that have say-so over election administration and election certification.

    And so we looked at statewide offices that have those powers. It's governors in every state who certify the electors. It's secretaries of state in many states. And also lieutenant governors and attorneys general in some states have powers that are important to the election process, and federal office, Congress. So that's what we looked at.

    And the significance of those six states is that those are the six states that Donald Trump contested in 2020. And they are also the six states that decided the 2020 outcome for Biden. Biden won all six of those states. And if you look at the results of our survey of these offices, you can see, in just three of those six states Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, election deniers won who say that they would not have certified the result in 2020.

    And so those three states add up to enough electoral votes — or did in 2020 — to have denied Joe Biden 270 votes. So that just tells you what's at stake here if these folks win their general elections in November and we have a contested election in 2024.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I think you said, overall, in those six days, it was an overwhelming majority of those Republican nominees, right, had…

  • Amy Gardner:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … repeated that lie to some degree.

    But you mentioned some of these folks. And one of them we will mention, for example, like the Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate there, Kari Lake, who has said, look, if I were in office in 2020, I would not have certified the results…

  • Amy Gardner:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … despite the fact that Joe Biden won Arizona.

  • Amy Gardner:

    She's actually said that those who did certify the result in Arizona should be in prison.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, what do experts you talk to say about this?

    I mean, assuming if she wins, if the same were things were to happen in 2024, what did experts say about guardrails? What prevents someone like Kari Lake from basically disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters?

  • Amy Gardner:

    We don't know.

    What constitutional scholars and election lawyers told me as I worked on this story is that, certainly, Democrats and voting rights experts or advocacy groups would sue immediately if someone like Kari Lake declined to certify a popular result in her state.

    But would every judge in this country of uphold that norm? Norms are only norms until they're broken. And a lot of these experts I spoke to say they're really, really alarmed at the prospect of certainly fewer guardrails being in place in 2024 than were in 2020. And look at the chaos that we had then.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, and when you look at what people are supporting, I mean, these candidates are repeating the lie because people believe in it. Millions of Republican voters do believe in it.

    Another part of your analysis I want to point out, when you looked at the fact that people who repeat this lie are winning, you looked across 41 states and found that, out of 469 nominating contests so far, more than half, more than half of all Republican winners, 250 candidates, have repeated that election lie, are election deniers, as you say.

    So there's an expectation built that they will fight, even if the next election — say 2024 is definitive. Is there an expectation they're going to fight, challenge, block, because the constituency expects them to now?

  • Amy Gardner:

    I think that the answer is yes.

    I think that denying the 2020 election has become a price of admission in the Republican Party. It's gone beyond just fealty to Trump. It's fealty to the false statements about that election. And that's definitely what's coming in this country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We should also say this is not just a hypothetical, looking ahead to 2024, right?

    Already, as you have cited in your reporting, a number of states, 19 so far, have passed voting laws critics say restrict voting, justified in part by the election loss.

    So, when you talk to Republican lawmakers, what do they tell you about why they have been pushing some of those…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Gardner:

    It depends on who I talk to, but it's kind of interesting.

    I have talked to a number of lawmakers in Georgia, for instance, in Texas, for instance, both of which passed such restrictive laws last year, who say — not for attribution, but who admit off the record they had to. They had to throw this bone to their constituents who believed that the elections had been stolen, and they had to do something to show that they were pro-election integrity.

    So it's an admission that they are — it's a solution in search of a problem, really.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What does this tell you about the potency of denying elections in the Republican Party right now?

  • Amy Gardner:

    I mean, it's everywhere.

    Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, announced the prosecution of 20 people who allegedly voted fraudulently in that state, and it was a huge televised press conference. He's coming to Pennsylvania tomorrow to campaign with Doug Mastriano, one of the other big election deniers that I found in my survey, the gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania.

    So going to Pennsylvania is a great clue that Ron DeSantis is running for president, which we have all been speculating about already. But — so the day before he goes on a presidential jag, he's making a big announcement about election fraud. I mean, that tells you everything right there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Fair to say 20 votes would not change an election one way or the other.

    Amy Gardner, the reporting is so important. We will be following your work in The Washington Post.

  • Amy Gardner:

    Thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thank you.

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