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Thursday February 2nd, 2023 6:52AM

Voters in 4 states decide on secretary of state nominees

By The Associated Press
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Voters in four states on Tuesday were determining their party’s nominees for the statewide office that typically oversees elections.

Much of the attention centered on Wisconsin, where the secretary of state does not have any role with elections. Republicans want to change that should they win the office in November. Primaries also were held in Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont.

In Wisconsin, all three GOP candidates on Tuesday’s ballot have echoed former President Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election and have called for the dismantling of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, an agency established just six years ago by Republican lawmakers with bipartisan support.

The Republican candidates have all sharply criticized decisions made by the commission heading into the 2020 election, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought major challenges to running elections, and say they would rather empower the secretary of the state so voters can hold someone accountable for election-related decisions.

To accomplish their goal, Republicans also would need to defeat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who would block such a move, in November.

The Republicans vying for the nomination in Wisconsin were state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, businessman Jay Schroeder and Justin Schmidtka, who hosts a political podcast.

At a polling location in Ozaukee County's Thiensville, GOP primary voter Franklin Szpot, 42, who works in marketing and sales, said he felt more confident in elections this year.

“I think it’s secure right now. I’m hoping that there isn’t any nonsense that happens," Szpot said. “After Trump lost, I had lost a lot of faith in that, and now I feel it’s kind of coming back with some of these candidates that are on the ballot.”

Peter Giersch, 55, a business owner who also voted in the Republican primary, said he was hoping for the best.

“It would be foolish to say there’s absolutely no fraud and foolish to say they’re not trustworthy at all,” Giersch said. "It’s probably somewhere in the middle.”

On the Democratic side, longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette faced challenger Alexia Sabor, who is the chair of the Dane County Democratic Party Executive Board. La Follette, 81, was first elected to the position in 1974.

La Follette has said he decided to run again to stop Republicans from meddling with elections, citing Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, after the 2020 election asking him to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.

This year, races for secretary of state have drawn tremendous interest and money largely because of the 2020 election, when voting systems and processes came under attack by Trump and his supporters. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting systems occurring in the 2020 election.

In Minnesota, the leading Republican candidate has called the 2020 election “rigged” and has faced criticism for a video attacking three prominent Jewish Democrats, including the current secretary of state, Democrat Steve Simon, who is seeking reelection.

Kim Crockett has also called the 2020 election a “train wreck” and accused state election officials of using the pandemic as “cover to change how we vote, but also how the vote is counted.”

In their respective primaries, Crockett and Simon faced lesser-known opponents — Republican Erik van Mechelen and Steve Carlson, a perennial candidate running as a Democrat.

Indira Neill, 36, of Moorhead, Minnesota, said after casting her primary ballot Tuesday that she’s more concerned about voters being manipulated than ballots being miscounted.

“My greater concern is generally things like disinformation campaigns and the spread of disinformation through social media,” said Neill, a college professor who supported Simon. “We know this happened in the 2016 election, and there is no reason to believe these campaigns have stopped.”

Races in Connecticut and Vermont were noteworthy because it was the first time in more than a decade that the seats were open. Both longtime Democratic secretaries of state opted not to seek reelection this year.

In Connecticut, GOP primary voters selected Dominic Rapini and Democratic primary voters nominated state Rep. Stephanie Thomas. Rapini is the former board chairman of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc. and has called for tightening ID requirements and cleaning the state’s voter rolls. Thomas opposes additional ID requirements.

“I would like to appeal right now — today — and to all unaffiliated voters, Republican voters who are looking for an alternative to conspiracy theories and the sowing of misinformation, who believe that it’s time to invest in our democracy and make sure that we have the infrastructure to run clean elections,” Thomas said in a speech Tuesday night.

William Simmons, 75, a retired school principal who recently moved from New York to Hartford, Connecticut, said he believes that the claims pushed by Trump and embraced by some secretary of state candidates across the country are “a bunch of baloney.” He said he's confident that elections in Connecticut will be fine.

“I think people are fair and honest, and I’m not worried about my vote here,” Simmons said, adding it doesn’t matter to him whether a Democrat or Republican wins in November as long as it is someone who is "fair and honest and has good morals.”

In Vermont, the Democratic primary has drawn the most interest. The candidates were Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters, state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum.

A perennial candidate for office, H. Brooke Paige, was the lone person running in the GOP primary. He also appeared on the ballot for three other statewide offices.

___

Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; Gretchen Ehlke in Thiensville, Wisconsin; and Dave Kolpack in Moorhead, Minnesota, contributed to this report.

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