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People who believe Trump's election lies are running for offices that control voting

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Over the past two years, former President Trump's misinformation about voting has seeped into actual voting policy in the U.S. For instance, more than a dozen states enacted laws last year making it harder for people to vote. And now, a new NPR analysis shows more and more people who believe Trump's election lies are now running for offices that control the voting process.

Miles Parks covers voting for NPR and joins us now. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. OK. It's usually the secretary of state - right? - who oversees voting in each...

PARKS: Right.

CHANG: ...State. And I know that you've looked at secretary of state races all over the country. Tell us what you found.

PARKS: To be frank, I found a lot of election-deniers running for positions of power in voting. So this year, 27 states will hold elections for their state's secretary of state position. And in basically half of those races, there's at least one Republican running who either questions the legitimacy of Joe Biden's win in 2020 or outright says the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

And I should say that obviously is false. There's been no evidence to support that that's come out over the last 14 months. And courts and audits across the country have confirmed the election results.

But it's still happening because president - former-President Trump is encouraging it. He still talks about the importance of getting people in these local offices at his rallies, and he's endorsed three of these candidates so far in Michigan, Arizona and Georgia, all swing states he lost in the election by narrow margins.

CHANG: Right. All right. So these people have declared that they are running, but of course they will need to win a primary and a general election to actually hold office. Can you just explain, what effects could they have on voting in a state if they do win?

PARKS: It really varies by state, but in most places, they could decide things about funding, they could decide things about outreach to voters - you know, whether voters are going to get information about vote-by-mail ballots, for instance - all sorts of things. It's definitely not as simple to say, you know, if a partisan actor gets elected to one of these positions they can just stop the other party from voting, but they definitely have mechanisms to tilt the system. And in 2020, we saw a number of people in these positions act as a sort of backstop against Trump's misinformation and in some cases flat-out refuse to do what Trump was asking them to do.

I talked to Franita Tolson about that. She's an election law expert at the University of Southern California.

FRANITA TOLSON: One of the reasons why Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election failed is because there were state officials who refused to substantiate his claims of fraud. These folks really are gatekeepers.

PARKS: I asked her for a 1 to 10 level of concern on this trend and democracy as a whole, and she said 50.

CHANG: Fifty - wow. OK. Well, what specific races are you watching at the moment?

PARKS: The biggest one I'd say is Georgia, where the incumbent, Brad Raffensperger, who listeners might remember - he had that famous phone call a year ago where Trump asked him to basically find enough votes in Georgia to swing the state, and he refused. He's running against two different candidates who think the election results in Georgia should not have been certified. One of them, Representative Jody Hice, has already been endorsed by Trump, and he voted in Congress on January 6 not to certify the results.

CHANG: This feels kind of like a change - right? - voters paying more attention to these down-ballot statewide races. Is that your sense?

PARKS: Definitely. I mean, lots of voters even five years ago probably wouldn't have been able to name their secretary of state.

CHANG: (Laughter) Yeah.

PARKS: I talked about that, actually specifically, with a former election official from Idaho, David Levine, who's now a fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

DAVID LEVINE: For a long time in this country, when people have voted or looked on the ballot for who to support, they've assumed that anyone that they've considered on the ballot has supported democracy.

PARKS: Unfortunately, he said, we're at a point where voters can no longer make that assumption.

CHANG: That is NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF GABRIELLE CHILLMARK'S "FOREST AIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.