Election skeptics advance in key Wisconsin, Minnesota races

Aug 8, 2022, 9:07 PM | Updated: Aug 10, 2022, 1:51 pm
FILE - Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette speaks to reporters after a hearing on April 1...

FILE - Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette speaks to reporters after a hearing on April 1, 2011, in Dane County Circuit Court in Madison, Wis. 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 Biden's win in the state. (Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, Pool, File)

(Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, Pool, File)

Longtime Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette has won his Democratic primary, advancing to a general election in which Republicans hope to win back the seat and give it power over elections.

And in Minnesota, Republican Kim Crockett — who has called the 2020 election “rigged” and campaigned on rolling back changes that have made it easier to vote — has advanced to the November election against Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat seeking his third term. Primaries were also held Tuesday in Connecticut and Vermont.

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 former President Donald Trump and his supporters. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting systems occurring in the 2020 election.

In Wisconsin, state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck defeated two primary opponents to advance to the November election against La Follette, a Democrat first elected in 1974.

Unlike many states, the Wisconsin secretary of state is not the top elections official and the office’s only duties are to sit on a state timber board and verify certain travel documents. But Loudenbeck and other Republicans have said they want to change that and dismantle the Wisconsin Elections Commission, an agency established just six years ago with bipartisan support.

Loudenbeck and her primary opponents have echoed Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election and sharply criticized decisions made by the commission heading into the 2020 election, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought major challenges to running elections. They had argued that empowering the secretary of state would allow voters to hold someone accountable for important election-related decisions.

“Wisconsin voters have taken the first step forward in the effort to restore purpose and respect to the Office of Secretary of State,” Loudenbeck said in a statement Tuesday night.

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

La Follette, 81, said he didn’t think primary voters were focused on the issue of who runs elections, but they will be.

“That’s what the election is all about now, ” La Follette said Tuesday in a phone interview. “My message is simple and very clear: I think we in Wisconsin want to keep partisan politics out of the election process the way we have for 50 years.”

At a polling location in Ozaukee County’s Thiensville, Wisconsin 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.”

In Minnesota, 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.” Simon has defended the state’s actions, calling the 2020 election “fundamentally fair, honest, accurate and secure.”

Simon, in a statement Wednesday, described Crockett as a “hyper-partisan extremist who embraces bizarre conspiracy theories and traffics in bigotry” and said she was unfit to serve. Following the state convention in May, Crockett had been criticized for showing a video there attacking three prominent Jewish Democrats, including Simon.

“My opponent has a dark, divisive, and dangerous vision,” Simon said.

Crockett, in a statement Wednesday, said her goal was to “restore everyone’s confidence in Minnesota’s elections” and pledged to work with state lawmakers and local election officials. She accused Simon of attempting to circumvent the Legislature with changes to voting procedures during the pandemic and said the office should be a “nonpartisan operation.”

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims of a stolen election in 2020 or to suggest widespread fraud or tampering with voting machines or ballot drop boxes. Dozens of legal claims made by Trump and his allies after the election were rejected by judges, including ones appointed by Trump.

Indira Neill, 36, of Moorhead, Minnesota, said after casting her primary ballot Tuesday that she was 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.

In a statement, Rapini touted his campaign’s focus on “safe and secure elections” and pointed to unspecified “systemic failures” in the primary. While there were isolated equipment troubles, there were no reports of any major issues on Tuesday.

“Political insiders like Stephanie Thomas won’t fix these problems — she pretends that they don’t even exist,” Rapini said. “Plainly stated, she is a fraud denier.”

In Vermont’s Democratic primary, state Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas defeated two opponents who had experience overseeing elections: Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters and Montpelier City Clerk John Odum.

Hanzas had co-sponsored legislation last year expanding voter access in the state. Under the new law, general election ballots will be mailed to all registered voters, although people can still opt to vote in person on Election Day.

On the Republican side, perennial candidate H. Brooke Paige was the lone person on the ballot for secretary of state, and advanced to the November election. Paige also ran unopposed in the Republican primary for state treasurer, auditor and attorney general.

___

Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Todd Richmond and Scott Bauer 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.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Election skeptics advance in key Wisconsin, Minnesota races