Extreme Republicans loyal to Donald Trump and his “big lie” that the 2020 election was rigged have formed a nationwide alliance aiming to take control of the presidential election process in key battleground states that could determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential race.
At least eight Republicans who are currently running to serve as chief election officials in crucial swing states have come together to form the coalition.
The group shares conspiracy theories about unfounded election fraud and exchanges ideas on how radically to reconstruct election systems in ways that could overturn the legitimate results of the next presidential race.
All of them backed Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and cling on to power against the will of American voters. Several of the alliance have been personally endorsed by Trump and have a credible shot at winning the post of secretary of state – the most powerful election officer in each state
The existence of the “coalition of America First secretary of state candidates” was disclosed by one of the members themselves, Jim Marchant who is running for secretary of state in Nevada. A former business owner and Nevada state assembly member, Marchant has ties with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.
Marchant ran for a US House seat in 2020 and lost. He challenged the result unsuccessfully in the courts, claiming he was a “victim of election fraud”, in a mirror-image of Trump’s many failed legal challenges to his defeat.
In an interview with the Guardian, Marchant said that there were currently eight members of the coalition bidding for chief election official posts, with more likely to join soon. He said participants included Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karamo in Michigan – all three of whom have been endorsed by Trump.
Marchant also named Rachel Hamm in California and David Winney in Colorado, and said that further members were likely to be recruited imminently in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Several in-person “summits” of the candidates had already been held, with the next planned in Wisconsin on 29 January and Nevada on 26 February.
All the candidates named by Marchant have been prominent exponents of false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Finchem attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on January 6 hours before the US Capitol was stormed.
Hice is running for secretary of state in Georgia against the Republican incumbent, Brad Raffensperger, who famously rebuffed Trump’s demands in the 2020 count to “find 11,780 votes” that would tip the state to him. Marchant, Karamo and Finchem all spoke at a QAnon conference in Las Vegas in October.
The disclosure that extremist Republicans dedicated to election subversion have formed a network was first revealed by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House who is spearheading a “precinct-by-precinct” movement to inject far-right activists into local elected office. Marchant disclosed the alliance on Bannon’s War Room podcast.
The revelation can only heighten jitters about the fragile state of American democracy. An NPR analysis of 2022 secretary of state races across the country found that at least 15 candidates have adopted Trump’s big lie.
Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state and chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, told the Guardian that democracy would be on the ballot in this November’s midterm elections.
“Extreme members of the GOP are taking a sledgehammer to our democratic system. The big lie coalition of candidates running for secretary of state has pushed election conspiracies, authored dangerous voter suppression legislation, or attended the January 6 insurrection,” Griswold said.
The nature of the threat posed by the new coalition is illustrated by Marchant. In the course of the 2020 election, he declared that had he been secretary of state at that time he would have refused to certify Joe Biden’s victory in Nevada by 33,596 votes, even though the count was unanimously approved by the Nevada supreme court.
Marchant was also an eager advocate of sending an alternate slate of Trump electors to Congress in blatant contravention of the official vote count. Asked by the Guardian whether he would be prepared to do the same again in 2024, by sending an alternate slate of electors from Nevada to Congress contrary to the actual election results, he said: “That is very possible, yes.”
Marchant told the Guardian that were he to win election in November and become the top election official in his state, he would act swiftly to introduce voter suppression measures. That would include introducing voter ID – “a no-brainer”, he said.
He would also eradicate mail-in ballots which have been extensively blamed by conspiracy theorists, without evidence, as a source of mass fraud in 2020, and open up election counts to “aggressive poll watching”. And he would scrap electronic voting machines – also targeted by big lie advocates – and replace them with paper counts.
When asked for evidence that voting machines had been manipulated to benefit Biden over Trump, Marchant pointed to Mesa county, Colorado. He said that “a very brave clerk suspected a lot of stuff going on by people who could get to the machines” and found that “clear crimes” had been committed.
In fact, the clerk, Tina Peters, was recently stripped of her election duties after she was found to have sneaked an unauthorized individual into a secure room where voting machines were stored in order to copy their hard drives. The stolen information was then presented at a conspiracy theory event organized by the MyPillow executive Mike Lindell, a major proponent of the big lie.
The Guardian asked Marchant who was manipulating the voting machines. He replied: “I don’t know actually. I think it’s a global thing. The people in power want to maintain their power.”
The near-universal dismissal of all court challenges to the 2020 election results, including his own case, was explained by Marchant as the work of corrupt judges. “A lot of judges were bought off too – they are part of this cabal,” he said.
What would he say to the criticism that his actions and those of his fellow coalition members, like those of Trump himself, were the behavior of sore losers?
“I disagree,” Marchant said. “We have a lot of evidence. It is out there. Shoot, you can find it.”