EXPLAINER: Why are secretary of state races higher profile?
WASHINGTON (AP) — In the 38 states that elect them, secretaries of state often don’t see much campaign fanfare.
But why are the officials, often top overseers of voting and elections, getting so much buzz this year?
Q: WHAT DO SECRETARIES OF STATE REALLY DO?
You’ve probably heard of the secretary of state in Washington, D.C., who is the federal official in charge of representing the nation overseas. But almost all states have their own secretary of state as well. Those offices have a wide range of duties, but in most states they also serve as the chief election officer.
Voting is typically administered on the local level, by county or even city officers. But the rules for each states voting system are usually laid out by the secretary of state. That office also compiles results from local officials and certifies who has ultimately won elections.
Q: WHY ARE WE HEARING SO MUCH MORE ABOUT SECRETARY OF STATE RACES THIS ELECTION CYCLE?
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump tried to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden by getting state officials to claim he had won the popular vote in their states rather than his rival. He failed across the board. But now he’s backing a wave of candidates for secretary of state who say they would have overturned the 2020 election. That raises the stakes immensely for what was once a sleepy office.
Q: WHAT COULD CHANGE IF THE CANDIDATES WHO SAY THEY WOULDN’T HAVE CERTIFIED JOE BIDEN’S VICTORY WIN THEMSELVES?
A lot. Secretaries of state don’t have unlimited power over elections — they have to follow rules laid out in state law and the constitution. But there’s a lot they can do.
Many of the Trump-supporting secretaries of state have echoed the former president’s lies about voting being inherently unreliable. They could decertify voting machines and tabulators, forcing states to switch to less reliable hand counts to tally ballots. They could refuse to certify losses for Trump or other Trump-backed candidates.
Courts may well block some of these moves, but the potential for chaos is significant. The mere presence of a top election official who spread lies about the last presidential election could also undermine confidence in elections among the population.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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