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These Republicans have united to defend the legitimacy of U.S. elections and election officials


ATLANTA (AP) — It was Election Day last November, and a top Georgia election official saw reports of a voting machine problem in an eastern Pennsylvania county gaining traction online.

So was Gabriel Sterling, the Republican who championed the 2020 election in Georgia in the midst of it An onslaught of threatsHe posted a message to his approximately 71,000 followers on the social media platform X explaining what happened and saying that all votes will be counted correctly.

He faced immediate criticism from one commentator over why he influenced another state’s election while other responses repeated false claims about widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

He watches: How powerful conservatives pushed the ‘big lie’ that the 2020 election was rigged

“This is still the right thing to do,” Sterling told a crowd the next day, stressing the importance of Republican officials speaking up to defend the election. “We have to be prepared to say over and over again that other countries do it differently than us, but they are not cheating.”

Sterling, chief operating officer in the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, is part of an effort that began after the last presidential election and seeks to bring together Republican officials willing to defend the nation’s election systems and the people who run them. They want officials to reinforce the message that the election is secure and accurate, an approach they say is especially important as the country heads toward another divisive presidential contest.

The group has held meetings in several states, with more scheduled before the November 5 elections.

With six months remaining before a potential rematch between Democratic President Joe Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump, concerns are growing among election officials about continued public distrust of voting and ballot counting, especially among Republicans. Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, continues to sow doubt about the recent presidential election and warns his followers — without citing any evidence — that Democrats will try to cheat in the upcoming election.

Last week, during a campaign rally in Michigan, Trump repeated his false claim that Democrats rigged the 2020 election. “But we will not let them rig the presidential election,” he added.

Only 22% of Republicans expressed high confidence that votes would be counted accurately in November, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last year.

Read more: AP-NORC poll says false election claims hurt GOP confidence in vote counting

“It’s an obligation on the part of Republicans to stand up for our system because our party — there’s some blame for where we stand now,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, who is part of the group and won re-election. last year. “But it’s also strategically wise for Republicans to say: Republicans, you can trust this. Don’t stay home.”

The effort, which began about 18 months ago, is coordinated by the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University and the center-right think tank R Street Institute. The goal was to start conversations about confidence in elections, especially among Conservative officials, and to develop a set of principles to achieve this.

“This has never been and never will be specifically about Trump,” said Matt Germer, director of governance at the R Street Institute and a lead organizer of the effort. “It’s about democratic principles at a higher level — what does it mean to be a conservative who believes in democracy and the rule of law?”

The goal, he said, is to have a structure to support election officials who may find themselves in situations like that of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in 2020, when he supported Trump but rejected false claims that the election was stolen. Georgia prosecutors have since… Trump and others accusedAlleging that there was a conspiracy to overturn the results. Trump pleaded not guilty.

“You can be a Republican and you can believe in all the Republican ideas without having to say the election was stolen,” Germer said.

The group’s guiding principle is that Republican officials should “publicly affirm the security and integrity of elections across the United States and avoid raising doubts about elections in other jurisdictions.”

Kim Wyman, a Republican who previously served as Washington state’s chief elections official, said it is imperative that when officials face questions about elections elsewhere they do not sidestep the question by promoting election procedures in their state.

Wyman said it’s OK to say you don’t know the different laws and procedures in another state, but she urged her Republican colleagues to emphasize what the states have in common — “the security measures, the surveillance procedures to make sure the election is done.” Done with integrity.”

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican who participated in meetings organized by the group, said he believes there are certain aspects of the election that officials should feel comfortable talking about. But he said he would still be wary of speaking directly about something specific happening in another state.

“If I start going beyond my scope and my role, they don’t trust me,” Schwab said in press statements. “If they don’t trust me, they don’t trust the elections in Kansas, and that’s very important.” interview.

Some election officials who have questioned election procedures outside their state have a different view.

Secretary of State Mac Warner of West Virginia, a Republican who has questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election, said the focus should be on improving policies, such as establishing voter ID requirements across the country, not silencing those with questions.

He said: “Our primary task as election officials is to build confidence, and this comes from strengthening the protocols, not weakening them.”

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who has raised questions about the way elections are run in other states, criticized what he called “activist lawsuits” and state officials seeking to change voting rules previously set by lawmakers.

“The things that happen in other states that go wrong are not the result of a secret, secret conspiracy,” he said in an interview. “These are the far-fetched things that make great YouTube videos, and what have you. But the real things that are going wrong in other states are coming out into the open, and they’re on full public display.”

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, a Republican who is the state’s top election official and who participated in the group’s discussions, said avoiding criticism of other states and ensuring the legitimacy of election procedures is important for another reason: It can help reduce threats and harassment of election workers.

A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that nearly 40 percent of local election officials had experienced such abuse. It has caused many to leave their jobs. Of Utah’s 29 clerks, Henderson said 20 are new since 2020 and nine have never overseen an election.

“It’s one thing to point out that someone could do something better. It’s another thing to impugn their integrity and character and accuse them of cheating and accuse them of outrageous things that don’t happen,” Henderson said. “It’s exhausting.”

Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smith in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.



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