A voting rights group focused on electing Democrats to Secretary of State offices across the country plans to launch an eight-figure media campaign supporting Democratic candidates in five states.
iVote, a group founded in 2014, says it is raising the alarm about Republican candidates with extreme views running for Secretary of State this year in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Minnesota.
“People do not want extremists to run elections,” iVote co-founder Ellen Kurz told NBC News. “The American public wants non-partisan, free and fair elections and they want people to have equal access to the ballot and there’s one side that’s presenting that and one side that’s not.”
In many states, Secretaries of State are the main overseer of elections, charged with administering them, registering new voters and implementing new voting laws.
The office of Secretary of State suddenly became a critical state office after former President Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was filled with fraud and put pressure on at least some of these office holders to help in overturning the results.
Since then, figures promoting this “Big Lie” have emerged as leading candidates for Secretary of State in some states.
iVote says they hope their paid media campaign will shed light on some of these extreme Republican candidates, like Kristina Karamo, a community college professor in Michigan who has suggested that voting machines flipped votes from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden in 2020.
In Arizona, state Rep. Mark Finchem leads the Republican primary field. Finchem, like Karamo, has been endorsed by Trump. He also has ties to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist group that was involved in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
In Minnesota, state Republicans endorsed Kim Crockett’s campaign for Secretary of State. She’s previously stated that the 2020 election was “rigged” and played a video at the state Republican convention alleging that incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon and others want to “wreck elections forever and ever and ever.”
“How can we communicate to voters about this person’s name that is on the ballot that you’ve never heard of in the Republican Party, yet they support extreme, extreme radical views that we think are just dangerous in general but also have no business running elections?” Kurz told NBC News.
iVote plans to spend the bulk of their eight figure paid media campaign on targeted broadcast, cable and digital ads. “Our job is to let voters know what actually the GOP candidates believe versus what our candidates, which are pro-voting, believe,” Kurz said.
While the group will not disclose any high-dollar donors, Kurz told NBC News that the effort to shed light on some of the GOP candidates’ views and statements has already resulted in a surge of grassroots donations.
iVote won’t be the only group trying to reach voters about Secretary of State races this fall, though. Multiple Republican groups have emerged in the last two years that are also hoping to invest in raising awareness about these positions and their preferred candidates.
The America First Secretary of State Coalition was formed in May 2021 to boost the campaigns of Finchem, Karamo and Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, who ran and lost a primary challenge to unseat Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s incumbent Secretary of State.
The coalition is led by Jim Marchant, who is also running to be Nevada’s next Secretary of State. Marchant has previously blamed election fraud for why he lost a bid for Congress in 2020 and told The Guardian he believes that there is a global “cabal” of people manipulating voting machines.
Another, more established group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, works to elect Republicans in all kinds of statewide positions, including Secretaries of State, Lieutenant Governors, Agriculture Commissioners, and state legislators.
Neither the RSLC nor the America First Secretary of State Coalition responded to requests for comment from NBC News.