Promoters of the Big Lie Want to Run Our Elections. We Must Stop Them | Opinion

While there are many issues front and center for voters as they head to the polls for the primaries over the next few months, it is time for all of us to understand just what's at stake for our democracy.

In Colorado, the county clerk running for Secretary of State was recently barred by a judge from overseeing the 2022 elections and is under indictment on criminal election-tampering charges. In Georgia, a candidate for governor continues to make the absurd claim that the last election was "rigged and stolen." In Michigan, a conspiracy-pushing lawyer has already earned the state Republican Party's endorsement for attorney general.

All three are election deniers. They're running for top state offices that will oversee future elections by campaigning on lies and conspiracies about the 2020 election.

These aren't fringe candidates, and they are far from outliers this cycle. Election deniers are running up and down the ballot this year from coast to coast, according to a new tracker from States United Action, the nonprofit organization that I co-founded to help protect our elections.

Two out of every three governor's races this year have an election denier in the running.

The list includes Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—states that saw the most aggressive attempts to undermine the will of the voters in 2020.

In Pennsylvania, which holds a primary today, four election deniers are on the primary ballot for governor. One of them was subpoenaed earlier this year by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Farther down the ballot, two out of three contests for Secretary of State this year include at least one election denier. The same is true for about half of attorney general races.

As a former governor who deeply appreciates the leading role our states play in our elections, I lose sleep at night thinking that we may turn over the keys to our democracy to people who don't believe in locks. If these candidates succeed, the results for American democracy could be disastrous. These are politicians who still won't accept the legitimate results from two years ago, and they want the power to set the rules on how elections are run to ensure the outcomes they want.

Elections are events that capture national attention, but they are run by states. It's crucial to have trusted state and local officials at the helm.

Not only do governors certify the election results, they sign or veto bills that determine access to the ballot box and how elections are administered.

Attorneys general represent their states in court. These positions will be even more critical if the legitimate results of the 2024 election are challenged. As we saw in Texas in 2020, attorneys general can also use their powers to undermine the will of the voters.

Voters cast their ballots
Voters cast their ballots. LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images

And in most states, the Secretary of State is the chief elections official. Their responsibilities vary, but they often enforce the rules for elections, oversee the counting of ballots and certify the results.

This means it really matters whether your Secretary of State believes in free, fair, secure and accurate elections. It really matters whether your attorney general is committed to defending the will of the voters no matter the outcome. It matters who runs elections in our country.

The opponents of democracy have a simple playbook. They've already shown that they want to change the rules—rolling back the freedom to vote and hijacking election administration. Now, by installing election deniers in these crucial statewide jobs, they hope to change the referees.

If you change the rules and change the referees, you can change the outcome.

But it's not too late. Primary season is under way, and race after race in May and June includes an election denier running for statewide office. Voters have the chance to study the candidates, learn about where they stand on truth in elections and protect our elections.

More good news: Rejecting election deniers isn't just the right thing to do. It's also popular. We know voters want state leaders who respect the will of the people.

In fact, claiming that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election is one of the least popular qualities a candidate can have this year, according to a recent NBC News poll of registered voters.

A majority of voters, 54 percent, said such a claim would make them less likely to support a candidate in 2022, compared with just 20 percent who said they would be more likely to support that candidate.

No matter which issue is most important to you as a voter—the economy, health care, education or climate change—your voice can't be heard if our elections aren't free, fair, secure and accurate.

People who don't believe in truth in our elections shouldn't be trusted to run them. Democracy can't wait until November. It's time to pay attention right now.

Christine Todd Whitman is a former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. She serves as the co-chair to States United Action.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.