Democrats won secretary of state races in key states, including Cisco Aguilar in Nevada, Jocelyn Benson in Michigan, and Adrian Fontes in Arizona.
Mario Tama—Getty Images; Carlos Osorio—AP; Jim Urquhart—Reuters
Updated: November 16, 2022 9:15 PM EST | Originally published: November 10, 2022 1:20 PM EST

The stakes could not have been higher. Across the country, Republican candidates who falsely say Donald Trump won the 2020 race ran for offices that would have put them in position to oversee elections in 2024. If even one election-denier won an election-oversight job in a battleground state this cycle, they would have the ability to sow chaos, promote conspiracy theories about results, and potentially allow a candidate to seize the presidency in 2024 even if they weren’t chosen by the voters.

And yet one by one, the pro-democracy candidates for Secretary of State—often the state’s top election official — held the line against the election deniers. An October TIME cover featured the Defenders: seven candidates for Secretary of State who stood as the last line of defense between election deniers and the machinery of American democracy. As of Friday night, six of the seven Defenders have won.

In Arizona, Democrat Adrian Fontes has beaten Republican Mark Finchem, an election denier and Oath Keeper who marched at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and told TIME that it was a “fantasy” that Biden had won the state in 2020. In Nevada, Cisco Aguilar has defeated election denier Jim Marchant, who organized the America First Secretary of State coalition to recruit other MAGA conspiracy theorists to run for positions overseeing elections. In Minnesota, incumbent Secretary of State Steve Simon defeated Kim Crockett, who questioned the results of the 2020 election. In Michigan, incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson beat Trump-endorsed Kristina Karamo, who pushed baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 contest. And Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Idaho candidate Phil McGrane — Republicans who bucked Trump’s lies and beat election deniers in their GOP primaries — both prevailed in general elections this week. Only Pam Anderson, a pro-democracy Republican who beat election denier Tina Peters in the Colorado GOP primary, lost to Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat.

Photo illustration by Klawe Rzeczy for TIME; Cassidy Araiza for TIME; David Devine; Michael Reynolds, Kyle Green, David Zalubowski—AP; Emily Elconin—Reuters; Stephen Maturen—Getty Images; Getty Images (6)

“Democracy has prevailed,” says Benson, who outran Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the top of the ticket, receiving the most votes of any candidate in Michigan. This election “really wasn’t a red vs. blue or a Democrat vs. Republican choice,” Benson told TIME in an interview Wednesday. “It was an, ‘Are we gonna live in a democracy where truth rules the day?’ choice.”

Read More: Conspiracy Theorists Want to Run America’s Elections. These Are the Candidates Standing In Their Way.

In the aftermath of 2020, Marchant and other Trump allies had tried to recruit and promote election deniers to run for roles that oversee elections, from Secretary of State to Governor to Attorney General. But pro-democracy opponents blocked their path. Almost every one of the America First Secretary of State candidates were defeated by either pro-democracy Republicans in GOP primaries earlier this year or by Democrats this week. As of Monday morning, just one of the 17 candidates endorsed by the coalition, Diego Morales in Indiana, has prevailed.

“I think it’s more than just a vote of confidence in us as individuals. I think it’s a vote of confidence in the system generally,” says Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, who won with 55% of the vote, more than any other statewide candidate. “I’m hoping it means we’re closer to breaking the fever.”

Many of the hundreds of pro-Trump election deniers did win their races this week. The Washington Post reports that more than 160 election deniers were projected to win House, Senate or key statewide office races by Wednesday.

Read More: How Democrats Defied History in the Midterms.

But such candidates fared poorly in contests for election-oversight posts. According to a tally from States United Action, a nonpartisan advocacy organization to protect fair elections, 141 election deniers ran for offices that oversee elections and only 14 won. None of those winners were in states likely to tip the presidential election in 2024. As of Monday, only five new election deniers have won races for statewide office that oversee elections (including governor, attorney general, and Secretary of State posts) while nine incumbent election deniers won re-election; all of those were in states Trump won in 2016 and 2020. According to the group’s tally, in 27 races for Secretary of State, only three non-incumbent election deniers have won— in Indiana, Wyoming, and Alabama — and none in battleground states.

“When it comes to the statewide positions that control our elections, Americans pretty decisively rejected the election deniers who wanted power of their votes,” says Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action. “Really very few of these folks have been successful.”

 

Correction, November 16

The original version of this story misstated the total number of election deniers who ran for offices that oversee elections, according to States United. There were 141 election deniers running in 94 races, not 94 election deniers total.

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

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