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    This Threat to Democracy Is Hiding in Plain Sight

    Illustration by Rebecca Chew/The New York Times; photograph by Stephen Maturen, via Getty ImagesIn the weeks after the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and his allies were unable to get far in their attempts to prove widespread voter fraud. There were two reasons for that.First, there wasn’t any, as numerous investigations by journalists, expert reports and court rulings showed. But second, Republican election officials in multiple states repeatedly said that their counts and recounts were accurate, and they defended the integrity of the election. For all the pressure that the Trump camp brought to bear, well-trained, civic-minded election workers carried out their duty to maintain the machinery of American voting.Many top Republican Party officials and lawmakers have spent the last two years striking back, and drawn the most attention for their efforts to pass “voter integrity” laws that aim to make voting more onerous under the guise of preventing fraud. From January 2021 to May of this year, just under three dozen restrictive laws had been passed in nearly 20 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.These are pernicious laws, and they undermine Americans’ hard-won rights to vote. But just as important is the matter of who counts the votes, and who decides which votes count and which do not.This is where Mr. Trump’s allies have focused much of their scheming since his re-election defeat. Their mission is to take over America’s election infrastructure, or at least key parts of it, from the ground up by filling key positions of influence with Trump sympathizers. Rather than threatening election officials, they will be the election officials — the poll workers and county commissioners and secretaries of state responsible for overseeing the casting, counting and certifying of votes.Imagine a legal Jan. 6. It’s bureaucratic, boring, invisible — and it might actually succeed.These efforts require attention and mobilization from Americans across the political spectrum. America’s system of voting is complex and decentralized, with most of the oversight done at the state and local level by thousands of elected and appointed officials, along with poll workers. While it is outdated and inconvenient in many places, this system has worked relatively well for roughly 200 years.But Mr. Trump’s attempts to subvert the election also revealed the system’s vulnerabilities, and his allies are now intently focused on exploiting those pressure points to bend the infrastructure of voting to their advantage. Their drive to take over election machinery county by county, state by state, is a reminder that democracy is fragile. The threats to it are not only violent ruptures like the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but also quieter efforts to corrupt it.A key element of this strategy is dismantling the bulwarks that stopped the assault on democracy in 2020. In Georgia, the top state election official, Brad Raffensperger, its secretary of state, refused Mr. Trump’s request to help steal the election by agreeing to “find” 11,780 additional votes. In Michigan, the Board of State Canvassers certified Joe Biden’s victory despite Mr. Trump’s aggressive meddling. A host of other state and local officials, many of them Republicans, pushed back on similarly antidemocratic machinations.Mr. Trump and his allies have set about removing and replacing these public servants, through elections and appointments, with more like-minded officials. In some cases, the effort has failed. (In Georgia’s Republican primary this year, Mr. Trump backed a losing candidate in a vendetta against Mr. Raffensperger.) But in other states, Republicans have embraced election deniers as candidates, including for secretary of state.In Nevada, the Republican secretary of state nominee, Jim Marchant, maintains that the 2020 presidential race was rigged and that he would not have certified Mr. Biden’s win in Nevada. He blames voting fraud for his own failed House run that year and has said that Nevada voters haven’t truly elected their leaders in years because the system is so rigged.Mr. Marchant is a part of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, whose candidates are campaigning for measures that would make it more difficult for Americans to vote, such as by limiting voting to a single day and aggressively purging voter rolls. They have the financial backing of pro-Trump election deniers including Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow, and Patrick Byrne, the former chief executive of Overstock.com.The Republicans’ pick in Michigan, Kristina Karamo, is also an America First candidate. She gained political notice with her unsubstantiated claims to have witnessed election fraud as a poll watcher in Detroit in 2020. She has also promoted the baseless conspiracy theories that Dominion voting machines flipped votes in Mr. Biden’s favor and that Jan. 6 was a false flag operation conducted by “antifa posing as Trump supporters.”The most outrageous G.O.P. choice may be Arizona’s Mark Finchem. Mr. Finchem has in the past identified as a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group, and he spoke at a QAnon convention last year. He was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, although he denies being within about 500 yards of the building. As a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, he introduced a resolution this year to decertify the 2020 election in multiple counties, and was a sponsor of a bill to empower the Republican-led Legislature to overturn election results.Mr. Finchem wants to ban early voting and put limits on mail-in voting. In April, he filed a federal lawsuit, backed by Mr. Lindell, to block the use of electronic vote-counting machines in Arizona in the midterms. (It was dismissed.)Installing election deniers as top election officials is just one element of this plan. Much less visible, but just as important, is the so-called precinct strategy, in which Trump allies are recruiting supporters to flood the system by signing up to work in low-level election positions such as poll workers. A prominent promoter of the precinct strategy was Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser. Last year, Mr. Bannon rallied the listeners of his “War Room” podcast to sign up as precinct committee members. “We’re going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct,” he proclaimed in May 2021.The call was answered. An investigation by ProPublica in the summer of 2021 found a surge in Republicans signing up to be precinct officers or equivalent lowest-level officials in key counties. Of the 65 counties contacted, 41 reported a collective increase of at least 8,500 new sign-ups following Mr. Bannon’s call to arms. (ProPublica found no such spike on the Democratic side.)The precinct strategy has been endorsed by Mr. Trump — who declared it a way to “take back our great country from the ground up” — and adopted by segments of the Republican Party.Mr. Bannon is appealing to his supporters’ sense of civic duty by asking them to be more involved in their local election process. But unsettling details of what this effort entails emerged this summer after Politico acquired videos of Republican operatives discussing strategy with activists.New election recruits would attend training workshops on how to challenge voters at polling places, explained Matthew Seifried, the Republican National Committee’s election integrity director for Michigan, in one of the recordings. These poll workers would have access to a hotline and a website staffed by “an army” of Republican-friendly lawyers prepared to help with challenges. “We’re going to have more lawyers than we’ve ever recruited, because let’s be honest, that’s where it’s going to be fought, right?” Mr. Seifried said at a meeting last October.As testimony during the Jan. 6 committee hearings revealed, the legal challenges presented by Trump allies to the 2020 election quickly collapsed in part because they lacked even the most basic documentation. But carried out as designed, the precinct strategy means that even if, ultimately, there are no instances of fraud and most of the challenges to individual voters fall apart, they could still bog down the voting by causing delays and introducing unnecessary friction and confusion, giving cover to a state election official or state legislature to say that an election is tainted and therefore invalid.In some parts of the country, this is already happening. This summer, an all-Republican county commission in rural New Mexico refused to certify the primary election results because of unsubstantiated suspicions of fraud. New Mexico’s secretary of state, a Democrat, intervened and asked the state Supreme Court to order the commission to certify the results. Two commissioners relented, but the third, Couy Griffin, refused. He admitted that his suspicion of fraud was not founded on any evidence: “It’s only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition, and that’s all I need.”(Mr. Griffin, who attended the Jan. 6 melee at the Capitol, was later ruled to be ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars from public office anyone who has sworn an oath to the Constitution and later engages in insurrection.)After the May primary election in Pennsylvania, three Republican-controlled counties refused to count several hundred mail-in ballots on which voters had failed to write a date on the envelope. The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, filed suit, and last month, a judge ruled that the ballots had to be included in the results, finally clearing the way for the primaries to be certified. (State officials learned of a fourth county that had done something similar.)Litigation is an important tool in tackling this threat. But it will not save the day. The problem is too big, says Marc Elias, a Democratic voting rights lawyer. “For every one place you try to solve this in court, there are five additional places where it is happening,” he said.The real threat to America’s electoral system is not posed by ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. It is coming from inside the system.All those who value democracy have a role to play in strengthening and supporting the electoral system that powers it, whatever their party. This involves, first, taking the threat posed by election deniers seriously and talking to friends and neighbors about it. It means paying attention to local elections — not just national ones — and supporting candidates who reject conspiracy theories and unfounded claims of fraud. It means getting involved in elections as canvassers or poll watchers or precinct officers. (Mr. Bannon has the right idea about civic participation; he just employs toxic lies as motivation.)And it means voting, in every race on the ballot and in every election. To this end, employers have a role to play as well, by giving workers time off to vote and encouraging them to do so.The task of safeguarding democracy does not end with one election. Mr. Trump and others looking to pervert the electoral process are full of intensity and are playing a long game. Only an equally strong and committed countervailing force will meet that challenge.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    The Future of Election Skepticism Is Arizona

    Mark Finchem, the Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, talks a lot about tracking: procedures, processes, audits, the path a ballot takes from voter to tabulator.He’s a member of the Arizona state House of Representatives, and has a formal way of speaking, full of numerical legislation titles and terminology, but also talks about things seen and unseen. Like a number of other Republican nominees for secretary of state this year, Mr. Finchem claims the last election was fraudulent.“Here’s why we know it didn’t happen,” he told an interviewer who had just suggested Arizona may have actually voted for Joe Biden in 2020. “It’s nonsense intuitively. Leading up to the election, this would be August, September, October. It first started off that you’d see a Trump train of maybe a dozen cars, and this is in my community. It’s one community, but I think it’s fairly representative of Arizona. You’d see a Trump train of maybe a dozen cars.” The hosts start cracking jokes about Biden trains behind gas stations these days, but in the interview, Mr. Finchem remains undeterred and unlaughing: First it was 12 cars, then 24, then 48, culminating in a three-mile Trump train. This is the kind of thing Mr. Finchem will abruptly say amid talk of election procedure.In November 2020, Mr. Finchem was part of a hearing in Arizona where Rudy Giuliani aired claims of election fraud; Mr. Finchem went to Washington on Jan. 6. He wants to decertify the 2020 election and for Arizona to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonpartisan organization funded by participating states that helps them to find potential voters and determine duplicate active registrations. He also could win in Arizona this year; the state has been decidedly close the last several elections.His public comments tend to be both premised on the possibility of rampant voter fraud — which, in actuality, takes place rarely — and reflect a kind of individualism that’s a part of the tech and society we already have, where individuals routinely arbitrate and police disputes online.Mr. Finchem has called himself “probably an evangelist” for a 2013 book by Matthew Trewhella called “The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates.” A favorite of some extreme anti-abortion activists, the book argues that officials have an obligation to stop enforcement of laws that violate, in the author’s view, God’s wishes, specifically laws that legalize abortion or acceptance of homosexuality.The author praises the former Alabama Supreme Court judge Roy Moore in his efforts to defy court rulings about placing the Ten Commandments on government property. “Some of the most important and necessary actions down through history were done without a majority,” Mr. Trewhella writes. “In fact, human nature is such that the majority usually only have an interest in their own well-being and livelihood. In truth, the lesser magistrate does not need any support from the people in order to act.”After his primary victory this summer, in one interview Mr. Finchem brought up an app where people can submit perceived voting irregularities and observed, “We’ve basically turned the entire polity — the entire citizen pool in Arizona — into witnesses, and that’s even more robust than having poll watchers.”In April, a podcast interviewer asked Mr. Finchem if he’d discovered anything “determinative” to Arizona’s close election, which Mr. Biden won by about 10,000 votes. Even the audit of Maricopa, the state’s largest county — which was supported by Arizona Republicans like Mr. Finchem and criticized by elected officials — found Mr. Biden won the county. Mr. Finchem replied, “So yeah, part of that was a Psyop [psychological operation]; they worked very, very hard to convince the American people that, ‘Oh it’s going to be a close race.’ No, it wasn’t; it was a blowout.”How much doubt can the system take on? I really wonder how we get out of a situation where some segment of the population believes people rigged the vote against Mr. Trump, and some other segment believes, maybe a little hazily, that something must have been amiss, given all the noise from Mr. Trump and people like Mr. Finchem. Doubt can be difficult to overcome once it’s in the air.How would you talk someone out of this? Pull out a bunch of maps and charts and show how Donald Trump improved his share with voters in some cities and places like the border, but it was no match for Joe Biden’s performance in the suburbs in enough states, the kind of demographic pattern that you can see in states both won and lost by Mr. Trump? Ask them to get involved and see the process themselves? Hope this just fades, if Mr. Trump fades?If Mr. Trump’s endless refusal to concede has vastly expanded and sustained the universe of fraud believers and election skeptics, the sentiment has begun to detach from his personal fortunes.Kansas officials recently had to perform a recount of the blowout referendum to keep abortion legal in the state; candidates who’ve won primaries this year have suggested there might be fraud inherent in the process; one Texas county election staffer who quit his job recently told The Associated Press, “That’s the one thing we can’t understand. Their candidate won, heavily. But there’s fraud here?” In a town hall this summer, after detailing how Utah’s elections work and its security measures, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox called unsubstantiated fraud claims “dangerous” and “not healthy.” Mr. Cox added, “Making people prove a negative — something that doesn’t exist — is virtually impossible.”One of Mr. Finchem’s big plans as Arizona’s would-be secretary of state hinges on the idea that there’s space for fraud in the unseen. He wants to end Arizona’s early voting program, which the state first implemented in the 1990s and many, many voters in both parties regularly use. He claims that to end fraud, you must end early voting. “Here’s what happened: You received a ballot in the mail,” he told an interviewer this year. “You fill that ballot out. And then you put it in the mail. You have just broken [the] chain of custody. You have just put somebody in between you and the county official who’s supposed to be counting your ballot.”Instead, as a federal judge outlined recently in his dismissal of a lawsuit Mr. Finchem and the gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake filed, Mr. Finchem envisions ballots counted by hand, at the precinct level, “one at a time, by three independent counters” in “full view of multiple, recording, streaming cameras,” with a serial number known to the voter but no other personal identification on each ballot.This is just one thing Mr. Finchem has said, but it’s worth lingering on and considering. In the end, this is a really big country with a secret-ballot system: each vote cast must eventually go someplace to be counted, on your faith and trust. A machine counts the ballot — or sometimes, human hands do, if there’s a recount — and that input gets piled up with all the other inputs and then reported to the public, somewhere beyond each voter’s vision. This would still be true under Mr. Finchem’s livestreamed hand-count system — the secret moment would just be flipped to the front end, where some authority would distribute serial numbers to each voter.But it’s striking where this kind of thinking can lead you and leave you. If you follow this broken-chain-of-custody logic, you could not trust the mail carrier or the guy who picks up the ballot dropbox, even if your own mail shows up every day. If you really commit, you might not be able to trust the mechanism that counts the votes, whether that’s a person or a machine or the official feeding the machine, since it’s easy to imagine how this idea of an individual’s subversion could carry from one civic process to the next, once someone pushes that kind of doubt into the system. If you follow the logic all the way, this kind of thinking could leave you, ultimately, alone vs. everything, surrounded by the eternal possibility of subversion.Katherine Miller is a staff writer and editor in Opinion.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    The Arizona Republican Party’s Anti-Democracy Experiment

    Listen to This ArticleAudio Recording by AudmTo hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.R​​ose Sperry, a state committeewoman for Arizona’s G.O.P., answered immediately when I asked her to name the first Republican leader she admired. “I grew up during the time that Joe McCarthy was doing his talking,” Sperry, an energetic 81-year-old, said of the Wisconsin senator who in the 1950s infamously claimed Communists had infiltrated the federal government. “I was young, but I was listening. If he were here today, I would say, ‘Get him in there as president!’”Sperry is part of a grass-roots movement that has pushed her state’s party far to the right in less than a decade. She had driven 37 miles the morning of July 16, from her home in the Northern Arizona town Cottonwood to the outskirts of Prescott, to attend the monthly meeting of a local conservative group called the Lions of Liberty, who, according to the group’s website, “are determined to correct the course of our country, which has been hijacked and undermined by global elites, communists, leftists, deep state bureaucrats and fake news.” That dismal view of America today was echoed by nearly every other conservative voter and group I encountered across the state over the past year.Arizona has become a bellwether for the rest of the nation, and not just because of its new status as a swing state and the first of these to be called for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. It was and has continued to be the nexus of efforts by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies to overturn the 2020 election results. At the same time, party figures from Trump down to Rose Sperry have sought to blacklist every Arizona G.O.P. official who maintained that the election was fairly won — from Gov. Doug Ducey to Rusty Bowers, speaker of the state’s House of Representatives. Such leaders have been condemned as RINOs, or Republicans in name only, today’s equivalent of the McCarthy era’s “fellow travelers.”The aggressive takeover of the Arizona G.O.P. by its far-right wing was made manifest on primary night earlier this month, when a slate of Trump-endorsed candidates — the gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, the U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, the state attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh and the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem — all prevailed. As a group, they maintain that the 2020 election was stolen, have promoted conspiracy theories about Covid and have vowed to protect Arizona’s schools from gender ideology, critical race theory and what McCarthyites denounced 70 years ago as “godless communism.” They have cast the 2022 election as not just history-defining but potentially civilization-ending. As Lake told a large crowd in downtown Phoenix the night before the primary: “It is not just a battle between Republicans and Democrats. This is a battle between freedom and tyranny, between authoritarianism and liberty and between good and evil.” A week later, in response to the F.B.I.’s executing a search warrant at Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Lake posted a statement on Twitter: “These tyrants will stop at nothing to silence the Patriots who are working hard to save America.” She added, “America — dark days lie ahead for us.” Far from offering an outlier’s view, Lake was articulating the dire stance shared by numerous other Republicans on the primary ballot and by the reactionary grass-roots activists who have swept them into power.Whether that viewpoint is politically viable in a swing state is another question. Arizona’s two U.S. senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, are both Democrats. The tissue-thin Republican majorities in Arizona’s State Legislature — 31 to 29 in the House, 16 to 14 in the Senate — are the most precarious the G.O.P. has experienced in over a quarter-century as the ruling party. And, of course, Trump lost Arizona in 2020, in large part by alienating the college-educated suburbanites who have relocated to the Phoenix metropolitan area of Maricopa County in increasing numbers.Arizona has thus become what the state’s well-regarded pollster Mike Noble characterizes as “magenta, the lightest state of red.” In the face of this shift, the state’s G.O.P. has aggressively declined to moderate itself. Instead, it has endeavored to cast out some of its best-known political figures. Last year, it censured its sitting governor, Doug Ducey; its former U.S. senator Jeff Flake; and Cindy McCain, the widow of the U.S. senator and 2008 G.O.P. presidential nominee John McCain, arguably the state party’s second-most-famous elected official, after Barry Goldwater.In the weeks leading up to its Aug. 2 primary, and now as it turns toward the general election in November, Arizona has presented an American case study in how backlash to demographic and social change can cause a political party to turn on itself, even at its own electoral peril. “The fact that so much energy is being spent RINO-slaying and not beating Democrats is not a healthy place for our party to be in the long run,” one political consultant who works in multiple Western states including Arizona (and who requested anonymity to not alienate current and potential clients) observed fretfully.When I recently spoke by phone with the state G.O.P.’s chairwoman, Kelli Ward, and shared this consultant’s concern, she offered a defiant laugh. “That’s the same argument that they’ve been making again and again and again, decade after decade,” Ward told me. “And they deliver us these spineless weaklings who cave in like rusty lawn chairs at the snap of a Democrat’s finger. I’m sick of it, and the people are sick of it.” A day after we spoke, Ward announced on Twitter that party officials had voted to censure yet another of their own: Bowers, the sitting House speaker, one of the few state Republican leaders who had remained steadfast in publicly saying that Trump lost Arizona fair and square, and had recently testified to the Jan. 6 House committee that vengeful opponents had driven a van through his neighborhood with a video screen calling him a pedophile. Bowers, Ward proclaimed in her tweet, “is no longer a Republican in good standing & we call on Republicans to replace him at the ballot box in the August primary.” (Bowers was defeated.)But there is more at stake than the health of the Republican Party when its core activists, as well as a growing number of officials and those campaigning for governmental positions, openly espouse hostility not just to democratic principles but, increasingly, to the word “democracy” itself. It has long been a talking point on the right — from a chant at the 1964 Republican convention where Goldwater became the G.O.P. nominee to a set of tweets in 2020 by Senator Mike Lee of Utah — that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. The idea, embodied by the Electoral College’s primacy over the popular vote in presidential elections, is that the founders specifically rejected direct popular sovereignty in favor of a representative system in which the governing authorities are states and districts, not individual voters. But until very recently, democracy has been championed on the right: President George W. Bush, a subject of two books I’ve written, famously promoted democracy worldwide (albeit through military aggression that arguably undermined his cause). For that matter, in Trump’s speech at the rally on Jan. 6, he invoked the word “democracy” no fewer than four times, framing the attempt to overturn the 2020 election as a last-ditch effort to “save our democracy.”What is different now is the use of “democracy” as a kind of shorthand and even a slur for Democrats themselves, for the left and all the positions espoused by the left, for hordes of would-be but surely unqualified or even illegal voters who are fundamentally anti-American and must be opposed and stopped at all costs. That anti-democracy and anti-“democracy” sentiment, repeatedly voiced over the course of my travels through Arizona, is distinct from anything I have encountered in over two decades of covering conservative politics.It’s the failure to reinstall a legitimately defeated president, under the misguided belief that victory was stolen from him, that seems to have ushered in the view among Arizona Republicans — and many more across the nation — that democracy itself was at fault and had been weaponized by the political left, or the “enemies from within,” as McCarthy once put it. As it happened, Rose Sperry wasn’t the first person to invoke the Wisconsin senator at the Lions of Liberty event. “I had a weird dream last night about Joseph McCarthy,” said one of the morning’s featured speakers, Jim Arroyo, the head of Arizona’s biggest chapter of the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group made up largely of current and former members of the armed forces and law enforcement. McCarthy, he said, “was not only right — he understated the seriousness of it.” Arroyo’s eschatological rhetoric was echoed by the down-ballot Republican candidates who spoke to the group. One of them was Selina Bliss, a precinct committeewoman and nursing teacher at Yavapai College who was running for a State House seat. (On Aug. 2, she was defeated by the G.O.P. incumbent, Quang Nguyen, who earlier this year authored legislation, later signed into law, requiring that Arizona high school students receive anti-Communist civics instruction.) Bliss reminded her friends and neighbors that they belonged to a thriving activist movement: “We Republicans, we conservatives, we’re the grass roots, we come from the bottom up.” Blake Masters, in white shirt, outside a campaign rally in Tucson, Ariz., in July.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York TimesBut after the seeming paean to political participation, she took a turn. “I want to address something that’s bugging me for a long time,” Bliss said. “And that’s the history and the sacredness of our Constitution and what our founding fathers meant.” She then said: “We are a constitutional republic. We are not a democracy. Nowhere in the Constitution does it use the word ‘democracy.’ When I hear the word ‘democracy,’ I think of the democracy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s not us.”It once would have been jarring to hear a candidate for state legislative office ignore the usual parochial issues — property taxes, water access, state funding for universities — and instead repudiate the very idea of democracy in America. But Bliss’s view was hardly out of place here. Sperry, the activist sitting in the audience, had posted on Facebook a few months before: “Please strike the word democracy from your vocabulary! WE ARE A REPUBLIC!!!” The Republican activities across Arizona before its primary could have been mistaken, at first glance, for a collective celebration of democracy rather than a threat to it. Rows of yard signs, nearly all of them for G.O.P. candidates, stretched along highways from Maricopa County to the northern conservative strongholds of Mohave and Yavapai Counties. Candidate meet-and-greets, held in coffee shops and strip malls and V.F.W. halls, were hosted by activist groups like the Granite Mountain Republican Women and United Patriots AZ. Among the candidates, the closest thing to an entrenched party war horse was two six-term congressmen from the 2010 Tea Party class, Paul Gosar and David Schweikert, each of whom were now, because of redistricting, having to sell themselves to voters in newly drawn but still red districts. (Both incumbents won.) Otherwise, the field was replete with political novices, suggestive of what Selina Bliss, at the Lions of Liberty meeting, referred to as a seeming “bottom up” democratization of the Republican Party.But most of the G.O.P. candidates seemed to share Bliss’s fears of majority rule as well as a desire to inflict harsh punishment on those they perceive as threats, deviants and un-American. Possibly the most notorious Arizona Republican to appear on the primary ballot was State Senator Wendy Rogers. She was censured in March by her fellow state senators for telling a white-nationalist group, referring to state and federal officials who had enacted Covid vaccine mandates, “If we try some of these high-level criminals, convict them and use a newly built set of gallows, it’ll make an example of these traitors who betrayed our country.” Yet Rogers would go on to win her primary, easily defeating a fellow G.O.P. state senator, Kelly Townsend, whose communications with Trump lawyers have been subpoenaed by the F.B.I., presumably for information she might have about the plot by Trump allies to replace Arizona’s legitimate electors with fake ones. No moderate herself, Townsend recently vowed that vigilantes at primary polling stations would monitor voters they deemed suspicious: “We’re going to have people parked out there watching you, and they’re going to follow you to your car and get your license plate.”The leading name in this new Republican wave is that of Lake, the gubernatorial candidate, who was a well-known personality on Phoenix’s Fox affiliate for over two decades. At a Trump rally in Arizona I attended in January, she called for the arrest of illegal border-crossers and also of Dr. Anthony Fauci for unspecified Covid-related offenses, as well as unspecified conspirators “in that corrupt, shady, shoddy election of 2020.” To this litany of suspected criminals, Lake has also added teachers. “Put cameras in the classroom,” she told the Arizona conservative talk-radio host Garret Lewis last November, arguing that parents should have access to video evidence of “something being taught in the classroom” that they might deem objectionable.Lake neatly if hyperbolically described the Arizona G.O.P.’s us-versus-them outlook on Twitter in June: “They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens. They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm Americans and militarize our Enemies. Let’s bring back the basics: God, Guns & Glory.” On her campaign website, Lake describes the media — her former profession — as “corrupt” and “the enemy of the people.” A campaign video displays her bashing televisions to bits with a sledgehammer and a baseball bat. At a rally the night before the primary, she directed her audience to turn around and “show these bastards” — referring to the camera crews positioned on a riser — their disapproval, which they proceeded to do with loud jeers.Lake has said she decided to leave journalism in 2021 because of disenchantment with the news media’s liberal bias. In fact, Lake herself donated to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. A decade later, Lake’s preference had changed. She visited the White House in June 2019 to do a story for the local Fox affiliate on Stephanie Grisham, who years before served as the press secretary for the Arizona House Majority Caucus and who had just been named communications director for the first lady, Melania Trump. “What got me was how much of a fangirl for Donald Trump she was,” Grisham told me. “When she got there, she was absolutely gushing about him. I remember thinking, Even for Fox, this is a bit much.”Trump endorsed Lake last September, a few hours after she wrote on Twitter that the likeness of the former president should be chiseled into Mount Rushmore. Trump also endorsed Blake Masters, now the Arizona Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent Democrat, Mark Kelly. Masters, the 36-year-old former C.O.O. of Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm, embraces the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. “If you say as a candidate, ‘Obviously, the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country, they hope to import an entirely new electorate,’ they call you a bigot,” he told Rob Hephner, who goes by Birdman, on the “Patriot Edition” podcast in April. Such views are in alignment with those of Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, who gave Masters his “forceful endorsement.” (Masters rejected the endorsement.) The campaign yard signs for Masters that I saw festooning Arizona’s highways bore pledges like “Blake Masters Will Prosecute Fauci” and “Blake Masters Won’t Ask Your Pronouns.”Trump’s interest in Arizona officeseekers like Masters and Lake is anything but casual. For nearly two years running, he has repeatedly cited both his continuing desire to overturn the 2020 presidential election and Arizona’s centrality to that effort. At a rally in Prescott Valley on July 22, Trump spoke glowingly of the G.O.P. state chairwoman, Kelli Ward — “she’s winning so much.” Ward has championed the State Senate’s election audit of Maricopa County, calling it “America’s Audit.” (Arizona election officials had already conducted a succession of recounts and audits before this one by an outfit called Cyber Ninjas, headed by a conservative election denier named Doug Logan, which found in the end that Biden had won 99 more votes and Trump 261 fewer than originally recorded.) A primary eve rally in Phoenix, in August.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York TimesThe most telling among Trump’s Arizona endorsements is that of the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, whom Trump has described in an official statement as “a true warrior” who took an “incredibly powerful stance on the Massive Voter Fraud that took place in the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.” Indeed, Finchem, as a state representative, was one of Arizona’s first public officials to baselessly claim that the state’s voting machines had been corrupted in Biden’s favor. At a candidate forum I attended in mid-July, Finchem disclosed to the audience that he had charged $5,000 to his personal American Express card to rent out a Phoenix hotel conference room where, on Nov. 30, 2020, he and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani staged a multihour presentation to Finchem’s fellow state legislators of supposed fraud in Arizona, even as state officials were certifying the election for Biden a few miles away. As secretary of state, Finchem would be Arizona’s top election official during a potential rematch of Trump and Biden in 2024 and could work to invalidate the results, which the current secretary of state, the Democrat Katie Hobbs, now running for governor, refused to do in 2020.The enmeshment of Finchem and other Arizona Republicans in the tumultuous final weeks of Trump’s presidency is remarkable in its depth and complexity. On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election, Representative Paul Gosar conceived the first protest of the results anywhere in the United States, marching to the Maricopa County recorder’s office in Phoenix, where the ballots were still being tallied. Joining Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell in a postelection lawsuit seeking to invalidate Arizona’s results, on the factually unsupported grounds that “old-fashioned 19th-century ballot stuffing” had occurred there, was the Phoenix lawyer Alexander Kolodin, who on primary night won a seat in the State Legislature (no Democrat will oppose him in the general election). As the flurry of Arizona lawsuits failed one by one, the state’s G.O.P. chairwoman, Ward — who had also filed an unsuccessful election lawsuit — maintained a weekslong pressure campaign against the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to throw out the results, saying in one ominous text message (among many that were obtained by The Arizona Republic), “I know you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who led the charge to certify a fraudulent election.”Two weeks after the Nov. 30 election-fraud hearing convened by Finchem and Giuliani, while state officials were certifying the Arizona results, the official state G.O.P. Twitter account posted a video of Ward and 10 other Republicans signing documents falsely proclaiming themselves to be the state’s electors and declaring the election results illegitimate. Among the phony electors were three Republicans who would later appear on the 2022 primary ballot: the U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon and the State Senate candidates Anthony Kern and Jake Hoffman. (Lamon was defeated by Masters; Kern and Hoffman won.) This fake-elector scheme had been in the works for over a month and involved Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who in emails obtained by The Washington Post urged two Arizona lawmakers, Speaker Rusty Bowers and State Representative Shawnna Bolick, to “take action to ensure that a clean slate of electors is chosen.”When that maneuver also failed to bear fruit, several Arizona Republicans joined with Trump in attempting a final desperate postelection measure. On Dec. 21, 2020, Gosar and his fellow Arizona congressman Andy Biggs, then the head of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, were among a group of G.O.P. House members who met with Trump in the White House to discuss actions including calling on Vice President Mike Pence to decertify the election results unilaterally. Two weeks later, on Jan. 5, 2021, 16 Arizona legislators — Bolick, Kern and Finchem among them — signed a letter to Pence that was also signed by Republican legislators in four other contested states, urging him to delay certifying the election results for 10 days. Pence refused to do so, and on Jan. 6, Kern and Finchem were among the Arizonans who descended on the Capitol. Finchem photographed the riotous mob and posted it on Twitter with the caption, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.”As a result of their involvement in Trump’s efforts to steal back the presidency, Finchem, Ward, Biggs and other Arizona Republicans have been issued subpoenas by the Jan. 6 committee. (Though Ward taunted Democrats last year for their resistance to the State Senate audit in Arizona — “What are they hiding?” she demanded at the time — she has since sued to block the committee from obtaining her cellphone records.) Back home in Arizona, however, they have faced no reprisals within their party. Far from it: Their willingness to assist Trump in overturning the 2020 election was rewarded across the boards on primary night.There was no mystery as to why. According to a state survey of Arizona voters last year, 61 percent of Republicans believed the 2020 election “was stolen from President Trump.” Perhaps not by coincidence, the G.O.P. primary candidates who spoke the most vociferously about fraud in the 2020 elections were those like Kari Lake and Blake Masters, who were not in Trump’s trenches back then and now had to work overtime to prove themselves fit for combat against the enemy.“We are a Wild West state,” Lake proudly declared to a cheering audience at the Trump rally I attended in January. She was saluting her state’s undomesticated spirit and distinguishing it from what she termed the “socialist garbage” prevalent in California. Much like Texans, residents of the last contiguous state to enter the Union have long evinced a certain pride in their nearly uninhabitable territory, insofar as doing so confers a toughness that their effete neighbors to the west may lack. Lake was no doubt also nodding to the worrisome demographic reality that some 60,000 Californians relocated to Arizona in 2020. What some activists on the right derisively refer to as the looming “Californication” of Arizona — high taxes, increased gun restrictions and liberalization of social values — ranks high on the list of existential anxieties among the state’s conservatives. “They don’t win with their ideas,” Lake said of progressives to her supporters the night before the primary, “because their ideas are what sunk California.”Roughly 39 percent of Arizona’s land is federally owned. The local hostility to government control, combined with the sense of rough-hewn independence fostered by its desert climate, has meant that conservatism in Arizona has long possessed an extremist underbelly. One former longtime state G.O.P. operative brought up the congressional district long represented by Gosar, which includes most of Mohave and Yavapai Counties, two of the two most conservative in Arizona. (The home page for the Mohave County G.O.P. contains the banner headline, “Protecting Our Republic … One Voter at a Time.” The Yavapai County G.O.P.’s website includes links to the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast as well as to the Gateway Pundit website, which has been banned on Twitter and demonetized by Google for promoting ludicrous conspiracy theories.) “These are the ranchers of the West,” the former operative told me. “They literally will meet you with a gun at their door if you try to say hello. It makes canvassing very difficult.” This person noted that Kingman, a town in Mohave County, was where Timothy McVeigh spent several months discussing with fellow extremists his plans to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. As the former operative told me, “This is the part of the country where they believe Timothy McVeigh was right.”Other political observers in Arizona point to Gov. Evan Mecham, elected in 1986 and impeached and removed from office only 15 months into his term (for obstruction of justice and misusing public funds to prop up his ailing auto dealership), as an early sign of a far-right base that Trump would later exploit. Mecham, who rescinded the state holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while blaming America’s high divorce rate on women’s entering the labor force, vowed to his death that his political career had been undone by a vast conspiracy. The bridge between Mecham and Trump would prove to be Joe Arpaio, who took office as Maricopa County sheriff in 1993, five years after Mecham’s removal, and stepped down in 2017 after losing his latest re-election bid. Styling himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” Arpaio achieved notoriety for his barbaric attitude toward county inmates before later refashioning himself as Arizona’s foremost proponent of strict border-enforcement measures and, later still, as a pioneer of the “birther” conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born outside the United States. Arpaio became an early spokesman for candidate Trump, who as president would pardon Arpaio after he was found guilty of contempt of court. Arpaio, now 90, was also on the ballot for the Aug. 2 primary, barely losing a campaign to be mayor of Fountain Hills, an affluent town in Maricopa County with a population of some 24,000.Of course, Arizona’s dominant modern-day political figures — the Democrats Carl Hayden and Morris Udall, the Republicans Goldwater and McCain — have shaped the state and its national standing in ways that Arpaio and Mecham never could. But it’s also the case that McCain, the state’s most powerful Republican for the past quarter-century, commanded as much distrust as he did allegiance from the grass roots. Conservative Christians in Arizona did not readily forgive McCain for denouncing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance” during his first presidential run in 2000. McCain’s partnership with the Democrat Ted Kennedy to reform the nation’s immigration system in 2006 further alienated his conservative constituents. Another grudge was the senator’s opposition to a 2014 Arizona bill that would permit businesses to deny service to gay customers on religious grounds, insisting that in Arizona, “We welcome all people of all persuasions.”That year, despite McCain’s status as a war hero, the Arizona G.O.P. censured him “for his continued disservice to our state and nation,” in essence accusing its best-known Republican — and the 2008 G.O.P. presidential candidate — of being a RINO. Following the censure, several McCain associates set up a political action committee called Arizona Grassroots Action and aggressively filled vacant precinct committee seats with loyalists, who in turn voted for like-minded party chairs.Among the precinct committeemen who continued to view McCain with disfavor was a libertarian-leaning engineering technology professor at Mesa Community College named Joe Neglia. In 2012, Neglia attended the state party convention and watched with chagrin as the Republican establishment used delay tactics to deprive Ron Paul of any delegates and ensure victory for the presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “It was a day that really changed my life,” he told me in mid-July over breakfast in Tempe. “Because I thought: This can’t possibly be right. This can’t possibly happen.”Neglia began to catalog the means by which the party establishment maintained the upper hand: how, in 2015, they brought in busloads of McCain supporters to a party meeting so that the senator would not be greeted entirely by boos; how, in 2016, they invoked an obscure rule to shut down an “Endorse Anyone but McCain” resolution. “That’s when I started studying to become a parliamentarian,” Neglia told me. “Now I’ve got the RINOs running scared, because every meeting I go to, they see me, and they know they can’t get away with anything anymore.”A former Maricopa County G.O.P. chairwoman, Rae Chornenky, ruefully described to me how Neglia turned the tables at the state party meeting in January 2019. “We were deciding who the next state chairman would be, and Neglia threw a bomb in the middle of it,” she said. “He insisted on a roll-call vote, so that people would have to say out loud who they voted for. In politics, you don’t always want to have to do that. It’s because of that procedure that many people feel she was able to eke out her win.”A Republican precinct committeeman outside his home in Tempe, Ariz., in July.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times“She” was Kelli Ward, an osteopathic physician, Tea Party activist and state senator who unsuccessfully challenged McCain in the 2016 Senate primary and subsequently failed to win a Senate primary in 2018. (Ward would later suggest in one of her books that her loss to McCain may have been due to fraud.) “McCain was like a Mafia don,” Ward told me, “whose henchmen were willing to take out people who wouldn’t kiss his ring. That’s why it’s so painful now for his cronies, because they’re used to being rewarded for their loyalty, just like in the mob. And we are seeing a resurgence or a surge of populist grass-roots people who understand how our country was founded and are tired of that kind of machinery controlling the Republican Party.”Ward’s evocation of mobster fealty in McCain’s circle might strike some as ironic, given her unyielding fidelity to Donald Trump, whom she first met at Mar-a-Lago in December 2017, tweeting seven months later, “Every day I thank God for @realDonaldTrump & the amazing job he is doing to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain both here at home & across the world.” In February, Ward self-published a book about the State Senate audit titled “Justified: The Story of America’s Audit” and dedicated it “to President Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, who should still be president today.” Though the audit failed to achieve the objective of demonstrating fraud, the taxpayer-funded exercise counted as a huge win for Ward’s party organization, which raised over a million dollars during the time of the audit, far more than it did the previous year. As the G.O.P. consultant who works in Western states told me, “The audit was a tremendous windfall for the party, it was good business, the small dollar donations went through the roof.”Ward now sits atop the state G.O.P. hierarchy, which has made her an object of carping from the grass roots, who wonder whether she is drifting away from their ideals. “Even she will violate the rules that we have,” Neglia told me, and he then went on to describe how Ward defied “Robert’s Rules of Order” in abruptly shutting down a party meeting this past January just as Neglia was trying to argue for a transparency measure. Still, Neglia remains an ally of Ward’s — “She’s definitely not a RINO,” he said — and now shares with her the view that widespread fraud tainted the 2020 election. What persuaded Neglia, he said, was the stolen-election film polemic “2000 Mules,” directed by Dinesh D’Souza, whom Trump pardoned four years ago after D’Souza pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. Neglia told me that he met D’Souza in May at the Maricopa County G.O.P.’s annual Lincoln Day lunch. “Very nice, reasonable guy,” he said. “I don’t think he has a dishonest bone in his body.”“So I was in the movie ‘2000 Mules,’ and I’ve been on that issue nonstop,” said Charlie Kirk as he stood before a gathering of fellow Republicans at a restaurant in the Maricopa County town Goodyear on a Thursday night in July. Kirk, 28, is the leader of the Phoenix-based conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, arguably the nation’s most high-profile Trump-adjacent activist group. He was there to raise campaign funds on behalf of his Turning Point lieutenant Austin Smith, who was running in a State House primary, which he would go on to win on Aug. 2. (Smith, in his brief stump speech that night, paid tribute to Trump announcing his presidential bid in 2015 as “a guy with golden hair coming down a golden escalator to save our country.”) But after a few perfunctory words of support for Smith, Kirk — an accomplished orator who combines earnestness, comic timing and doomful soothsaying in one smooth and youthful package — proceeded to describe, unhinged from the fact-based world, how America in general and Arizona in particular rested on a knife edge of anarchy.“We’ve taught our kids to hate themselves, hate the country and believe there is no God,” Kirk told the audience. “And we wonder why our country’s falling apart.” Kirk told the crowd he knew who was responsible: the Democrats. “They want 7,000 illegals across the border to come into our country every day. They want C.R.T. They want this graphic transgenderism in our schools.” As with Kari Lake’s good-versus-evil formulation, Kirk went on to describe the stakes in zero-sum terms: “There’s no compromise when you want to teach 8-year-olds transgender sexual education. I’m sorry, there’s no bargaining. There’s no compromise here. I’m just going to have to get more votes than you, and we’re going to have to defeat you.”Kirk helped start Turning Point USA in 2012. His organization did not take long to become one of the nation’s leading promoters of political disinformation. During the 2016 presidential election, a study conducted for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found, memes created by Kirk’s group were amplified by the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency as part of Russia’s effort to aid Trump’s candidacy. Two years later, according to an investigation by The Guardian, Kirk’s organization contracted an Arizona digital marketing firm, Rally Forge, to promote deceptive messages on Facebook with the apparent objective of persuading some Democratic voters to peel away and side with Green Party candidates, as was the case in 2016, when Jill Stein’s vote totals in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin exceeded Trump’s margin of victory in those three swing states. ‘In my lifetime, I never imagined this attack on democracy. I’ve been asking myself: Will this movement die out with Trump? Or are we the ones that will die out?’In 2020, The Washington Post reported that Turning Point Action (an affiliate of Turning Point USA) commissioned Rally Forge to churn out disinformation about Covid and election security, using a Phoenix-based campaign likened to a troll farm that included teenagers as employees. That same year, Rally Forge’s chief executive, Jake Hoffman, was banned from Twitter. He was also elected to Arizona’s Legislature and was among the group of Arizona Republicans who, with Kelli Ward, proclaimed themselves to be electors in seeking to overturn Trump’s defeat. Hoffman is now vice-chairman of the state’s House Committee on Government and Elections and on primary night became a G.O.P. nominee for the State Senate.The effect of disinformation on the growing extremism of Arizona’s conservative activist community was described to me by a former state Republican operative who asked not to be named so that he could speak candidly about a trend he found to be disturbing. He told me that he frequently received emails from several of the state’s conservative precinct committeepersons. “I’ve never known a group of people, many of whom I genuinely liked, to be so misinformed,” the former operative told me. “I wish I could send you a file of memes that I’ve seen from them over the years. They’re lies or half-truths designed to incite rage. So, what ends up happening is you start to get all these clustered groups that start to spread disinformation, but they’re also the same people that are the root source of power in Arizona’s political system, which is the local precinct committee.”Arizona, the former operative said, is particularly susceptible to the churn of disinformation, owing to its large population of retirees. “These are all folks that have traded in their suit pants for sweatpants,” he said. “They’re on the golf course, or they’re in hobby mode. They have more than enough time on their hands. They’re digesting six to 10 hours of Fox News a day. They’re reading on Facebook. They’re meeting with each other to talk about those headlines. And they’re outraged that, ‘Can you believe that the government is lying to us about this?’”At the event held in Prescott by the Lions of Liberty, I asked Rose Sperry, the G.O.P. state committeewoman, which information outlet she most trusted. She immediately replied, “OAN” — One America News, the Trump-touting network that provided daily coverage of “America’s Audit” in Arizona even as one of its show hosts, Christina Bobb, was helping to raise funds for and directly coordinate the operation between the Trump team and state officials. One guest on OAN’s heavy rotation over the past year has been the secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, who appeared on a broadcast last September to discuss the State Senate audit of the 2020 election, accompanied by a chyron that read, “Exposing the Crime of the Century.” In July, I drove to Fountain Hills, where Finchem was speaking at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Women of the Hills. Finchem sidled up to the microphone with a pistol conspicuously strapped to his right hip. After describing his work history in law enforcement, the private sector and Arizona politics, he then offered a different sort of qualification. With a grin, Finchem said, “The Atlantic put out a piece yesterday: I’m the most dangerous person to democracy in America.”The article Finchem was referring to did not designate him “the most dangerous person” — but rather as one of “dozens” of election-denying candidates who “present the most significant threat to American democracy in decades.” Regardless, the notion of Arizona’s G.O.P. secretary of state front-runner as a threat to democracy was received rapturously. Several women in the audience yelled out “Whooo!” and applauded.Throughout Arizona’s 2022 political season, the proactive denigration of democracy among Republicans became a chorus that was impossible to ignore in meetings, speeches and rallies across the state. “By the way,” Charlie Kirk made a point of saying at the fund-raiser in Goodyear, “we don’t have a democracy. OK? Just to fact check. We’re a republic.” At a gathering in Mesa that I attended in July, held by the conservative group United Patriots AZ, the evening’s host, Jeffrey Crane, asked the audience, “Are we a democracy?” They responded loudly: “Nooooo! Republic!”In each case, the very notion of democracy was raised not so much to win a scholarly point but rather to shine a spotlight on it as an offending object. When I mentioned this emerging antagonism to McCain’s longtime state director, Bettina Nava, she was genuinely stunned. Reflecting on her former boss’s brand of conservatism, Nava told me: “At the root of it all was his deep belief in the experiment of democracy. When I was his state director, we met with everybody. And there were times when it was perfectly friendly and others where it was contentious. But he never shied away from it, because disagreement didn’t equal hate.” Nava feared for the Republican Party she once served. “In my lifetime, I never imagined this attack on democracy,” she said. “I’ve been asking myself: Will this movement die out with Trump? Or are we the ones that will die out? Are we the Whigs?”Nava was describing a democracy reliant on a notion of comity that was no longer in evidence. As McCain’s grip on Arizona waned, Arizona conservatives began gradually to part ways with his beloved democratic experiment. That experiment had worked in the past, so long as the democratic principles in question redounded to the benefit of the state’s ruling conservative base. Arizona Republican legislators led the way three decades ago in championing early voting, and Republican voters overwhelmingly chose to cast their ballots by mail, at least until the 2020 election. But by Primary Day in August, many Arizona Republicans had come to view such conveniences, against all evidence, as a trap laid by a wily leftist conspiracy bent on engineering Democratic victories.I spent that morning visiting about a dozen voting centers throughout deeply conservative Yavapai County, from Black Canyon City to Yarnell to Congress. Outside the Cottonwood Bible Church, a young bearded man in a camouflage shirt politely greeted every voter with a fistful of ballpoint pens he had purchased for the occasion. “I know they were passing out the felt-tip pens last election and not all the votes counted,” the young man said, referring to the disproved claim that election workers in Maricopa County sought to invalidate Republican ballots in 2020 by forcing voters to use Sharpies. “I just wanted to do my part.”At a voting center in Clarkdale, three senior citizens, all G.O.P. precinct committeepersons, sat in folding chairs directly in front of the town’s only voting drop box a few yards away. When a car idled up, they craned their necks to see whether the driver was trying to stuff the box with multiple ballots, which “2,000 Mules” claimed was a frequent tactic. Two hours into their vigil, there had been no suspicious activity.In Maricopa County, increasing numbers of college-educated suburbanites have helped turn Arizona “magenta, the lightest state of red,” in the words of one pollster.Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York TimesOne of them, a woman named Sandy Jenocovich, led me to a nearby booth they had set up. It included leaflets for the conservative candidates they favored, as well as free copies of the Constitution, “in case anybody wants one, not that the Democrats go by it, because they certainly don’t,” she snorted. I asked Jenocovich about the hostility toward democracy I had heard voiced throughout Arizona. Nodding, she replied: “Well to me, what a democracy is, is like 51 percent of the people can decide that they want my property, and they can take it. Where a constitutional republic is: No, you can’t do that.” The three precinct committeepersons agreed that Republicans needed to “take it back” in 2022, lest critical race theory become embedded in school curriculums and children be urged to change their gender on a whim. That evening, at Lake’s election-watch party in Scottsdale, the ebullient gathering — many of the attendees young and wearing date-night attire — grew restive as her opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson, held onto a commanding lead for several hours. Having been told for the past two years that early voting was rife with corruption, Lake’s supporters had mostly cast their ballots on Primary Day, and the totals were slow to come in. The candidate finally emerged onstage at close to 11 to assure the crowd that Primary Day’s voters were breaking her way — adding, “There is no path to victory for my opponent.”Then Lake’s speech took a conspiratorial turn. “This is how they do it. They want to try to take you down in this movement. They don’t want you to celebrate.”It wasn’t clear who “they” were in Lake’s scenario. By that point, there were news reports of widespread problems in Republican-dominated Pinal County, just to the south of Maricopa County. A miscalculation by election officials there had resulted in a shortage of ballots in several precincts, with some 750 voters being turned away (though most if not all were given the opportunity to vote later that day). “What in the hell is going on?” Lake exclaimed. To many in the audience, the question itself was enough and did not require an answer. Any glitch or ambiguity on voting day would be sufficient to dispute any future election results that did not emphatically produce the outcome desired by the ascendant reactionary right.“That’s a compromised election,” Mark Finchem, the secretary of state candidate, said to me of Pinal County. “These are people who were disenfranchised.” He had arrived at Lake’s party after his own victory was all but assured. I approached him after he finished an interview with a reporter for the far-right outlet Real America’s Voice. Finchem told me that he had spent part of the day monitoring a voting center. I said that I had encountered other such monitors north of here. Given their prevalence, I asked him, was there any reason at all to suspect anything more devious than human error in Pinal County? Finchem thought for a second as beads of sweat rolled down from underneath his cowboy hat. Then, grimly, he answered.“Everything is suspect right now.”Robert Draper is a contributing writer for the magazine. He is the author of several books, most recently “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” which was excerpted in the magazine. Peter van Agtmael is a Magnum photographer. His latest book, “Sorry for the War,” is about the American disconnect with war. More

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    How Arizona Became an Abyss of Election Conspiracy Theories

    Of the roughly three dozen states that have held primary elections this year, Arizona is where Donald Trump’s conspiratorial fantasies about the 2020 election seem to have gained the most purchase.This week, Arizona Republicans nominated candidates up and down the ballot who focused their campaigns on stoking baseless conspiracy theories about 2020, when Democrats won the state’s presidential election for only the second time since the 1940s.Joe Biden defeated Trump in Arizona by fewer than 11,000 votes — a whisker-thin margin that has spawned unending efforts to scrutinize and overturn the results, despite election officials’ repeated and emphatic insistence that very little fraud was committed.The most prominent winner in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor was Kari Lake, a telegenic former news anchor who became a Trump acolyte. There’s also the G.O.P. pick for secretary of state, Mark Finchem, a cowboy-hat-wearing state lawmaker who marched at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.They are joined by Blake Masters, a hard-edged venture capitalist who is running to oust Senator Mark Kelly, the soft-spoken former astronaut who entered politics after his wife, former Representative Gabby Giffords, was seriously wounded by a gunman in 2011.There’s also Abraham Hamadeh, the Republican nominee for attorney general, along with several candidates for the State Legislature who are all but certain to win their races. It’s pretty much election deniers all the way down.Another notable primary result this week: Rusty Bowers, the former speaker of the Arizona House, who offered emotional congressional testimony in June about the pressure he faced to overturn the election, was easily defeated in his bid for a State Senate seat.To make sense of it all, I spoke with Jennifer Medina, a California-based politics reporter for The New York Times who covers Arizona and has deep expertise on many of the policy issues that drive elections in the state. Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, is below.You’ve been reporting on Arizona for years. Why are many democracy watchers so alarmed about the primary election results there?It’s pretty simple: If these candidates win in November, they have promised to do things like ban the use of electronic voting machines and get rid of the state’s hugely popular and long-established vote-by-mail system.It’s also easy to imagine a similar scenario to the 2020 presidential election but with vastly different results. Both Lake and Finchem have repeatedly said they would not have certified Biden’s victory.Some might say this is all just partisan politics or posturing — that Finchem, Lake and Masters just said what they think they needed to say to win the primary. What does your reporting show? Is their election denial merely loose talk, or are there indications that they truly believe what they are saying?There’s no reason to think these candidates won’t at the very least try to put in place the kinds of plans they have promoted.Undoubtedly, they would face legal challenges from Democrats and from nonpartisan watchdog groups.But it’s worth remembering that despite losing battle after battle in the courts over the last two years, these Republicans are still pushing the same election-denial theories. And they’ve stoked those false beliefs among huge numbers of voters, who helped power their victories on Tuesday.A polling location in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday.Cassidy Araiza for The New York TimesWe saw evidence of that this week with the surge of Republicans going to the polls in person on Election Day instead of voting by mail, as they had for years, after repeatedly hearing baseless claims that mailed-in ballots are rife with fraud. This was especially true of Lake backers.There’s no way to know what these candidates truly believe in their hearts, but they have left no room for doubting their intentions.What’s your sense of whether these Republicans are capable of pivoting to the center for the general election? And what might happen if they did?We haven’t seen much, if any, evidence that these candidates have plans to pivot to the center, aside from minor tweaks to some of the language in Masters’s TV ads.They have spent months denouncing people in the party they see as RINOs (“Republicans in name only,” in case you’ve forgotten). In Arizona, that list has included Gov. Doug Ducey, who refused to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, as Trump demanded, and the now-deceased Senator John McCain, who angered many conservatives and Trump supporters by voting against repealing the Affordable Care Act.So even if these candidates do try to tack toward the center, expect their Democratic opponents to point to those statements and other past comments to portray them as extremists on the right.I do wonder how much the Republicans will continue to focus on the 2020 election in the final stretch of this year’s campaign. More moderate Republican officials and strategists I’ve spoken to in Arizona have repeatedly said they worry that doing so will weaken the party’s chances in the state, where independent voters make up roughly a third of the electorate.Do Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state who won the Democratic nomination for governor, and Senator Mark Kelly, the Democrat who is up for re-election in the fall, talk much about election denial or Jan. 6 when they’re out with voters?Hobbs rose to widespread prominence in the days after the 2020 election when she appeared on national television at all hours of the day and night assuring voters that all ballots would be counted fairly and accurately, no matter how long that took. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that her own fate is deeply tied to the rise of election denial.But even as her closest supporters have promoted Hobbs as a guardian of democracy — and she has benefited from that in her fund-raising — it is not a central piece of her day-to-day campaigning. Many Democratic strategists in the state say they believe she would be better off by focusing on issues like the economy, health care and abortion.And that line of thinking is even more true in the Kelly camp, where many believe the incumbent senator is best served by focusing on his image as an independent who is willing to buck other members of his party.In March, for instance, Kelly referred to the rise in asylum seekers crossing the border as a “crisis,” language Biden has resisted. Kelly has also supported some portion of a border wall, a position that most Democrats adamantly oppose.As a political issue, how does election denial play with voters versus, say, jobs or the price of gas and groceries?We don’t know the answer yet, but whether voters view candidates who deny the 2020 election as disqualifying is one of the most important and interesting questions this fall.I’ve spoken to dozens of people in Arizona in the last several months — Democrats, Republicans and independents — and few are single-issue voters. They are all worried about things like jobs and gas prices and inflation and abortion, but they are also very concerned about democracy and what many Republicans refer to as “election integrity.” But their understanding of what those terms mean is very different depending on their political outlook.Is there any aspect of these candidates’ appeal that people outside Arizona might be missing?Each of the winning Republican candidates we’ve discussed has also focused on cracking down on immigration and militarizing the border, which could prove popular in Arizona. It’s a border state with a long history of anti-immigration policies.Two demographic groups are widely credited with helping tilt the state toward Democrats in the last two elections: white women in the suburbs and young Latinos. As the state has trended more purple, the Republican Party is moving further to the right. Now, whether those voters show up in force for the party this year will help determine the future of many elections to come.What to read this weekend about democracyPro-Trump operatives are flooding local officials with public records requests to seek evidence for the former president’s false stolen-election claims and to gather information on voting machines and voters, Reuters reports.Black, Hispanic and young voters are the most afraid about facing violence at the polls, according to a new poll from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.The New Republic takes a critical look at independent state legislature theory, which is now headed to the Supreme Court.The Atlantic looks at the congressional effort to overhaul the Electoral Count Act and asks a simple question: How do you actually stop the steal?postcard FROM DALLASThe lobby of the Hilton Anatole hotel, which hosted the Conservative Political Action Conference began on Thursday.Emil Lippe for The New York TimesSeven hours at CPACIs there such a thing as a heat index in Texas? Outside the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, it felt like 105 degrees on Thursday.But inside the cavernous hotel, the air conditioning was cranked up full blast as Mike Lindell, the election-denying pillow mogul who has branched out into coffee and slippers, was moving through the media row at a gathering at the Conservative Political Action Conference. A swarm of Republicans approached, angling for selfies and handshakes while they voiced their approval of his efforts and spending to overturn the 2020 presidential election.Beyond the conservative media booths, each resembling a Fox News set, I wandered through an emporium of “Trump won” and “Make America Pro-Life Again” merchandise. My N95 mask made me conspicuous, but each person I asked for an interview obliged.There was Jeffrey Lord, who was fired by CNN in 2017 for evoking — mockingly, he said at the time — a Nazi slogan in a convoluted Twitter exchange. He told me that he had just attended a private gathering with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister revered by many American conservatives. Orban is misunderstood, Lord told me, noting that Ronald Reagan was once accused of being a warmonger. I asked whether conservatives like Lord would put Orban in a similar category as Reagan.“In terms of freedom, and all of that, I do,” he said. “It’s a theme with President Trump.”In the media area inside the hotel’s main ballroom, right-wing news outlets had medallion status. A prime seat in the front row was reserved for One America News, the pro-Trump network. Two seats to my right, a woman with a media credential was eating pork rinds from a Ziploc bag.Seven hours later, I emerged from the hotel, doffing my N95, which left an imprint on my face. It was only 99 degrees.Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.— BlakeIs there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com. More

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    On Election Day, G.O.P. Raise Doubts about Arizona Elections

    Republican candidates and conservative media organizations seized on reports of voting issues in Arizona on Tuesday to re-up their case that the state’s elections are broken and in need of reform, even as state and county officials said the complaints were exaggerated.“We’ve got irregularities all over the state,” Mark Finchem, who won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Arizona, said before his victory was announced.Mark Finchem, the Republican nominee for Arizona’s secretary of state, at a rally last month with Donald Trump in Prescott Valley, Ariz.Ash Ponders for The New York TimesGateway Pundit, a conservative website that breathlessly covered the election rumors on Tuesday, wrote that Arizona’s largest counties were apparently “rife with serious irregularities that have been occurring all day long, sparking even more concern for election integrity.”There is no evidence of any widespread fraud in Tuesday’s election. But the concerns raised were bolstered by a number of problems in Pinal County, the state’s third-most populated county, located between Phoenix and Tucson. More than 63,000 ballots were mailed with the wrong local races on them, requiring new ballots to be issued. On election night, at least 20 of 95 precincts in Pinal County were running low on ballots or ran out entirely.Sophia Solis, the deputy communications director of Arizona’s secretary of state, said voters could still cast a ballot at those precincts using voting machines that are typically used by disabled voters.“We did not hear of any widespread problems,” Ms. Solis said, adding that “one of the main issues that we did see yesterday was the spread of mis- and disinformation.”Kent Volkmer, the attorney for Pinal County, said there were more in-person voters in the county than had been seen before, including far more independent voters. He added that many voters surrendered their mail-in ballot so they could vote in person, possibly motivated by the ballot-printing issues.“We don’t think that there’s nearly as many people who were negatively impacted as what’s being related to the community,” Mr. Volkmer said.One common talking point on Tuesday resurrected a false theory from 2020, known as Sharpiegate, which claimed that markers offered by poll workers were bleeding through and invalidating ballots. Election officials have said that machines can read ballots marked with pens, markers and other instruments, and any issues can be reviewed manually.“This is Sharpiegate 2.0,” Ben Berquam, a conservative commentator, said on a livestream. Mr. Finchem shared the conspiracy theory on his Twitter account. The campaign for Ron Watkins, a congressional candidate for Arizona’s Second District who came in last place in his race on Tuesday, also suggested that Mr. Watkins’s votes were being artificially slashed.Sorting mail-in ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix, Ariz., on Tuesday.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York TimesMany election fraud theories focused on the governor’s primary race between Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed former news anchor, and Karrin Taylor Robson, who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence. Ms. Lake was badly trailing her competitor for most of the night, whipping up election fraud theories among her supporters. She eventually took the lead.Ms. Lake’s allies suggested during a livestream that the results were suspicious because many other Trump-aligned candidates were winning their races. In Arizona, mail-in ballots received before Election Day are counted first, and polling suggested those would slightly favor Ms. Taylor Robson. In-person votes were counted on election night, and Ms. Lake’s supporters preferred voting in person.As counting continued late into the night, Ms. Lake claimed victory while she was still trailing Ms. Taylor Robson.“When the legal votes are counted, we’re going to win,” Ms. Lake said at her election night party. The Associated Press has not yet called the race. More

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    Trump-Backed Conspiracy Theorist Vies to Take Over Arizona Elections

    PHOENIX — This spring, Mark Finchem traveled to Mar-a-Lago for the premiere of a documentary advancing the specious notion that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from President Donald J. Trump by an army of leftists stuffing drop boxes with absentee ballots. As a state representative and candidate for secretary of state in Arizona, Mr. Finchem was a minnow among the assembled MAGA stars, the likes of Rudolph W. Giuliani and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.But he still got his face time.“President Trump took 20 minutes with me,” Mr. Finchem later recounted during a campaign stop. “And he said: ‘I want you to understand something. The Arizona secretary of state race is the most important race in the United States.’”Arizona, of course, occupies a special place on Mr. Trump’s map of election indignities — as the onetime Republican stronghold where President Biden’s narrow and crucial victory was first called by, of all networks, Fox News. Should Mr. Trump run again in 2024, a friendly secretary of state, as administrator of the state’s elections, could be in a position to help him avoid a repeat.Now, as Arizona prepares for its primaries on Tuesday, Mr. Finchem is the candidate of a Trump-backed America First coalition of more than a dozen 2020 election deniers who have sought once-obscure secretary of state posts across the country. While most of them have been considered extremist long shots, a recent poll gave Mr. Finchem an edge in Arizona’s four-way Republican race, though a significant majority of voters are undecided.Mr. Finchem’s campaign pronouncements are testament to the evolution of the “Stop the Steal” movement: It is as much about influencing future elections as it is about what happened in 2020.Mark Finchem, a proponent of the “Stop the Steal” narrative, appeared with former President Donald J. Trump at a rally this past month in Prescott Valley, Ariz.Ash Ponders for The New York TimesTo that end, Mr. Finchem, who has identified himself as a member of the Oath Keepers militia in the past, may be the perfectly subversive candidate. Like his America First compatriots, he seeks, quite simply, to upend voting.He wants to ban early voting and sharply restrict mail-in ballots, even though the latter were widely popular in Arizona long before the pandemic. He is already suing to suspend the use of all electronic vote-counting machines in Arizona, in litigation bankrolled by the conspiracy theorist and pillow tycoon Mike Lindell. And he has co-sponsored a bill that would give the state’s Republican-led legislature authority to overturn election results.If he loses his own race, Mr. Finchem told a June fund-raiser, “ain’t gonna be no concession speech coming from this guy.”Mr. Finchem did not respond to requests for comment for this article, and one of his lawyers declined to comment. But in a May email he assured Republican supporters that if he had been in office in 2020, “we would have won. Plain and simple.” In the days after the election, he was co-host of an unofficial hearing at a downtown Phoenix hotel where Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, aired bogus stolen-elections claims. He was instrumental in trying to advance a slate of fake Trump electors in Arizona — part of a scheme to overturn the elections in a number of states that is being investigated by the Justice Department — and he is helping gather signatures to petition to decertify the state’s election results, even though that is not legally possible.Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 HearingsCard 1 of 9Making a case against Trump. More

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    In Races to Run Elections, Candidates Are Backed by Key 2020 Deniers

    The origin story behind a slate of Republican candidates for secretary of state features a QAnon figure and several promoters of 2020 conspiracies.Key figures in the effort to subvert the 2020 presidential election have thrown their weight behind a slate of Republican candidates for secretary of state across the country, injecting specious theories about voting machines, foreign hacking and voter fraud into campaigns that will determine who controls elections in several battleground states.The America First slate comprises more than a dozen candidates who falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump. It grew out of meetings held by a conspiracy-mongering QAnon leader and a Nevada politician, and has quietly gained support from influential people in the election denier movement — including Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder, and Patrick Byrne, the former Overstock.com executive who has financed public forums that promote the candidates and theories about election vulnerabilities.Members of the slate have won party endorsements or are competitive candidates for the Republican nomination in several states, including three — Michigan, Arizona and Nevada — where a relatively small number of ballots have decided presidential victories. And in Pennsylvania, where the governor appoints the secretary of state, State Senator Doug Mastriano, who is aligned with the group, easily won his primary for governor last month.Mr. Finchem has sued to try to ban the use of voting machines in Arizona in the November elections.Nic Antaya for The New York TimesThe candidates cast their races as a fight for the future of democracy, the best chance to reform a broken voting system — and to win elections.“It doesn’t really matter who’s running for assembly or governor or anything else. It matters who is counting the vote for that election,” said Rachel Hamm, a long-shot contender in California’s primary on Tuesday, at a forum hosted by the group earlier this year.But even in losing races, the slate has left its mark. As they appeal for votes on the stump and on social media, the candidates are seeding falsehoods and fictions into the political discourse. Their status as candidates amplifies the claims.The information being tossed out under the guise of election reform, particularly the machine manipulation of votes, threatens to corrode Americans’ trust in democracy, said John Merrill, the Republican secretary of state in Alabama. “What you do is you encourage people not to have confidence in the elections process and people lose faith.”In private weekly calls that stretch on for hours on Friday mornings, the candidates discuss policies and campaign strategy, at times joined by fringe figures who have pushed ploys to keep Mr. Trump in power. In 11 states, the group has sponsored public forums where prominent activists unspool intricate conspiracies about vulnerabilities in voting machines.Secretary of state races were once sleepy affairs, dominated by politicians who sought to demonstrate their bureaucratic competence, rather than fierce partisan loyalty. But Mr. Trump’s attempt to overturn the results — including his failed attempt to pressure Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, to “find” votes to reverse his loss — has thrust the office’s power into the spotlight.Understand the 2022 Midterm Elections So FarAfter key races in Georgia, Pennsylvania and other states, here’s what we’ve learned.Trump’s Invincibility in Doubt: With many of Donald J. Trump’s endorsed candidates failing to win, some Republicans see an opening for a post-Trump candidate in 2024.G.O.P. Governors Emboldened: Many Republican governors are in strong political shape. And some are openly opposing Mr. Trump.Voter Fraud Claims Fade: Republicans have been accepting their primary victories with little concern about the voter fraud they once falsely claimed caused Mr. Trump’s 2020 loss.The Politics of Guns: Republicans have been far more likely than Democrats to use messaging about guns to galvanize their base in the midterms. Here’s why.Since its founding last year, the America First slate has ballooned from a handful of candidates to a high of around 15. Many have little chance of succeeding. On Tuesday, Ms. Hamm will compete to place among the top two candidates in California, and Audrey Trujillo, who is running unopposed in New Mexico, will cinch her G.O.P. nomination. Neither candidate is favored to beat Democratic opponents in their solidly blue states.But America First candidates could be competitive in at least four battleground states: Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Two of them have already scored primary victories in these states: In Michigan, Kristina Karamo, a novice Republican activist who gained prominence challenging the 2020 results there, won her party’s endorsement at an April convention, all but securing her nomination in August. The Republican primary winner for Pennsylvania governor, Mr. Mastriano, was involved in an effort to keep the state’s electoral votes from President Biden in 2020. He has said he wants to cancel all voter registrations and force voters to re-register.Jim Marchant, a Republican candidate for secretary of state in Nevada, is a founding member of the America First slate. John Locher/Associated PressA leading candidate in Nevada’s primary next week is Jim Marchant, one of the organizers of the America First slate. The former state assemblyman and another candidate won the endorsement of the central committee of the state Republican Party, giving them a boost before voters go to the polls on June 14. The group’s candidate in Arizona, Mark Finchem, is a leading contender and the top fund-raiser in the primary race.Mr. Marchant has said he was urged to start the coalition by unnamed people close to Mr. Trump. The project picked up steam in the spring of last year, after Mr. Marchant attended a meeting of activists hosted by a man known in QAnon circles by the alias Juan O’Savin, according to an account from one of the people involved in the group.Major figures in the election denier movement were drawn in. In May 2021, when Mr. Marchant organized an all-day meeting in a suite at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, Mr. Lindell appeared remotely briefly. Soon after, the group gathered again at a distillery in Austin, Texas, according to two people who attended the meeting.The host of that session was Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel and a leading proponent of a machine-hacking theory involving Communists, shell companies and George Soros, the Democratic financier. Mr. Waldron is perhaps best known for circulating a PowerPoint presentation that recommended Mr. Trump declare a national emergency to delay the certification of the 2020 results. The document made its way to the inbox of the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and is now part of the congressional investigation into the deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.Phil Waldron’s PowerPoint presentation urging Mr. Trump to declare a national emergency to delay the certification of the results is now a part of the congressional investigation into the Capitol riot.ReutersThe group posted a platform that calls for moving to paper ballots, eliminating mail voting and “aggressive voter roll cleanup.”In recent months, the core group has been recruiting new candidates. Around 25 people, including some of the candidates and people seeking to influence them, join the weekly conference calls, according to some of the candidates who were recruited. The group discusses campaigns and policy ideas, including how to transition to hand-counting all ballots — a notion election experts say is impractical and can lead to errors and cause chaos.“It’s startling to have statewide candidates, multiple candidates for a really important statewide office, running on a deeply incoherent policy plank,” said Mark Lindeman, an expert on elections with Verified Voting, an election security nonprofit.Mr. Byrne, who spent millions on the discredited “audit” of votes in Arizona, has taken particular interest in sponsoring public forums. He has pledged to spend up to $15,000 on each event, and has contributed around $83,000 to a political action committee controlled by Mr. Marchant.Understand the 2022 Midterm ElectionsCard 1 of 6Why are these midterms so important? More

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    In Arizona, a Swing State Swings to the Far Right

    SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. — Kari Lake has a strategy to get elected in 2022.Keep talking about 2020.Minutes into her pitch at the Cochise County Republican headquarters in the suburbs of southern Arizona, Ms. Lake zeroed in on the presidential election 18 months ago, calling it “crooked” and “corrupt.” She claimed nearly a dozen times in a single hour that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump, a falsehood that the audience — some of whom wore red hats reading “Trump Won” — was eager to hear. Ms. Lake, a former local Fox anchor who won Mr. Trump’s endorsement as she campaigns to become Arizona’s next governor, calls the 2020 election a key motivation in her decision to enter the race.“We need some people with a backbone to stand up for this country — we had our election stolen,” Ms. Lake said in an interview after the Cochise County event in March, adding, “I don’t know if it’s a winning issue, but it’s a winning issue when it comes to saving this country.”Republicans in many states have grown increasingly tired of the Stop the Steal movement and the push by Mr. Trump to reward election deniers and punish those who accept President Biden’s victory. At a time when Mr. Biden’s approval ratings are sinking, leaders in the party are urging candidates to focus instead on the economy, inflation and other kitchen-table issues.But 12 weeks before its Republican primary in August, Arizona shows just how firm of a grasp Mr. Trump and his election conspiracy theories still have at every level of the party, from local activists to top statewide candidates. And this week’s victory for J.D. Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author who received the former president’s endorsement in the Republican primary for an Ohio Senate seat, shows that loyalty to Trumpism goes a long way in battleground states.Still, some establishment Republicans worry that party leaders have gone too far and are effectively handing the closely divided swing state to Democrats in November.“Anybody who is still re-litigating 2020 will lose the general election,” said Kathy Petsas, a Republican who has served as a precinct captain and collected signatures for several candidates this year. “I think people at home have caught on, and I don’t think a lot of our candidates have caught on.”Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona with President Donald J. Trump in 2020. The race to replace Mr. Ducey, who cannot run again because of term limits, has become among the most expensive governor’s races in state history.Doug Mills/The New York TimesTwo forces have helped ensure election denialism remains a core issue in Arizona: the Republican-sponsored and widely derided review of the presidential vote in the state’s largest county, and Mr. Trump’s continued attacks on the Republican governor, Doug Ducey, for rebuffing his efforts to block election certification. More than three dozen Republicans running for office in Arizona — including six candidates for statewide posts — have made denying the 2020 results a centerpiece of their campaigns, according to two groups tracking candidates, States United Action and Pro-Democracy Republicans. States United Action is nonpartisan; Maricopa County’s top elections official, a Republican, began Pro-Democracy Republicans earlier this year.In interviews with more than a dozen voters at Ms. Lake’s campaign events, nearly all said “election integrity” was their top issue, and none believed that Mr. Biden was the legitimate winner of the presidential election.“We need strong Republicans to get rid of the RINOs who aren’t willing to do anything, like our governor,” said Claribeth Davis, 62, using the acronym for “Republicans in name only” to refer to Mr. Ducey. Ms. Davis, a medical aide, said she recently moved from the Phoenix suburbs to Cochise County’s Sierra Vista, a rural section of southern Arizona, to “be with more like-minded people.”Trump supporters in November 2020 gathered outside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix, where ballots were being counted.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York TimesNumerous courts and reviews have found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. The Republican-ordered review by Cyber Ninjas, a now-defunct company with no previous experience in elections, concluded that there had actually been even more votes for Mr. Biden and even fewer for Mr. Trump in Maricopa County. The county’s board of supervisors rebutted nearly all of the group’s claims. But none of that has tamped down the fervent belief among many Republicans that control of the country has been snatched away from them.“There’s nothing but elitists in charge,” said Suzanne Jenkins, a 75-year-old retiree who described herself as a Tea Party Republican and who drove about an hour to Sierra Vista to hear Ms. Lake speak.Understand the Ohio and Indiana Primary ElectionsTrump’s Grip: J.D. Vance’s win in Ohio’s G.O.P. Senate primary was a strong affirmation of the former president’s continued dominance of the Republican Party.How Vance Won: The author of “Hillbilly Elegy” got a big endorsement from Donald J. Trump, but a cable news megaphone and a huge infusion of spending helped pave his way to victory.Ohio Takeaways: It was a good night for Mr. Trump, and not just because of Mr. Vance. Here’s why.Winners and Losers: A progressive challenger was defeated (again) in Ohio, and a Trump-endorsed Pence (not that one) won in Indiana. These were some of the key results.There has been little political upside for moderate and more establishment Republicans in Arizona to speak out against the party’s far-right wing. Instead, the handful of them who have done so have faced protests, censure from local Republican organizations and harassment. Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who has repeatedly defended the state’s 2020 election, has received death threats.“There’s not enough pushback,” said State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican who is not running for re-election. “Because everyone is afraid of a primary.”For generations, Arizona was a reliably red state. Even as Senator John McCain fashioned himself into a moderate maverick, the state was a hotbed of conservative anti-immigration politics that helped give rise to Mr. Trump’s candidacy and presidency. Mr. McCain’s name is now invoked as an insult by conservative Republicans, including Ms. Lake.But in the last four years, voters have elected two Democratic senators and chosen a Democrat for president for the first time in more than two decades, though Republicans remain in control of the State Legislature and the governor’s mansion.Arizona has long been a source of right-wing enthusiasm for the national party. The former Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, made national headlines in the early 2000s for his anti-immigrant policies, and in 2010 the Legislature passed what became known as the “show me your papers” law, effectively legalizing racial profiling. It was later struck down, and Mr. Arpaio is now running for mayor in a Phoenix suburb.Ms. Lake, who quit her job as an anchor for the local Fox station because of what she called its bias and dishonesty, frequently blasts the media as “brainwashed,” “immoral” and “the enemy of the people.” And her widespread name recognition has helped give her an early lead in the polls.But winning the crowded Republican primary is far from certain. Ms. Lake faces especially fierce opposition from Karrin Taylor Robson, a Phoenix-based business owner who has contributed millions to her own campaign. Already, the race to replace Mr. Ducey, who cannot run again because of term limits, has become among the most expensive governor’s races in state history, with $13.6 million in spending so far.Ms. Taylor Robson has not made the 2020 election the major focus of her campaign, but when asked whether she considered Mr. Biden the fairly elected president, she responded in a statement, “Joe Biden may be the president, but the election definitely wasn’t fair.”“We need some people with a backbone to stand up for this country — we had our election stolen,” said Kari Lake, who won Mr. Trump’s endorsement in her campaign for governor.Cassidy Araiza for The New York TimesMs. Lake says Arizona should finish the border wall that Mr. Trump began building. She has emphasized her ties to the former president, appearing with him at his rally in the state earlier this year, fund-raising with him at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and including his name on her campaign signs.Ms. Lake has made conspiracy theories a centerpiece of her campaign — releasing a television ad that told viewers that if they were watching the ad, they were in the middle of a “fake news” program. “You know how to know it’s fake?” she says to the camera. “Because they won’t even cover the biggest story out there: the rigged election of 2020.” She also touts her endorsement from the chief executive of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, a key financier of right-wing efforts to discredit the 2020 election.From first-time candidates to incumbents in Congress and the State Legislature, many Republicans in Arizona have increasingly embraced an extremist brand of right-wing politics.Representative Paul Gosar and State Senator Wendy Rogers both spoke at the America First Political Action Conference, a group with strong ties to white nationalists, and both were censured by their legislative bodies for their violent rhetoric and antics. Ms. Rogers and State Representative Mark Finchem, a Republican who is running for secretary of state, have acknowledged ties to the Oath Keepers militia group. Ron Watkins, who is widely believed to have played a major role in writing the anonymous posts that helped spur the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon, is running for Congress. Jim Lamon, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, falsely claimed to be an elector for Arizona last year.Even Mr. Ducey, who was formally censured by the state Republican Party last year for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has acknowledged the energy on the state’s hard-right, signing a bill that will require proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. When reporters asked about his support for Ms. Rogers, Mr. Ducey said that “she’s still better than her opponent,” a Democrat, though he later applauded the Legislature’s vote to censure her. Mark Brnovich, the Arizona attorney general who is now running for U.S. Senate, has faced repeated criticism from other Republicans, including Ms. Lake and Mr. Trump, and accusations that he is dragging out the investigation into the presidential election.Representative Paul Gosar spoke at a Trump rally in Florence, Ariz., in January.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York TimesState Senator Wendy Rogers, an Arizona Republican, addressed the crowd at a Trump rally. She was censured by the State Senate in March after giving a speech to a white nationalist gathering.Ross D. Franklin/Associated PressA few Republican candidates have made the economy and immigration the focus of their campaign. But even among those candidates, almost none have offered a full-throated defense of the 2020 election. Some Republicans believe that while focusing on 2020 is both irresponsible and politically unwise, it may not matter in Arizona, where the president’s approval rating is now at its lowest since he took office, a dive largely driven by independent voters.Because independent and third-party voters make up roughly 34 percent of the electorate, it is impossible to win the state with Republicans alone. Ms. Lake and other candidates like her may have already hit a ceiling even among primary voters, as polls show many voters remain undecided, and there is evidence of growing support for other candidates.“I am concerned that if these people get elected it will make another decade of craziness,” said Bob Worsley, a former state senator who describes himself as a moderate Republican. “I don’t know who has the stature to say, ‘Let’s bring this party back, bring the establishment base back into power.’ Now we’re a purple state and we don’t have a John McCain to try to crack the whip.” More