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Nevada Republicans join GOP wave of nominating election deniers

Republican Jim Marchant at a 2020 election night watch party in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)
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Nevada Republicans joined the growing national push to install election deniers in positions with authority over state elections, choosing a candidate for secretary of state on Tuesday who has embraced former president Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud — and who has vowed to try to block a result he deems was rigged.

Jim Marchant, a former state assemblyman who has said he opposed the certification of Joe Biden’s win in Nevada, is among several election deniers to win primaries for statewide offices, including secretaries of state, attorneys general and governors. The victories have come in swing states that could play a major role in the 2024 presidential election, including Nevada, which Biden narrowly won.

Marchant’s victory provides yet another example of the extent to which embracing Trump’s false claims has become part of a winning formula in this year’s GOP contests, and the effect those victories could have on American democracy. Many are seeking positions with the power to interfere in the outcomes of future contests. They could set new rules for local election officials, block the certification of election results and change the rules around the awarding of their states’ electoral votes, which currently follow the popular vote and determine the presidency.

The Nevada secretary of state does not certify election results, but they have other powers over the election process, including setting and enforcing rules with local election officials.

“It’s concerning to have people in positions of power who do not believe in the rule of law, which is what our entire system of democracy is based on,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the liberal watchdog Common Cause. “Jim Marchant continues to say that he would not have certified the 2020 election. And he continues to say that President Biden did not win. Various courts — I think there were more than 60 lawsuits around the country — found that in fact President Biden did win.”

Of the more than 100 election-denying candidates who have secured their nominations or advanced to runoffs, the majority are running in districts or states that lean Republican, according to Cook Political Report ratings, meaning their chances of winning are high. Voters have now nominated election-denying statewide candidates in Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan — four of the six battleground states where Trump contested the 2020 results.

Many of the candidates have sought to mirror or echo Trump’s claims on the election, hoping for his endorsement — or at least for him not to endorse their opponents. The former president did not endorse Marchant.

In an April interview, Trump declined to say whether he’d consider endorsing a candidate who did not think the election was stolen, but his advisers say it is a key litmus test.

“I haven’t had the occasion to think about that,” Trump said, adding that candidates who don’t back his claims usually face political backlash from his supporters. Advisers said Trump carefully studies what each candidate has said about the 2020 election before making a decision.

In another interview, Trump said he would back some candidates in secretary of state races who have been outspoken about what he says were “rigged” contests in their states during the 2020 elections.

“I think where I saw lax law enforcement of election integrity, I think I will, yeah. I’ve endorsed people in certain states where I think it was terrible the way it was handled. The election was rigged and stolen, and nobody does anything about it,” Trump said.

He has repeatedly told Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and others that they have to be more aggressive to make sure the 2024 election isn’t “stolen,” people who have heard his comments say.

In Michigan, Republicans picked Kristina Karamo, who was endorsed by Trump, as their presumptive nominee for secretary of state at the state Republican Party convention in April. The political novice served as an election observer in Detroit during the 2020 absentee ballot count and claimed without evidence that she had witnessed fraud. In May, Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who attended the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C., won the Republican primary for governor.

Mastriano, who was endorsed by Trump, has asserted that the Republican-controlled legislature should have the right to decide, regardless of the popular vote, which candidate’s electors choose the next president. If he wins in the fall, he would have the authority to sign legislation to that effect, and his powers would include the appointment of the Pennsylvania secretary of state, who oversees election administration.

Marchant helped form a group called the America First Secretary of State Coalition to support a slate of secretary of state candidates who espoused the repeatedly debunked claims that Trump’s loss was rigged. The group backed Karamo, Mastriano and Audrey Trujillo, the GOP nominee for secretary of state in New Mexico. The group’s influence will be further tested in primary contests later this summer, including its support for Mark Finchem, a far-right Republican running for secretary of state in Arizona. Trump has praised Finchem.

The candidates aligned with the group espouse changes like requiring voter identification cards and purging voter rolls in states that don’t already have such rules, which voting rights advocates say disproportionately suppress the vote of marginalized groups. The candidates also want to eliminate voting by mail, end early voting, and get rid of voting machines in favor of paper ballots exclusively.

“If we get just a few of the candidates that we have in our coalition, we save our country,” Marchant said during an episode of a podcast hosted by Stephen K. Bannon, a former top Trump adviser.

More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s false fraud claim

Marchant, who narrowly lost a 2020 bid for Congress, has also pressed extensively for the hand-counting of paper ballots in Nevada, an idea that critics say would create chaos, injecting human error into the counting process and potentially causing all but the tiniest of counties to miss the statutory deadline for canvassing their results.

“The electronic voting machines are so vulnerable and so uncertifiable, I don’t see how we can trust them,” Marchant told the Nye County commissioners this year, just before they voted to urge their county clerk to require hand-counting of all ballots.

The Nevada secretary of state does not have the power to certify — or not certify — election results. That power rests with county governments and the state Supreme Court. However, the office does hold broad powers to regulate and instruct local election officials, said Bradley Schrager, a Nevada election lawyer who represents Democratic candidates.

Schrager said that’s the puzzle of the pro-Trump state GOP’s decision to censure Barbara Cegasvske (R), the current secretary of state, for her role in affirming Biden’s victory in the state, because she had no power to alter that outcome.

“Honestly, I think they wanted her to break the law,” Schrager said. “They wanted to create grounds for a crisis.”

A spokeswoman for Cegasvske declined an interview request, saying she “is only accepting interview requests from local news outlets but appreciates the invitation.”

Marchant will face Democrat Cisco Aguilar in November. Although Biden won Nevada by a little more than two percentage points over Trump, rising gas prices and other inflationary forces have decreased Biden’s popularity and created an unfavorable political climate for Democrats.

“It’s a bit shocking” that Marchant won, Aguilar said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s scary and it makes me really motivated to do what’s in the best interest of all Nevadans. What he’s done is create fear among the voting base in Nevada. We’ve got to dispel those myths.”

Christopher Krebs, who was the top election official in the Trump administration before he was fired for bucking the president and saying the 2020 election was secure, said political leaders in both parties should be concerned. He said “those with political responsibility have to take the initiative here and denounce these kinds of people managing elections.”

“We’re seeing a kind of corruption of the electoral process from the inside,” Krebs said in an interview Wednesday. “We should be freaked out.”

Nevada primaries are closed, meaning only registered Republicans may vote in GOP primaries, and only Democrats may vote in Democratic primaries. That means unaffiliated voters, who are more likely to swing between supporting Republicans and Democrats, did not vote in the seven-way GOP primary for secretary of state.

In contrast, those voters, as well as Democrats, voted in substantial numbers in the Georgia secretary of state primary, where incumbent Brad Raffensperger (R) was able to prevail over his election-denying opponent, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.). Aguilar said targeting unaffiliated voters will be a big part of his strategy for the general election.

Marchant has continued to demand a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 election. In August 2021, Marchant spoke at a conference in Las Vegas for a group aligned with QAnon conspiracy theorists. At the time, Marchant denied knowing the group was affiliated with QAnon. He posted on Facebook a Las Vegas Review about his appearance and included a response he’d sent to the reporter.

“My work exposing the election fraud in Nevada has a lot of people very nervous,” Marchant wrote. “The Communist/Socialist/Rino Cabal is coming after me hard. A lot of great things will happen in the near future regarding exposing the election fraud here in Nevada. Stay Tuned!!!”

Democratic meddling in GOP primaries prompts concern over elevating election deniers

Despite his steadfast support for Trump and continued efforts to delegitimize the 2020 results, Marchant was not one of the dozens of candidates to officially receive Trump’s endorsement, though several Trump allies encouraged Marchant to run, people familiar with the matter said.

Trump’s record has been mixed. In Michigan, Trump and his allies worked the phones to ensure that Karamo got the nomination, according to people familiar with the matter. In Georgia, he regularly talked to Hice, the nominee who lost to Raffensperger, whom Trump despised for not blocking Biden’s win there.

The Tuesday primary was the first since Congress began holding public hearings on the Capitol riot, revealing that top Trump administration officials knew there was no basis for claims of voter fraud and told the president so.

Annie Linskey contributed to this report.