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Analysis

In Nevada’s Primaries, Election Denial and a Campaign Cash Boom

As voters decide the parties’ nominees, campaigns for governor, secretary of state, and local election officials jockey over the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

June 8, 2022

After play­ing a prom­in­ent role in last month’s primary in Geor­gia, elec­tion denial is facing another test in Nevada, which holds its primary next week. Geor­gi­a’s primar­ies for governor and secret­ary of state elim­in­ated top candid­ates who staked their candid­acy almost entirely on the Big Lie, making the prospect of an elec­tion denier running or certi­fy­ing the statewide 2024 elec­tions there look far less likely.

But the possib­il­ity is still very real in other battle­ground states. In Michigan, for instance, last week’s disqual­i­fic­a­tion of multiple candid­ates for governor over forged peti­tion signa­tures increases the like­li­hood that one of the elec­tion deniers remain­ing in the race advances to the general elec­tion. And in Nevada, several statewide and local campaigns facing primary voters next week have made elec­tion denial a key issue.

In a sign of the prom­in­ence of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion this year, campaign cash in the race for Nevada’s secret­ary of state, who will over­see the next elec­tions, has reached $1.8 million, almost four times the amount at an analog­ous point in any of the last three elec­tion cycles, back to 2010. And gubernat­orial candid­ates have alto­gether raised $21.4 million, more than double the amount at an analog­ous point in the 2018 elec­tion and five times that of 2014.

Gubernat­orial candid­ates lead­ing the polls in the GOP primary have made many false claims about the 2020 elec­tion. Joey Gilbert, endorsed by the Nevada Repub­lican Party, defen­ded his claims the elec­tion was stolen in a May inter­view, arguing there were “six states that shut our count­ing down for the first time in our nation’s history for weeks,” and, “it’s common sense, [Joe Biden] didn’t get 80 million votes.” John Lee sent support­ers an email this month that included “the elec­tion wasn’t stolen” on a list of contenders for the “most prepos­ter­ous lie.” Joe Lombardo, lead­ing in the polls, has acknow­ledged Biden won, although he ques­­­tioned whether it was “fair and square” and said he does­n’t know whether there was wide­spread voter fraud because the state didn’t conduct an audit.

Tom Heck campaign ad
TV ad from gubernat­orial candid­ate Tom Heck

A group called Better Nevada PAC has spent at least $1 million on pro-Lombardo ads that claim Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) “made elec­tions less secure” and that Demo­crats are “manip­u­lat­ing our elec­tions to keep them­selves in power.” Better Nevada PAC received $1 million from the Amer­ican Excep­tion­al­ism Insti­tute, a Virginia dark money group that also spent in support of the Geor­gia gubernat­orial campaign of David Perdue, who insisted “the elec­tion in 2020 was rigged and stolen.”

Pro-Lombardo campaign ad
TV ad support­ing Lombardo from Better Nevada PAC

In the contest for secret­ary of state, the four lead­ing fundraisers have all taken a stance on elec­tion denial, increas­ing the like­li­hood that it will be a cent­ral issue in the general elec­tion for that office. Cisco Aguilar (D) has criti­cized “false claims of fraud.” Jesse Haw (R) said Demo­crats changed voting rules to “manip­u­late the system.” Jim Marchant (R) claims his own 2020 campaign was a “victim of fraud” and has pushed local elec­tion offi­cials to move to hand-coun­ted paper ballots. Richard Scotti (R) has claimed Domin­ion voting machines change results and supports moving to paper ballots and conduct­ing partisan reviews like the discred­ited one conduc­ted in Mari­copa County, Arizona.

A Virginia super PAC is also active in the secret­ary of state race. The group, Amer­ic­ans for Secure Elec­tions PAC, was formed in March and funded by $1.2 million from three dark money groups. It has aired ads support­ing Haw, using foot­age from his campaign website, that say he will “end voter fraud.” This week, it began airing ads attack­ing Marchant. At the same time, a group called Conser­vat­ives for Elec­tion Integ­rity, affil­i­ated with an “Amer­ica First” slate of secret­ary of state candid­ates organ­ized by Marchant, aired ads saying he is “the only candid­ate with a plan to stop elec­tion fraud.”

In races for county clerk, the local offi­cial in charge of running elec­tions, candid­ates have simil­arly used elec­tion denial as a basis for criti­ciz­ing voting machines and push­ing for hand-coun­ted paper ballots. In addi­tion, public anger and threats have contrib­uted to at least 5 of Nevada’s 15 elec­ted clerks leav­ing office since 2020.

In a Repub­lican primary debate for clerk in Nye County, all three candid­ates “emphat­ic­ally agreed that Donald Trump won the 2020 elec­tion.” And the campaign website for Storey County candid­ate for clerk-treas­urer Jim Hindle declares his role as one of the false elect­ors who tried to assign Nevada’s Elect­oral College votes to Trump as one of his qual­i­fic­a­tions.

Early voting is already under­way in Nevada. Voters and candid­ates for elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion posi­tions are aware of the state’s status as a likely 2024 pres­id­en­tial battle­ground. The results of the primary next week will shed new light on how voters respond to elec­tion denial by campaigns.