SOS for Democracy

Nonpartisans, independents and libertarians will determine Nevada’s next secretary of state

Candidates of both parties are jockeying for their votes.

LAS VEGAS — A prominent election conspiracy theorist, a pastor who is also a local councilman and a businessman who has loaned his campaign close to half a million dollars are among seven Republicans vying to be Nevada’s next secretary of state.

But while their backgrounds run the gamut, the GOP candidates have broadly centered on platforms of strengthening election security, a catchall term for proposals Republicans see as essential but that Democrats warn could suppress large swathes of voters.

The race comes to a head in Nevada’s primary election on Tuesday. While the secretary of state position has often been seen as more bureaucratic than partisan, the role has recently become a flashpoint across the country for not just the counting of votes, but also for which votes get counted.

Proposals by GOP candidates in Nevada range from instituting photo ID requirements for voters and eliminating universal mail-in ballots to completely overhauling the voting machines that the majority of counties in Nevada use. 

Who’s who in the Republican race

Vocal Trump supporter and election denier Jim Marchant is leading the field for the June 14 primary with 16% of voter support, according to a survey of likely primary voters by The Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights.

No other candidate cracked double digits. Former district judge Richard Scotti polled at 8%, followed by businessman and former state Sen. Jesse Haw at 7%. The other candidates hit 3% or lower.

But 34% of voters in the poll haven’t decided yet, and 26% said they do not plan to vote for any of the candidates.  

Marchant is endorsed by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a Trump supporter and election conspiracy theorist.

Marchant has centered his campaign on overhauling Dominion Voting Systems machines that are used in 16 out of 17 counties in the state. Marchant also issued a baseless charge in an interview with the Guardian that there is a global effort to manipulate voting machines so leaders can “maintain their power.”

Dominion Voting Systems has sued Fox News for defamation, claiming the cable news network “broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” implicating the election software company in an unfounded conspiracy to steal the presidential election. 

Marchant did not respond to emails or phone requests for comment.

Haw holds a strong advantage in fundraising and cash on hand as the primary nears.

Haw threw more than $450,000 of his own cash into his campaign and also received more than $200,000 in contributions through the end of March.

The collective $660,000 Haw raised in the first quarter of this year is more than seven times the amount the next two highest fundraisers, Marchant and Kristopher Dahir, the Sparks City Councilman and pastor, raised in the same time —  combined.

Haw says on his campaign website that he wants to “restore faith in our elections” by requiring a photo ID to vote, ending universal mail-in voting and requiring ID instead of signature verification when voting absentee.

Dahir is the only one of the seven Republicans to publicly state that President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. If one of his election-denying opponents wins, he said he’s worried nonpartisan and independent voters will flock to the Democratic candidate instead.

“This is one of my messages to my Republican friends: ‘Listen, I know some of you are really excited about some extreme language,’” Dahir said. “Your nonpartisans will not vote for that, I know that.”

Dahir thinks that while most nonpartisan voters do not embrace conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, they will support strengthening voter ID laws and the like. Dahir said that as secretary of state, he would work to require voter ID for each election and combat ballot harvesting.

A shifting role — and state

The last election for secretary of state in 2018 was determined by about 6,000 votes, with less than 1% separating the incumbent, moderate Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, from her Democratic challenger.

Cegavske was censured in April 2021 by the state Republican party for allegedly failing to thoroughly investigate claims of voter fraud in the state.

“My job is to carry out the duties of my office as enacted by the Nevada Legislature, not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy,” Cegavske said in a statement responding to the censure motion.

“Unfortunately, members of my own party continue to believe the 2020 general election was wrought with fraud — and that somehow I had a part in it — despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief.”

Before Cegavske took office in 2015, the post was held for two terms by a Democrat.

The state has grown since then — and grown more diverse.

During a campaign office launch for Nevada Democratic Victory in Las Vegas, Democratic candidate Cisco Aguilar argued that a victory by any of the Republican candidates would change the state even more, by potentially seeing reforms like universal mail-in ballots eliminated. 

If any of the GOP contenders win the fall general election, he said, “It’s going to be a state none of us want here.”