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Tuesday’s secretary of state primary in Nevada looms large over the 2024 election

Republican voters in Nevada will decide Tuesday whether a vocal proponent of false fraud claims about the 2020 election will become their party’s choice to oversee the 2024 elections in this presidential battleground state.
Jim Marchant, a businessman and former state assemblyman who lost a congressional bid in 2020, is among the better-known candidates seeking the GOP nomination to become Nevada secretary of state. And along with former district judge Richard Scotti, he has won an endorsement from the Nevada Republican Party, boosting his prospects in the primary.

Real-estate developer and former state Sen. Jesse Haw is the best-funded contender in the GOP field after plowing his own money into the race.

In his campaign, Marchant has pledged to overhaul what he calls the “fraudulent election system” in Nevada. He has said he would not have certified President Joe Biden’s more than 33,500-vote victory had he been secretary of state in 2020.
He has talked publicly of a “deep state cabal” that he claims has improperly installed candidates in office for years. And nearly two years ago, he sued unsuccessfully to get a revote after losing by roughly 16,000 votes to Democratic Rep. Steve Horsford in the state’s 4th Congressional District.
Marchant also has organized a coalition of so-called “America First Constitutional Conservative” candidates. Their goals include ending most mail-in voting, expanding voter-identification and promoting the “aggressive” cleanup of voter rolls.

And, more recently, Marchant has lobbied local governments to abandon the use of machines to cast and count votes. He wants to return to hand-counting ballots — a move experts say will cause errors and chaos in future elections.

(As we wrote about recently, commissioners in Nye County, Nevada, took Marchant up on the idea and voted 5-0 to recommend that the county’s elected clerk, Sandra “Sam” Merlino, ditch the machines in this year’s elections. The controversy has prompted Merlino, a Republican, to move up the date of her retirement, so that she will not be in office to oversee November’s elections.)

Marchant did not respond to multiple interview requests from CNN.

His rise in recent months — and his effort to elect like-minded election chiefs elsewhere — has raised alarms among national voting rights activists.

“Marchant’s rhetoric and record make it clear that he’s a dangerous extremist who would work to undermine democratic elections,” Nick Penniman, the CEO of the election watchdog group Issue One Action, said in a statement. “Elections should be run by devoted public servants who want to administer free and fair elections, not rogue partisan activists who would overturn the will of the people.”

Swing state

Whoever becomes Nevada’s new secretary of state will oversee the election machinery in one of the country’s most important presidential swing states.

The margins of victory have grown tighter in this battleground in recent years. Biden won the Silver State by a little more than 2 percentage points in 2020, down from the more than 6-point victory by the Obama-Biden ticket there in 2012.

The state is a top priority for Republicans this year as they look to take control of the US Senate. Former President Donald Trump backs former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt in the Republican nomination fight. Laxalt, scion of a powerful political Nevada family, served as Trump’s Nevada co-chair in the last presidential election. The GOP Senate nominee will take on first-term Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in the fall.

Trump had not made an endorsement in the secretary of state contest as of this writing, although Marchant has emphasized the former President’s support of his unsuccessful 2020 congressional bid in this year’s campaign.

The current secretary of state and the only Republican statewide officeholder, Barbara Cegavske, is term-limited. She repeatedly defended the integrity of the 2020 election amid Republican ire at the results — and was censured by the Nevada GOP because of it.

Whoever captures the GOP nomination for secretary of state on Tuesday will face Las Vegas attorney Cisco Aguilar, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The ‘America First slate’

So far, the so-called “America First” slate that Marchant is promoting has had mixed results. Secretary of state candidates backed by the group have lost recent primaries in Idaho, California and Georgia.

But others in the America First group have advanced to November’s general election. They include the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a leading voice in promoting Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud in the Keystone State. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state.

And last week, Audrey Trujillo — another member of the “America First” coalition and a critic of vote-counting machines — was officially nominated as the GOP secretary of state candidate in New Mexico. Trujillo, who ran unopposed for the nomination, will face the incumbent, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Trujillo likely faces a tough climb: Oliver won her first full term to the post in 2018 by a 20-point landslide.

You need to read

  • This story by CNN’s Dan Merica about the GOP candidates with ties to January 6 who are winning their primaries.
  • An analysis by CNN’s Adam Wollner on the former Trump administration officials who are seeing success at the ballot box so far this year.
  • This piece from NBC about an eight-figure campaign to promote Democratic secretary of state candidates in several key states — another sign of the high stakes of these down-ballot contests in the current political environment.

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