Nevada Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald liked what he saw during a tour of the ongoing election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona — so much so he brought a few ideas back to Nevada as souvenirs.
Arizona’s Republican-controlled state Senate ordered a hand recount, handled by a private company, of several million ballots cast in one of the nation’s most populous counties during the 2020 election, in which President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump.
“Hats off to the leadership here in Arizona … I think that sets the model, that sets the tone for Nevada,” McDonald said in a recorded interview posted to Twitter.
“We want to be able to say the same thing in Nevada: that we looked at all the problems we had, all the anomalies that took place, to make sure that it was a clean and fair election,” he continued. “Because it wasn’t.”
But unlike Arizona, Democrats hold near-total political control in Nevada, and they have zero interest in authorizing a costly, tedious hand recount some seven months after a clearly decided election.
“The Nevada GOP and its chairman are delusional,” state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in a statement. “The Nevada Senate isn’t going to waste any time or taxpayer money entertaining their unhinged conspiracy theories.”
Some elected Republicans also view an audit as a waste of energy, while state and Clark County election officials maintain that a third-party audit would not be legal in Nevada.
“The Nevada Attorney General’s office defeated their meritless lawsuits alleging widespread voter fraud before, and the office will stand against meritless so-called ‘audits,’ too,” Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford tweeted in response to McDonald’s interview. “Believe that.”
State GOP considering legal avenues
McDonald would seek an audit of Clark County, which, like Maricopa in Arizona, holds much of Nevada’s population and Democratic voter base.
He told the Review-Journal on Thursday that his party is “moving forward with the exploration of the 2020 election in Nevada.”
While he acknowledged the different political realities between Arizona and Nevada, he said lawyers are pursuing possible avenues “to ensure there is voter integrity and voter confidence in the upcoming elections.”
“After all, election integrity is not just an issue for Republicans or Democrats, but all Nevadans,” he added.
Though Republicans in other states may be seeking Trump’s favor in visiting to observe the Arizona audit, McDonald already had it before he left for the Grand Canyon state. The former president endorsed McDonald, and the state party’s existing executives, for re-election in a May 19 letter shared this week by McDonald.
“Many of your votes weren’t counted properly, and the election was rigged and stolen from us,” Trump’s letter reads. “Chairman McDonald and his team continue to fight for voter integrity.”
Opposition on all sides
In recent months, McDonald has spoken for his party at large, but not necessarily its elected members.
Several Republicans in the Legislature have voiced support for Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican statewide elected official, who has maintained the 2020 election’s results are accurate and that no widespread voter fraud took place. Her office investigated but later dismissed a series of “anomaly” claims filed by McDonald and the state GOP.
She has said the party produced far fewer fraud claims than it initially stated, and many of the actual complaints didn’t meet the standards required for investigation.
A narrow majority in the Nevada Republican Party’s central committee voted to censure Cegavske over her handling of the election, and some have accused McDonald of using far-right extremists to bend the rules and reach that majority. He has denied this.
Assemblywoman Annie Black, who also unsuccessfully challenged McDonald’s state party chairmanship in 2019, said in several blog posts this week that while she supports the idea of an audit, Republicans should focus their efforts elsewhere because of its political impossibility in Nevada.
“Realistically, if you want to change public policy, you have to change public officials,” Black wrote. “Which is why I’m focusing on electing more Republicans to office in 2022 — including in the state assembly, state senate, governor and attorney general.”
While state Democrats have experienced some of their own public in-fighting in recent months, support for the 2020 election’s integrity has not wavered among their many elected officials and rank-and-file members.
Nevada law says that recounts must be requested within three days of the final canvass of election results by the Nevada Supreme Court, which took place Nov. 24.
When asked about the possibility of some sort of third-party audit of Clark County ballots, county spokesman Dan Kulin cited state law stating that the county registrar or city clerk are ultimately in charge of any recount process.
“Technically it would not be illegal to hire an independent contractor to do some work, but the registrar or city clerk would still have to chair the (recount) board and be responsible for the result,” Kulin said. “So there would never be a totally ‘independent’ recount, absent a court order, where the clerk just hands ballots over to a third party without supervision.”
Cegavske’s office provided a statement this week:
“The Civil Rights Act of 1960 requires state and local election officials to maintain, for 22 months after the conduct of an election for federal office, ‘all records and papers’ relating to any ‘act requisite to voting in such election …”
The U.S. Department of Justice agrees, citing the same law in a May letter warning the state of Arizona.
“A decision to transfer or release custody of voting records to a third-party auditor would potentially violate this provision of federal law,” Cegavske’s office concluded.