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Republicans stress ballot security in race for secretary of state

Nearly all of the Republicans seeking to be elected Nevada secretary of state share a common goal: roll back voter access laws to improve “security” and “integrity.”

For most, that means eliminating universal vote-by-mail and ballot harvesting that the state’s Democratic-majority Legislature first put into place during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and later made permanent. A majority of the party’s seven primary candidates also want to implement voter identification requirements.

Debunked claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was rigged in Democrats’ favor have thrust this year’s race of Nevada’s top elections official into the spotlight.

Republican incumbent Barbara Cegavske, who is term limited, says her office has found no evidence of widespread fraud in Nevada, even after an extensive investigation of complaints filed by Republicans.

Still, multiple Republican primary candidates say plummeting confidence in elections among their party is enough to warrant change. Others say they believe the election was stolen.

UNLV political science assistant professor Dan Lee said Nevada’s secretary of state has limited power in changing election procedures on his or her own. The office could more aggressively purge the state’s voter rolls of people believed to have died or moved, and it could decertify certain brands of electronic voting machines from use.

But more drastic changes — repealing universal vote-by-mail and ballot harvesting among them — could not be made without the Legislature, county officials or courts.

That said, the office’s bully pulpit could provide a powerful tool to legitimize unproven claims of mass voter fraud, Lee said.

“Being (secretary of state) has its limits, but it still gives a big platform (as a public official) to try to sway public opinion on this issue,” he said.

‘Deep state cabal’

Jim Marchant, the race’s top spender as of April, has proposed some of largest overhauls to elections.

The 65-year-old former state assemblyman and tech entrepreneur wants to eliminate voting-by-mail, implement voter ID laws and expand access to poll watchers. He is also in favor of getting rid of early voting days and holding elections on a one-day state holiday.

“It needs to be thrown out and totally redone from the bottom up,” said Marchant, who is part of an “America First” coalition of more than a dozen secretary of state candidates across the nation.

Marchant has said he was the victim of election fraud in 2020, when he lost to Democratic incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford in the 4th Congressional District. A Clark County District Court judge rejected a Marchant lawsuit seeking a new election in the district.

“We haven’t, in Nevada, elected anybody since 2006. They have been installed by the deep state cabal,” Marchant told the “Flyover Conservatives” podcast in January.

He is helping lead efforts to have county officials across Nevada eschew electronic voting machines in favor of hand-counted paper ballots. If elected, he promised to lead an audit of Nevada’s voting machines to determine if 2020 election data had been deleted from them.

Outside of elections, he plans to advocate for the repeal of Nevada’s commerce tax, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015.

“I think once we have a fair and transparent election, we’re going to have people that are in the Senate and Assembly and a governor that will allow that to happen,” he said. “It’s all key on me getting elected.”

Ex-judge takes on ‘broken’ system

Richard Scotti, 59, said his experience as a Southern Nevada judge, attorney and business owner makes him the top candidate to fix the state’s “broken” election system.

If elected, Scotti said he’d immediately consider filing lawsuits in an attempt to change the state’s voting laws, including stopping universal vote-by-mail and implementing a voter ID requirement.

Scotti said he wants to expand poll watching and revoke the state’s certification of the Dominion voting machines. He’s also against ballot harvesting, the practice of having people unrelated to a voter take their mail ballots to election officials for counting.

Scotti said he’s “leaning toward” advocating for using only paper ballots.

The former judge served in Clark County District Court from 2014 until 2020, when he lost his bid for re-election. As secretary of state, he would audit the accuracy of Nevada’s voting machines in 2020, claiming investigations already carried out by the office were insufficient.

“The 2020 election was characterized by incidents of fraud and vulnerabilities and mistakes that occurred,” he said. “Was there enough for the presidential election to change the outcome? We didn’t investigate enough to answer that question.”

Scotti also wants to expand education programs to Nevada prisoners through the office’s seat on the Board of State Prison Commissioners.

Restoring trust

Kristopher Dahir, 49, said he wants to work hand in hand with county officials to restore trust in elections.

“The leftover remnants of this last election is a fail, because you have a group of people who feel like it was fraud,” he said. “How this was handled created this situation, in my opinion, and it has to be fixed.”

In the short term that means conducting a thorough review of voter rolls to remove anyone who has died or moved out of state, according to Dahir, a Sparks councilman and pastor. He also wants to review how the state’s automatic voter registration system operates.

Dahir said his longer-term goals are advocating for overturning ballot harvesting and requiring voter ID. While he said there’s no proof of widespread voter fraud claims, he said how Democratic lawmakers changed the rules of the election on a party-line vote in 2020 was “unfair and wrong.”

He wants both Republican and Democrat party officials to nominate people to oversee ballot adjudication, a process that reviews ballots where the voter’s intent is unclear.

“I want to open the doors as wide as possible that, if you want to vote, there is a way for you to vote,” he said. “However, you can’t do it so big that you can’t protect the very thing we’re doing.”

Dahir said he would also work with counties and cities to streamline the business registration process across Nevada. He envisions a system where people can register for local business licenses as they apply for the statewide license on the secretary of state’s website.

From TV to Carson City

Gerard Ramalho, 56, says he gained an intimate knowledge of Nevada’s most pressing issues during his more than 20 years as a Las Vegas television reporter and anchor.

“I’m not a traditional politician by any sense of the word,” he said. “I think what I bring to the table that others do not is perspective.”

Recently, that meant seeing Republican voters lose faith in state elections in 2020. It was one of the last big stories that Ramalho covered before he left KSNV, Channel 3, in early 2021 during a company downsizing.

Ramalho said he would use the office’s bully pulpit to call for the repeal of Nevada’s universal vote-by-mail and ballot harvesting laws. He said the measures are currently giving Democrats an advantage and were passed without enough chance for public rebuttal.

Another goal of Ramalho’s is to add voter ID requirements, but he said he would also advocate for extending early voting days and adding more polling locations across the state.

“I like the idea of expanding access, and you can do that in a way that protects integrity,” he said.

Ramalho said he also wants to work closely with local chambers of commerce to welcome new businesses to Nevada.

Recall leads to campaign

John Cardiff Gerhardt, 30, says his efforts to recall Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak make him most fit for the Republican party’s nomination.

Gerhardt, a former actor who moved to Nevada from New York City in 2016, said he started his recall efforts in April 2020. That same year, he ran for state Assembly as an independent and lost, earning 3 percent of the vote.

If elected, Gerhardt said he wants to remove Dominion voting machines from Nevada and explore creating a smartphone voting app. He also wants to end at-large elections in the state.

A self-described believer in the QAnon conspiracy movement, Gerhardt said he thinks it will take a “massive majority civil uprising” for him to win the election. He has reported raising and spending no money on his campaign as of April.

Gerhardt said his review of Nevada’s voter roll data has led him to believe the data is “diluted with fake voters.” He said he would launch an official investigation in the matter as secretary of state.

“First, identify the fraudulent voters in the voter data and then conduct operations to remove the puppet politicians and replace them with authentic patriots,” he said.

Two other candidates did not respond to the Review-Journal’s request for an interview.

Jesse Haw, a 51-year-old Reno developer and former state Senate appointee, has loaned more than $450,000 to his own campaign. He supports ending universal mail-in voting, criminalizing ballot harvesting and implementing voter ID requirements, according to his campaign website.

Socorro Keenan’s campaign website promises that she will “restore voter integrity” if elected. It alleges that thousands of instances of voter fraud occurred during Nevada’s 2020 election.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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