RENO, Nevada ( Associated Press) — Jim Merchant is traveling the country reiterating false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and trying to make the case that electronic voting equipment should be used to favor ballots. Must be thrown and counted by hand.
Now the businessman and former state legislator is on the first ballot Tuesday in Nevada, a perennial presidential battleground. His goal: to become the state’s top election official.
Merchant is one of several Republicans across the country running to oversee the next presidential election, denying the result of the previous one.
There is no evidence of any widespread voter fraud Or manipulation of voting machines in 2020. But the false claims have sowed suspicion among Republican voters, threatened election officials with death threats and a host of new voting restrictions in GOP-controlled states, mostly related to mailed ballots.
Nevada’s top election official, Barbara Segawaske, a Republican, has repeatedly said she found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. in the 2020 election. The term prevents Sigavaske from seeking re-election.
Of the seven Republicans hoping to replace him, Merchant stands out for his rhetoric. He claimed during the February candidates’ podium that elections have been corrupt for a long time.
“Your vote hasn’t been counted for decades,” Merchant told the crowd. “You haven’t chosen anyone. Those who are in office have been selected. You didn’t have a choice.”
Moments later, Sparks City Councilman Christopher Dahir — one of the GOP secretary of state’s candidates — said he took offense to Merchant’s claim “because I think I was actually chosen for real.”
Dahir told The Associated Press this week that he does not believe there was widespread fraud in 2020.
He wrote in an email, “I believe I am the only candidate willing to accept the results, but will work hard to ensure that as a Nevadan we have this incredible authority.” There is no reason to question about it.”
Nationally, nearly two dozen Republican candidates are running to become their state’s top election official, according to States United Action, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that tracks candidates who deny the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. .
Among those leading in November’s election are Christina Karamo in Michigan, Kim Crockett in Minnesota and Audrey Trujillo in New Mexico. Last month, Jody Haise of Georgia lost her bid to oust Secretary of State Brad Riffensperger in that state’s GOP primary, despite Trump’s backing. Riffensperger draws Trump’s wrath after former president’s request is deniedIn a phone call, to “find” enough votes to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.
Nevada – a state Trump lost twice but where he remains popular among Republicans – is a top priority for the GOP this year as the party seeks to gain a majority in the US Senate. Trump has backed his 2020 Nevada campaign chair, former state attorney general Adam Laxault, in his attempt to oust Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto for the first time. He has also endorsed Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo for governor.
Laxalt reiterates Trump’s lie One of his primary opponents faced criticism in a recent debate about the 2020 election, but for not doing enough.
“When President Trump, Nevadans and Americans were counting on you to challenge any sort of issues in the 2020 election, you just filed a lawsuit, that in your own admission was too late,” Candidate Sam Brown, a former US Army captain who earned a Purple Heart after being critically wounded in Afghanistan.
Laxalt said that as chairman of Trump’s Nevada campaign he had “imagined every alarm because Democrats had fundamentally changed our election” and noted that it was the secretary of state, not the attorney general, who Voters in Nevada are responsible for investigating fraud. For the 2020 election, mail ballots were sent to all registered voters – a temporary move that has since been made permanent.
Trump has yet to weigh in on the race for secretary of state, although he supported Merchant in his failed congressional bid in 2020. Trump has also not endorsed the state’s attorney general in the state’s Republican primary, a race that features a pair. Lawyers in Las Vegas have focused more on personal attacks than voter fraud concerns.
In the secretary of state competition, Marchant is not the only GOP candidate to question the integrity of the elections and in particular the use of voting machines to cast and count votes.
On a February forum, candidate Socorro Keenan compared the US elections to other countries “where they know how to cheat,” while candidate Richard Scotty said he agreed with the call to stay away from voting machines because “The data they record in the evening is never the same in the morning.”
Another candidate, businessman and former state legislator Jesse Haw, has accused Democrats of manipulating the system to change voting rules and called for new restrictions on voter ID requirements and mail ballots.
The election’s claims seem to resonate with GOP primary voters.
At a recent rally in northern Nevada for Senate candidate Brown, several Republicans said they are confident Trump will win in 2020 and that electoral integrity is a top concern.
Ingrid Lentz, 70, of Reno, said she believed there were “forces that were unseen” behind the last election.
“I believe the election was stolen,” said Ken Gray, chairman of the rural Lyon County Board of Commissioners, who is running for a state legislative seat.
Charlie Fatig, a retired general contractor in Reno, said there was “a lot of illegal work done” in 2020, adding that he doesn’t believe in drop boxes for mail ballots or voting by mail in general.
“It just opens it up to corruption,” Fatig said.
To be clear, the federal government’s leading security experts declared the 2020 presidential election “the safest in American history.” Trump’s own Attorney General said that there was no fraud that would have changed the results, and that there was no evidence To suggest that Trump was betrayed by a second term.
In the GOP primary for secretary of state, outside money is being put into advertisements. Virginia-based American for Secure Elections PAC, which has received $1.2 million from three groups that do not disclose their donors, is airing ads in support of Haw, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which is involved in fundraising in these races. Keeping an eye on. According to the Brennan Center, PACs recently launched ads attacking merchants, while another PAC is airing ads in support of them.
On the Democratic side, Cisco Aguilar, a lawyer and former chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, is running unopposed in the primary. In an interview, he praised the current Secretary of State for the steps taken to ensure safe and secure elections. and said he would take forward the work done by the Legislature to expand the reach of voting. He criticized the GOP sector for spreading misinformation about the state’s safe voting methods.
“Unfortunately, we have a bunch of candidates looking to scare voters into action,” Aguilar said.
Election experts say candidates who repeat lies and misinformation could be in danger if they are put in a position to monitor elections. They may be tempted to interfere in the administration of future elections or use their position to cast doubt on the results.
“That person can create an atmosphere of instability and suspicion that is based on lies, and instability can lead to political violence,” said David Baker, a former US Justice Department attorney who leads the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “It’s not a fiction, like what we saw on January 6th.”
Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Gabe Stern in Minden, Nevada contributed to this report.