by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
How do you convince voters to pay attention to the race for secretary of state, a historically mostly low-profile administrative office that oversees how elections are conducted?
It’s not merely a theoretical question for several secretary of state candidates in the U.S. this year, who are running against election deniers who want to win the office to influence the outcome of the 2024 Presidential election.
Democrat Cisco Aguilar is running against Republican Jim Marchant, an ardent election denier whose campaign is based on conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen by a global “cabal” that controls election workers, elected officials, judges of both parties, and the manufacturers of electronic voting machines.
In addition to calling out Marchant’s baseless allegations, Aguilar also hopes connect the importance of free and fair elections to the economy, education and other “kitchen table issues.”
While people should be able to vote out officials who don’t reflect their positions or carry out their vision, Aguilar warned if Marchant wins it would diminish people’s access to the ballot box, along with their ability to make their voices heard.
“Right now we have an opportunity to elect someone who will continue voter confidence or we could have someone who will tear down the system because they don’t like it and it hasn’t benefited them,” Aguilar said. “All Nevadans will suffer because of him. Republicans. Nonpartisan. Democrats. Because there will be no voter confidence in the process because he is running the elections.”
Marchant hasn’t responded to numerous attempts to be interviewed or answer questions.
Aguilar, a former staffer for Sen. Harry Reid, who served on the Nevada Athletic Commission for eight years, says he was initially drawn to the office to help business.
In addition to overseeing the state’s elections, compiling campaign finance reports and other election-related duties, the secretary of state’s office is responsible for registering corporations and other businesses, and is a key point of contact between state government and business through other record-keeping functions.
With the rise of national efforts to suppress voting, as exemplified in Nevada by Marchant, Aguilar has found himself in the role of protecting the office’s ability to carry out its core duties, and ensure voters are “allowed to exercise their opinion and set the priorities for the state” through the ballot box.
Aguilar said unlike Marchant, he would be a neutral arbiter of the office and adhere to the verdict of voters regardless of the results.
“(Marchant) continues to focus on how the office is going to benefit him and his friends or cronies,” Aguilar said.
While speaking alongside former President Donald Trump at a recent rally in Minden, Nevada, Marchant, who lost a bid for the 4th Congressional district in 2020, repealed false claims the election was fixed.
He told the crowd “when my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected we’re going to fix the whole country and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024.”
Aguilar said Nevada needs to elect “someone who is neutral and impartial to what the actual outcome is and listening to voters in Nevada, versus saying ‘this is the outcome I want and I’m going to influence it to that direction,’ which my opponent will absolutely do, and has stated on the record that’s what he will do.”
Earlier this year, Marchant also convinced counties to move toward hand-counting paper ballots, pledged to end mail-in ballots and said he wanted to end early voting.
‘Sold a bill of goods’
Underlying all of Marchant’s agenda are false allegations of voter inaccuracies in the 2020 election.
Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske reviewed allegations of election integrity issues following the 2020 election and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Multiple judges in Nevada also dismissed legal challenges filed by Republicans – including one filed by Marchant – to overturn or throw out election results, the courts typically ruling no evidence had been presented that warranted the challenges moving forward.
Nye County, which is planning to do a hybrid tabulation using machines and hand-counting for the upcoming election, was recently sued by the ACLU of Nevada in an attempt to block the procedure.
Aguilar said that by convincing the county to make the switch, Marchant has left the citizens of Nye financially liable.
“I think Nye County has been … sold a bill of goods by my opponent” Aguilar said, calling Marchant an extremist who believes “the only way he and his friends could win is by changing the rules.”
A Democratic Association of Secretaries of State-backed group recently invested nearly $6 million in Nevada attacking Marchant for saying wanted to end early voting and vote by mail.
“Early voting is valued by every Nevadan,” Aguilar said. “That’s not a party issue. Yet my opponent has clearly stated he would eliminate early voting. That hurts our working families because if you take voting back to a single Tuesday in November from 7 a.m to 7p.m., most people work then.”
If he wins, Aguilar said his first legislative priority would be to introduce a bill, similar to one seen in Colorado, to criminalize attacks against election workers.
The legislation comes as election workers across the country have seen an increase in threats and harassment.
“Election workers and volunteers are continuing to be harassed or intimidated and they go to do those things in fear and that’s unacceptable,” Aguilar said.
He also said he wants to bring in someone to represent the state’s Indigenous population and “work directly with the secretary of state to increase voter access and participation by our Native communities.”
Some statewide polls have indicated Marchant has a lead over Aguilar.
Even if Aguilar manages to win, there is a possibility he would have to work with other election deniers in local or statewide offices.
“The one I would be worried about is the attorney general’s office because the secretary of state office has to work hand and hand to investigate and prosecute voter fraud,” he said.
Sigal Chattah, the Republican nominee for state attorney general, also appeared at Trump’s rally in Minden over the weekend, alleging wide-scale corruption and vowing “to impanel so many grand juries in the four years that I’m AG, (U.S. Attorney General) Merrick Garland will blush”
Beyond overseeing election processes, the office of secretary of state also manages and regulates a variety of things including business licensing.
“On the corporate security filing side, I want to simplify the process and develop new technology to make it easier for small businesses to be compliant with the secretary of state office,” Aguilar said.
He added he wants to look at ways the office can help start-up companies, especially small businesses with Hispanic ownership.
Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.