Former Nevada state Rep. Jim Marchant, a Republican who has spread the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and said he would not have certified the results, won the GOP secretary of state primary Tuesday night, putting an election denier one step away from overseeing elections in the key swing state.
The Associated Press declared Marchant the winner early Wednesday morning. He won 38% of the vote in the crowded field that featured seven candidates. Kristoph Dahir, a Republican who countered Marchant’s fraud claims and defended Nevada’s 2020 election, finished with just 6.4% of the vote. Marchant will face attorney and former Nevada state athletic commissioner Francisco Aguilar in November. Aguilar ran uncontested in the Democratic primary.
Marchant’s full embrace of the “big lie” about the 2020 election won him President Donald Trump’s endorsement, which made him the apparent favorite in a crowded race to replace outgoing Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R), who is term-limited.
Cegavske defended Nevada’s elections in the wake of the 2020 vote and certified the results of President Joe Biden’s victory in the state despite Trump’s claims that widespread fraud had marred the results there and in other closely contested states.
Marchant’s victory will intensify the threats facing the country’s election system ― and its democracy as a whole ― as GOP election deniers like him seek to win secretary of state positions in key swing states across the country. Those offices could grant conspiracy theorists and opponents of legitimate elections, like Marchant, broad powers over future contests, allowing them to exert control over voting rolls and how elections are managed, executed and even ultimately certified.
The prevalence of such candidates has generated fears among democracy experts and Democrats that Republicans are plotting to undermine the legitimacy of the 2024 election and other future contests.
Marchant, who helped organize an “America first” slate of candidates seeking secretary of state and other election administration positions, has effectively acknowledged that the point of those candidacies is to take over the election system ahead of the 2024 contest.
“I can’t stress enough how important the secretary of state offices are. I think they are the most important elections in our country in 2022. And why is that? We control the election system,” Marchant said at a conference in October, Vice News reported. “In 2022, we’re going to take back our country.”
Marchant has been among the most ardent and conspiratorial of those candidates. After losing a congressional race to incumbent Rep. Steve Horsford (D) by nearly 5 percentage points in 2020, Marchant baselessly alleged that fraud had marred the results and filed a legal challenge seeking a new election. A judge dismissed the suit after a brief hearing.
During his secretary of state campaign, he has repeatedly asserted that the 2020 presidential vote was marred by fraud and stolen from Trump. But he hasn’t stopped there: In a February interview with The Washington Post, Marchant implied that a “cabal” had stolen every Nevada election since 2006.
“Once I get in there, I can start to whittle away at the ways that they cheat, to the point where the people that get elected here in Nevada are who the people of Nevada really want,” he said. “We haven’t elected anybody here since 2006. They have been installed and selected by the cabal.”
Marchant has worked closely with other conspiracy theorists to link election-denying candidates across the country, speaking at numerous conferences alongside adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory and other outlandish claims about the country’s electoral system. Last year, he appeared at a conference put on by Phil Waldron, according to The New York Times. Waldron is a retired Army colonel who claimed that voting machines were hacked in order to swing the results of the 2020 election, and he circulated a memo arguing that Trump should declare a national emergency to contest the certification of the results.
The “America first” slate Marchant helped organize has held weekly conference calls ahead of a crucial summer of primaries, The New York Times reported this month. They share campaign and messaging strategies, and have proposed a suite of potential policies that they would seek to implement to purge voting rolls, eliminate mail-in ballots and implement other restrictions on voting, the Times reported.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), an election denier who twice voted against certifying the 2020 presidential contest in Congress, lost his secretary of state primary in Georgia last month. But other Republicans have won party endorsements and appear to be favored in battleground primaries in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota, all of which will occur later this year. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, who contested the results of the 2020 election and was outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, would have the power to appoint a secretary of state should he win election in November.
Marchant’s victory in Nevada may buoy the hopes of similar candidates in looming secretary of state primaries. Even if it doesn’t, it will put him one victory away from assuming control of elections in a crucial battleground state heading into a general election in which the political atmosphere will likely favor the GOP. A single secretary of state like him could be powerful enough to throw future elections into chaos and push the country toward a democratic crisis.