2020 election fraud conspiracy theories remain central to many Republican campaigns
Among the Republicans running for office in 2022, a new orthodoxy has not only emerged but become entrenched: The 2020 election was rife with fraud favoring the Democrat, President Joe Biden.
The mechanics and specifics of these largely debunked claims have varied from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Some have criticized law and policy — for instance, Republican objections to processes such as ballot collection, sometimes called “ballot harvesting” — while others fall more squarely into the realm of conspiracy. For instance, one conspiracy theory claims machines produced by the election technology company Dominion switched votes because of imagined links to anti-fascists and the government of Venezuela.
In Nevada, where prominent ex-elected officials such as one-time Attorney General Adam Laxalt have led the high-profile crusade against the legitimacy of the 2020 election, fraud claims centered largely on the mechanisms of the voting and counting processes.
One of the most popular allegations is a claim that signature verification machines were unable to accurately confirm the authenticity of signed mail ballots in Clark County, the state's most populous county and the center of election fraud conspiracies. Another claims thousands of Nevadans received mail ballots for deceased family members or loved ones who had moved out of state, and that those mailings culminated in a substantial number of illegally cast ballots.
Those theories prompted the Nevada Republican Party to send a tranche of nearly 123,000 ballots to Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican and the state’s executive officer in charge of running elections. The party alleged, among other things, that the ballots were mailed from commercial addresses, cast in another state or cast more than once.
Such claims have been debunked at multiple levels. In April, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the lone Republican in statewide office in Nevada, released a report reviewing those ballots that found no “evidentiary support for the contention that the 2020 general election was plagued by widespread voter fraud.”
“Our investigation revealed that these allegations and others are based largely upon an incomplete assessment of voter registration records and lack of information concerning the processes by which these records are compiled and maintained,” the report said.
Independent experts — including data analyst Rex Briggs, who was asked by Trump supporters to investigate fraud in the data — came to a similar conclusion. In a written report published by The Nevada Independent, Briggs found “nothing in the data that shows the election was rigged.”
And in the courts, Nevada judges have dismissed multiple lawsuits, including an attempt by Republican electors to contest the result of the 2020 presidential election outright and name Donald Trump the winner instead.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the conservative media apparatus and Republican elected officials casting doubt on the election results have succeeded in doing what former President Donald Trump started: They have convinced an increasingly large portion of the Republican electorate that the election was stolen.
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll in August found that two-thirds of Republicans nationwide thought the election was “rigged and stolen from Trump,” a number that makes up 29 percent of the poll’s total respondents. In Nevada, that figure was even higher: A poll conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent found that 74 percent of Republicans believe Biden only won the election because of fraud, or roughly 35 percent of the poll’s respondents.
The disparity between the majority of voters, who have rejected such fraud claims, and the majority of Republicans, who have embraced them, may shape some contours of electoral politics in the 2022 midterms. Speaking with The Nevada Independent at an event last month, pollster Mark Mellman said the disconnect between those who believe what he called the “big lie” and the majority who don’t “will make it problematic” for Republicans looking to run and win in Nevada.
“If you're a candidate who comes, supporting the ‘big lie,’ saying that the election was all fraud, it immediately turns off a large number of people,” Mellman said. “I'm not saying that people are gonna walk in the voting booth saying, ‘I'm going to vote for the person who's against the ‘big lie,’ but it creates an image of somebody who's out of touch with reality in fundamental ways.”
In the realm of politics and policy, the “big lie” has continued to generate revisionist calls to relitigate the 2020 results through wide-reaching ballot audits. The most high-profile of these audits — a private review of some Arizona ballots conducted by a firm linked to the #StoptheSteal movement — ended in a report that found Biden’s margin of victory even larger than the one reported on election night.
And though independent experts have panned the audit, with recent concerns emerging that it may have undercounted the total number of ballots, proponents have seized on the Arizona results in a wider push to conduct audits of all 50 states.
Still, such audits are rare and, in Nevada, require specific circumstances. As a result, while a four-county audit of Texas results began last month, attempted Nevada audits — such as one in Lander County — have stalled.
Heading into the 2022 election, The Nevada Independent has compiled positions taken by state and federal Republican candidates on the election results, election integrity or the 2020 election, ranging from support of the “big lie” to more general calls for “election integrity” as a campaign issue.
This story will be updated as more candidates join key races and as more public statements on the issue become available.
At the presumptive top of the ticket is 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, one of the loudest — and earliest — voices seeking to discredit the 2020 election results.
Laxalt emerged as a leader protesting the legitimacy of Nevada’s presidential election shortly after Election Day, joining fellow Trump surrogates Richard Grennell, a former acting U.S. intelligence head, and Matt Schlapp, a conservative lobbyist, activist and former Trump advisor, in holding a press conference alleging out-of-state voters and a raft of problems with signature verification allowed individuals to vote twice, both by mail and in person.
Such claims were boosted at the time by Trump, who tagged Laxalt and Schlapp in a Nov. 9 tweet claiming Nevada was a “cesspool of Fake Votes.”
Those claims culminated in a lawsuit that alleged state officials had been unable to keep non-citizens off voter rolls. The state later filed a motion to dismiss in February, and the suit was dropped by March.
Since then, Laxalt has continued to cast doubts on the legitimacy of future elections, telling conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root in August that lawsuits challenging the 2020 result “just came too late,” and that he would seek to file any challenges to 2022 earlier.
Laxalt’s most prominent primary opponent, veteran Sam Brown, has largely steered clear of mentioning election issues in campaign messaging.
Instead, Brown — a retired Army captain who was seriously wounded in Afghanistan and who has campaigned, in part, on his military record — has focused most of his messaging on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, frequently criticizing the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer.
In more than 200 tweets sent out from his campaign Twitter account — including dozens with over a thousand likes — Brown has used the word “election” just twice. The first was a reference to winning the race next year, and the second was a tweet about the “character” of elected leaders.
However, Brown has fundraised on a push for a national voter ID law that says, in part, that "every illegally cast vote cancels out a legitimate vote."
And, in a July interview with KRNV News 4 in Reno in which he was asked if Biden won the election, Brown said "Joe Biden is our president. That is a political process and he was confirmed by the Electoral College."
On Oct. 19, this entry was updated to include statements made about voter ID by Brown in campaign communications, as well as a statement he made to KRNV.
Also running: Republicans Sharelle Mendenhall and William Hockstedler
In the race for governor, former Sen. Dean Heller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month that he “still know[s] who the president is” — while declining to name Joe Biden as the president.
Heller, who served as Nevada’s secretary of state in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has also frequently criticized the electoral process and a host of electoral changes made by Democratic state lawmakers in 2020 and 2021, including the permanent expansion of mail-in ballots.
Last year, during a call with reporters, he criticized what he framed as a lack of action from Cegavske on “the worst election laws in the country.”
“We have a secretary of state that is not making noise on this,” Heller said at the time.
And while launching his gubernatorial campaign earlier this month, Heller said Nevada “made it easier to cheat in future elections,” and that he would have sought to fire Clark County’s top election official last year.
He later touted his own record, telling the Review-Journal that the last “safe, secure” election in Nevada was during his tenure as secretary of state more than 14 years ago.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, for months the most prominent Republican running for governor before Heller’s entrance in the race, has announced that, among other things, he would seek to create an “Election Integrity Commission” if elected to the state’s top office.
When asked about those “integrity” measures, Lombardo told The Nevada Independent there was a “perception” of fraud in the 2020 election.
“And if there's a perception, there's maybe some truth to it, or there may be some evidence,” Lombardo said. “Why not fix it going forward? Why not remove the rumors and the perception and even the ability to commit fraud into the future, if you have the ability to do that?”
In July, when asked by the Reno Gazette Journal about the accuracy of the 2020 election results, he said he did not "have the information to make an informed decision," nor did he "know the evidence associated with the investigation."
“I personally believe there was probably fraud on both sides," he told the RGJ. "We had an environment where it was easy to commit fraud. … There’s no absolute perfect system, but there’s no reason why you can’t make [fraud] harder.”
Still, the sheriff sidestepped a question from the Independent earlier this month about whether he would support an Arizona-style audit of Nevada’s 2020 election results. Lombardo said he “can’t opine on that because I’m not aware of that.”
On Oct. 20, this entry was updated to include comments Lombardo made to the RGJ on July 1, 2021.
A one-time assemblywoman who was later elected to the Las Vegas City Council in 2017 and still serves as the state GOP’s national committeewoman, Michele Fiore has long staked her political career on her reputation as a staunch conservative and, since the 2016 election, as a Trump booster.
“I have never seen such blatant fraud then [sic] what has come to me -lots coming out,” Fiore wrote. “@realDonaldTrump is our President & @VP [Mike Pence] is our Vice President.”
And on Nov. 12, in a tweet that mentioned Trump, Pence, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and and the state Republican Party, Fiore attached an image that alleged five states, including Nevada, remained “disputed” and that GOP-led “teams” were working to uncover “foul play with video and affidavits to prove it.”
In January, however, Fiore congratulated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration during a city council meeting, according to the Review-Journal. At the time, Fiore also praised Trump, saying in part that “History will remember President Trump as our greatest, as one of our greatest presidents.”
Most recently, Fiore has continued to allege issues of voter fraud. A video announcing her run for governor includes a sequence edited to imply Fiore shooting a series of bottles labeled with core Republican issues — including COVID vaccine mandates, critical race theory, and voter fraud — as part of her “Three Shot Plan.”
This entry was added on Oct. 19, 2021, following Fiore's entrance into the race.
Some of the most vocal calls of fraud have come from gubernatorial candidate and Reno-area lawyer Joey Gilbert, who buoyed his profile in 2020 as an ardent critic of state and local COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Most recently, Gilbert has supported calls for an Arizona-style “full forensic audit” of the 2020 results. In a post announcing that stance on Facebook, Gilbert alleged falsely that six states “shut down counting without explanation” on election night, an apparent reference to the days or weeks-long process of counting mail ballots that has, in his words, “never before happened in our history.”
“President Donald Trump was leading by a lot, but somehow, when the dust settled a week later, we are told that [he] lost?” Gilbert wrote. “The whole thing flies in the face of common sense.”
The claim that states stopped counting votes on election night is largely false. A Reuters fact check found that, among contested states, only North Carolina stopped its count on election night, and only because there were “no more votes to count that night.”
In Nevada, the secretary of state’s office released a statement on Nov. 4 that the counting had not stopped and would not stop until all ballots were counted.
Centering his campaign on the “socialism” he sees as inherent to the current Democratic Party, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee — a longtime Democrat who switched parties before entering the governor’s race earlier this year — has said little about the 2020 election, either in campaign videos or official campaign announcements.
He has mentioned the issue occasionally, most recently “commending” the Arizona audit in a tweet. That tweet stopped short of calling for an audit in Nevada, however, instead saying “let’s learn from past elections and ensure no foul-play going forward.”
A venture capitalist financing his own bid for governor, Guy Nohra explicitly called out election fraud — though he did not specifically reference 2020 — in his campaign’s announcement video. Nohra said it was “time to expose the election fraud we all know is there,” with the words “restore election integrity” superimposed in the background of the video.
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 3
In the highly competitive District 3, the money race has so far been topped by a handful of candidates making “election integrity” a key part of their campaigns. April Becker has led that race — at least in terms of fundraising — for months, raking in roughly twice as many contributions as her nearest rivals.
Becker, who ran for state Senate in 2020, charged in a lawsuit that her own election loss last year was tainted by, among other things, issues with signature verification machines used by Clark County election officials.
Claiming fraud and “irregularities” — largely through repeating allegations made by Republicans about the “flooding” of ballots sent to inactive voters, or ballots cast by ineligible voters — that lawsuit ultimately sought to invalidate both Becker’s state Senate election and the election in the 4th Congressional District and call for new elections.
The suit was dismissed roughly three weeks later.
Mark Robertson, a veteran and early entrant into the race, has said the 2020 election raised “legitimate concerns.”
On his campaign website, he calls for a congressional review of the election process with the “goal of guaranteeing as much as possible that the vote of each eligible, legal voter is easily cast and accurately counted,” with the word “legal” emphasized in bold.
Robertson later told the Las Vegas Review-Journal there was “likely some fraud” in 2020, but he did not see sufficient evidence to change the result.
Lawyer and veteran Noah Malgeri has also challenged the legitimacy of the 2020 election by way of fraud. In a video launching his campaign, Malgeri promised — among criticisms of critical race theory and support for completing Trump’s border wall — that he would “fight against the rampant election fraud we saw in the last election.”
Construction company owner John Kovacs mentions “election integrity” on his campaign website, including calls for new voter ID laws and increased election transparency, but he has stopped short of claiming a stolen election.
In a July interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Kovacs acknowledged, specifically, that Biden had beaten Trump in the 2020 election.
Also running: Clark Bossert
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 4
In neighboring District 4 — a geographically massive area encompassing parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and the state’s central rural counties — Republicans have largely coalesced around election denialism, or the idea that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 election.
Peters, a veteran and insurance agent who lost a primary race for District 4 in 2020, tweets with the hashtag “#StopTheSteal” and has praised lawsuits filed by former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. Those suits were later dismissed by courts in multiple states.
Peters has otherwise continued to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the election, telling the New York Times in June that he was not sure Biden had legitimately won Nevada and he would not have voted to certify the election results on Jan. 6 “without more questions.”
Former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano — a candidate who has received campaign contributions from several major names in the gaming industry, including Steve Wynn and Alex Meruelo — has also called for an election audit across all states.
Writing for former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s website, War Room, Serrano repeated claims made during the post-election challenges, including alleged votes from non-citizens and duplicate votes.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Jim Marchant, a former Assemblyman and congressional candidate now running for secretary of state, joined Becker in challenging the results of his loss to incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District last year. That suit was dismissed.
On the subject of elections, which are overseen by the secretary of state, Marchant has leaned hard into the issue of “election integrity.” Marchant is among a handful of Nevada politicians who have called for an Arizona-style audit of 2020 results, both in Nevada and elsewhere, and as recently as Oct. 12, accused Democrats of creating a “cheating advantage” through vote-by-mail legislation.
Marchant also told Reuters last month he would seek to end early voting, a process written into Nevada law, and ban the use of voting machines temporarily in order to inspect them for vote-rigging. He also separately attended an election fraud symposium held by MyPillow CEO and prominent election denier Mike Lindell.
In a video announcing his candidacy last month, longtime television news anchor-turned secretary of state hopeful Gerard Ramalho accused Democratic lawmakers of using the pandemic to “manipulate our laws” such that election policy “benefitted one party over the other.”
A sparks city councilman and Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Kristopher Dahir, defended the embattled Cegavske earlier this year, telling the Review-Journal in April that she "follows what the legislators have put in place," and that "it would be the same for me."
When asked Sunday by The Independent, Dahir said in an email that, while he does believe "some people cheat," he does not believe there was widespread fraud in 2020 and that "we have not found any proof that will hold up in court" that Joe Biden is not the duly elected president.
"The worst part of the situation is that the American people walked away with confusion and doubt," he said.
In an interview with KLAS 8 News Now in Las Vegas, attorney general hopeful Sigal Chattah said that while she believes there was “evidence of voter fraud,” she does not believe there is conclusive evidence the election was stolen from Trump, saying in part that “unless I see concrete proof there was a steal, I don’t believe it.”
Update: Oct. 17, 2021. This article was updated to include an additional Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Kristopher Dahir.
Update: Oct. 19, 2021. This article was updated to include additional comments on the 2020 election from Senate candidate Sam Brown.
Update: Oct. 19, 2021. This article was updated to include an entry on Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, who announced her candidacy for the governor's race.
Update: Oct. 20, 2021. This article was updated to include additional comments from gubernatorial candidate and Sheriff Joe Lombardo from a July 1 interview with the Reno Gazette Journal.