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Fake electors, real investigation: At last, Nevada AG’s office inquiry now official

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

Whether history remembers the attorney general’s investigation of the state GOP’s attempted use of a slate of false electors in the 2020 presidential election as a righteous cause or a political footnote, you must admit that it’s overdue.

This past week, Politico and NBC News first reported the existence of the Nevada investigation. Former Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told Politico’s Betsy Woodruff Swan that he had been interviewed by a state investigator in early November. Gloria, who ought to be remembered as one of Nevada’s most dedicated public servants, stood in the breach and repeatedly defended his office against an onslaught of spurious election integrity allegations.

And by that, I mean lies.

After Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by more than 33,000 votes and GOP Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, another government hall-of-famer in my book, withstood a censure by her own party and myriad insults from the public. She upheld the final outcome of an election not marred by fraud at the ballot box, but the drumbeat of lies and conspiracies continued, thanks in substantial part to the antidemocratic ruse of the fake electors scheme.

These names should also be remembered, but for different reasons. State Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald and vice chair Jim Hindle, Clark County GOP chair Jesse Law, Republican National Committee member Jim DeGraffenreid, Shawn Meehan and Eileen Rice assembled Dec. 14, 2020, outside the Legislature building in Carson City in a charade repeated in six other states. At their side that day in Carson City was perennial candidate and bullhorn election denier James Marchant, whose fealty toward Trump appears to have no limits. 

It took two years, but the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas for McDonald and DeGraffenreid, in an effort that resulted in the two men exercising their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times.

Then it was Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith’s turn as his office cast a wider net in its criminal investigation. McDonald and DeGraffenreid were once again interviewed under oath, this time under a grant of limited immunity. DeGraffenreid would also be called into Georgia’s fake elector mire.

Through it all, the Nevada AG’s office remained eerily quiet given the levels of bombast and baloney belched by Republican election deniers that continued to echo into the 2022 election.

For months, state Attorney General Aaron Ford, seldom shy about speaking his mind in public, has been uncharacteristically reserved on the GOP’s false electors hustle. After telling the public that there wasn’t a state statute that dealt directly with the issue, rumors have circulated for the better part of a year that Ford’s office was moving forward with an investigation.

In a January interview on the subject with The Indy’s Sean Golonka, Ford offered what has become a familiar refrain: “It’s on our radar. I know it’s unsatisfactory, relative to what people want to hear, but again … I can’t be persuaded to speak on something that could potentially jeopardize anything that we’re doing.”

And what they were doing, we’re beginning to learn, was attempting to move legal puzzle pieces into place. Meanwhile, Ford’s investigators quietly gathered interviews and facts at a time the U.S. Department of Justice and state investigators in Georgia and Michigan were busy hammering home indictments that show what amounts to a broad-based scheme to help steal the election for Donald Trump. 

Many eyes are on the ongoing trial in Fulton County, Georgia, where three fake electors are among the high profile Trump insiders facing charges. Sixteen people are charged with felonies in Michigan, and Arizona’s attorney general has begun investigating players in that state’s scheme.

But at the risk of sounding really provincial, I think the Nevada investigation might be even more important than the others.

It’s not that the 2020 presidential outcome here was a close one. It wasn’t. But the falsehoods fulminated by Trump’s true believers penetrated so deeply into the state’s once-proud conservative ranks that they may have done permanent damage. Worse, the lies continue to be fanned by the state party chairman and his minions and used for their red-meat fundraising efforts.

That might make Democrats cheer, but a deeply dysfunctional Republican Party does the whole process a disservice. It threatens to deepen existing divisions and further turn a public already nauseated by the endless political deception into nonvoters.

And that turns the gates of Nevada’s government, already known for having faulty locks where wealthy special interests are concerned, into swinging saloon doors.

Those who seek to write off Ford’s investigation as political theater probably also believe using paper ballots to count election votes makes good sense. Never forget that Marchant was nearly tied in the polls with Cisco Aguilar by just 2.2 percent of the vote in the race for secretary of state, the office in charge of Nevada’s elections.

Ford’s office should be supported as it attempts to get to the bottom of an attempt to use Nevada’s election to help defraud the nation.

And while I’m on the subject, Mr. Attorney General, what took you so long?

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.


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