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OPINION: A sure sign the campaign season has begun: Strange goings-on in Nye County

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

What a relief. For a while there, I wasn’t sure whether the 2024 presidential campaign would ever get started in Nevada.

If you’re like me, someone who watches Silver State politics with a sense of head-slapping amazement, the undeniable signs of a campaign in progress aren’t the increase in vicious attack ads or visits from the candidates and their many, many surrogates. It’s not the fly-in pundits who mispronounce the state’s proud name while claiming to have a keen understanding of its political inner workings. Nor is it the breathless special-interest groups that can’t stop reminding you that democracy itself is on the ballot again this year.

It’s the eyebrow-raising political developments in Nye County that tell me whether the campaign season has begun for Nevada’s sizable MAGA contingent. When the red caps come out, let there be no doubt. Let the election fraud conspiracy theories commence!

For proof of my spot-on observational skills, look no further than the latest Nye County Commission meeting agenda, where that august body of citizen representatives is tasked with appointing a new clerk. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday morning and, if it follows previous gatherings of its kind, will end shortly before midnight.

In Nye County, they take their commission meetings very seriously.

The clerk wears many hats in Nye and does a largely thankless job, but for our purposes it’s the traditionally nonpartisan office’s role as caretaker of the county’s elections that’s our focus. Did I just mention it is a nonpartisan job? Well, it deserves repeating. You’ll see why in a moment.

The clerk’s job opening comes after the recent announcement of the current clerk Mark Kampf, who, in late February, announced his resignation. Kampf, who has spoken at length about the potential for election fraud, the potential dangers of voting machines, and the need for counting by paper ballot, kept his letter of resignation brief: “I am resigning as Nye County Clerk effective March 31, 2024.” I’m not sure Polonius ever visited Pahrump, but Kampf’s letter had “Brevity is the soul of wit” written all over it.

Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf submitted his letter of resignation Feb. 27, 2024. (Courtesy Nye County)

It's strange, though, that he suddenly wanted out of a job that he had fought so hard to win. He was recruited for the office in the wake of the conspiracy-riddled chaos of the 2020 presidential election by super-MAGA and perennial candidate Jim Marchant. Kampf was appointed by the county commission following the retirement of thoroughly professional — and thoroughly harassed — Sandra "Sam" Merlino, whose greatest offenses were her strong ethics and lack of partisanship.

You may recall that Marchant’s special brand of madness included a dog-and-pony show by supposed computer forensics experts who maligned the security of the county’s voting machines. The county commission, members of which espoused outrageous conspiracy theories ripped right from the College of Google Search, voted unanimously to stow the machines and replace them with Marchant’s magical hand count idea. That made nutty Nye County a national leader, of sorts.

Enter Kampf, who made national news in 2022 when he followed Marchant’s MAGA playbook and supervised a paper ballot hand count using suspiciously partisan volunteers. As The Associated Press recently reported in a moment of audacious understatement, “That plan did not appear to gain momentum leading up to 2024.” 

No, brother.

Kampf won his 2022 election with more than 77 percent of the vote, spent another year or so in office, then resigned without explanation. He had previously served an appointment as Nye County treasurer following the strange disappearance of his predecessor John Prudhont. If it seems a little eerie, it’s just Nye being Nye.

Now the county commission, a certified clown show in its own right in recent years, has the task of appointing a new clerk to provide nonpartisan election oversight. Among the eight applicants, which include several persons with records management and clerk’s office experience, one name stands out.

It’s controversial former Nye County Commissioner and super-MAGA mascot Leo Blundo, whose political and personal life have spilled into the public eye often in recent years. From outrageous behavior on the commission, some of which has generated ethics complaints, to emergency calls for service at his home, some of which have generated criminal complaints, Blundo is the county Republican Party’s king of chaos. It’s not every politician who generates a website called

Did I mention he’s also the chairman of the Nye County Republican Central Committee?

By inserting Blundo into the clerk’s position, the county would invite the kind of chaos and scrutiny that has made it the subject of bug-eyed disbelief by political observers throughout the land. I am told that he is a decided underdog for the appointment, but stranger things have happened in Nye County. 

Of course, much of Nevada is diehard MAGA country. It’s no secret the state is in play in the presidential race. Reporters hot on the trail of unrepentant election deniers, conspiracy theorists and keeper of the eternal flame of Trump are bound to find them throughout Basin and Range country.

They certainly won’t have to look hard to find them in Nye County.

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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