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Most Nevada GOP candidates mum on election integrity after ‘Big Lie’ was prominent in 2022

Few campaigns are focusing on election security this election cycle, and some candidates have toned down their stances from their 2022 races.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CongressElection 2024GovernmentState Government

Two years ago, Republican Mark Robertson, a candidate for Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, said on his campaign website that the 2020 election had “raised legitimate concerns” about the nation’s electoral process. He called for a bipartisan congressional review into topics such as the “potential risks of extensive mail-in voting and extended voting periods.”

This year, running again for the same seat, the Army veteran has changed his strategy. His campaign website does not mention “election security,” and he is encouraging voters to use any legal measure at their disposal to vote.

In an interview, Robertson said he still has concerns about election integrity (there is no data that suggests widespread voter fraud exists in Nevada or nationwide), but that Republicans should not be focusing on the issue in their campaign messaging because it could decrease voter turnout.

“It's not a change in position, rather an emphasis on the communications,” he said. “I think it was a mistake two years ago for the Republicans to say the election was stolen … because what it did was it discouraged Republicans from voting.”

The shift reflects the diminished role that election integrity is playing in this year’s Nevada races.

Of the nearly 50 Republicans running for Congress or the Legislature this year with a legitimate chance of winning their primary or general election — based on recent fundraising hauls and district partisanship — The Nevada Independent identified only nine active campaign websites with a section on election integrity. In addition, only a handful of candidates have a record of publicly casting doubt on the electoral process, and some of them have sidestepped the issue this cycle.

That stands in sharp contrast to 2022, when GOP nominees for key statewide races in Nevada had a record of echoing election conspiracies — in particular, contenders in the U.S. Senate, attorney general and secretary of state contests — and candidates in about one-third of state legislative primaries either cast doubt on the electoral process or supported the “Big Lie,” a series of false claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against former President Donald Trump through widespread voter fraud. 

Many backers of the “Big Lie” suffered at the 2022 ballot box. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, a former attorney general and the face of the Trump campaign’s effort to overturn Nevada’s 2020 election results, attempted to walk a “rigged election” tightrope in his 2022 race, while secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant drew national headlines for his conspiratorial claims about rigged elections. Both Laxalt and Marchant lost their races. 

Nevada adopted several election rule changes in 2020 because of the pandemic, including sending mail ballots to all registered voters and allowing so-called ballot harvesting, where people can drop off completed ballots of non-family members. In 2021, the Legislature permanently expanded universal mail-in voting while allowing voters to opt out of receiving mail ballots.

The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office has referred 14 cases of potential election fraud for criminal prosecution since 2020 out of hundreds of reports received and more than 2.4 million votes cast, according to an April report.

A nationwide Morning Consult poll in December found that 69 percent of respondents are confident that their vote would be accurately counted in 2024, with 60 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats responding that they were “very confident” or “somewhat confident.”

Whether these moves by Republican candidates in 2024 reflect a change in attitude or a change in campaign strategy, one takeaway is clear — false claims of election fraud are not coming up as often this election cycle.

Joanna Lydgate, the CEO of States United Action, a nonprofit that tracks election denialism in state and federal races, said in an interview that the shift is part of a new approach following GOP losses in 2022, in which candidates may lean away from denying the results of the 2020 election in favor of supporting measures under the framing of “election integrity."

“We saw that there was actually an electoral price, a political price that was paid for the election denier platform,” Lydgate said. “And so people, I think, have pivoted, especially in states like Nevada.”

Methodology: The candidates included in this analysis are Republicans running for Congress or the Legislature whom The Nevada Independent has identified as having a realistic chance of winning their primary or general elections. We removed candidates running in districts with a significant Democratic advantage, as well as candidates who raised less than $1,000 in the first quarter of 2024. 

See below or a closer look at each candidate included in the analysis. If we missed anything, you can email [email protected].


None of the nine Republican legislative candidates endorsed by Gov. Joe Lombardo and seeking office for the first time has a public record of making election-related conspiracy theories, and none of their campaign websites mention election security, The Indy found.

These candidates tend to have a significant financial advantage in their races, giving them a leg up over potential GOP primary challengers. They are running in critical swing races that could determine whether the governor holds onto his veto power.

In Lombardo’s 2022 gubernatorial bid, he pledged to support legislation requiring voter ID and ending universal mail voting and ballot harvesting. But his proposals did not pass in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and last year, he joined other top Nevada Republicans in encouraging people to vote early or by mail.

Amy Tarkanian, a former state GOP chair, said in an interview that Lombardo is having to toe the line between “people who are reasonable” and “conspiracy theorists,” particularly those running the state Republican Party.

“Seeing him endorse these more levelheaded candidates is promising,” Tarkanian said. “Instead of spreading misinformation, disinformation and lies and throwing temper tantrums, you need to get people elected in order to make changes to the laws.”

Ryan Erwin, Lombardo’s top political strategist, did not respond to a request for comment.

The only non-incumbent endorsed by Lombardo with a public history of spreading election conspiracies is Elko-based former Assemblyman John Ellison, who is running for the open, deep-red Senate District 19 seat. Ellison said in 2021 that the Jan. 6 insurrection was led by the left-wing group Antifa and said the election was stolen from Trump. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Lombardo has endorsed three legislators who have in the past endorsed or echoed claims of potential election irregularities: Sen. Carrie Buck (R-Henderson), Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) and Assemblyman Ken Gray (R-Dayton). 

In a March interview, Gray walked back comments made at a 2022 campaign rally and on Facebook that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, telling The Indy that he is unsure whether there was widespread fraud but that he still had questions about the election results.

Buck suggested in a 2021 committee hearing that 1,500 dead people voted in 2020, and Dickman complained of “potential election fraud” in a December 2020 Facebook post. Neither responded to requests for comment.

Gray, Dickman and Assemblyman Gregory Koenig (R-Fallon) are the only Lombardo-endorsed legislative candidates to mention election integrity as an issue on their campaign websites.

Assemblyman Ken Gray (R-Dayton) at a joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate judiciary committees where a trio of bills regarding firearm regulation were introduced on April 6, 2023. (Tim Lenard/The Nevada Independent)

Meanwhile, several non-Lombardo-endorsed Republican legislative candidates who raised at least $1,000 in the first quarter of 2024 — a sign of whether a candidate has a legitimate campaign apparatus— are not shying away from campaigning on election integrity.

Jon Petrick, a GOP candidate in Southern Nevada’s Assembly District 21, tweeted in 2022 that there were “clearly irregularities in the last election.” In an election integrity campaign video, he said he supported eliminating universal mail-in ballots without the voter’s request, ending ballot harvesting and discontinuing the use of voting machines built outside the U.S.

Petrick, a chiropractor who was the GOP nominee in the district last cycle, was the only Republican challenger to raise more money than his Lombardo-endorsed opponent in the first quarter, raking in more than $20,000.

Petrick told The Nevada Independent that his election policy positions are meant to improve trust in the American electoral system, which he said has eroded because of “discrepancies” in the 2020 election. He referred to 2,000 Mules, a widely discredited movie that claims there was widespread voter fraud in 2020, as a reason people are concerned about elections, in addition to an influx of undocumented immigrants (who are legally barred from voting) and election administration changes during the COVID-19 “plandemic.”

He said more candidates should focus on the issue of election integrity.

“It's not something I'm gonna run away [from],” he said.

April Arndt, a Lombardo-endorsed candidate running against Petrick who does not list election policies on her website, told The Indy that she supports the governor's policies related to election integrity and that she's helping circulate a petition for a potential ballot question related to voter ID .

Josh Leavitt, a Republican running for Senate District 18 in the northwestern part of the Las Vegas Valley, supports mandatory voter ID, according to his campaign website, which calls voter fraud a “serious problem that can undermine the legitimacy and credibility of elections.”

In an interview, Leavitt said he has heard from voters who are concerned about people impersonating others at the polls, which he said voter ID would fix, but acknowledged there was a lack of proof that this was widespread.

“If people can go in there and just call themselves a name, be directed on how to vote and beef up certain numbers in certain districts to give some political insiders an unfair advantage, it's a big issue,” Leavitt said. “Do I have evidence? No, but these are the stories that we hear.”

Leavitt, who said he did not vote in the 2020 presidential election, did not answer whether he believed the results were fraudulent, adding that his focus is on issues that can be addressed locally.

Leavitt has two primary challengers. Clark County Fire Chief John Steinbeck (who’s endorsed by Lombardo) does not include the topic on his website, and Assemblyman Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas) does not have a public record of echoing election conspiracies. 

Ken Miller, a political science professor at UNLV, said the issue’s dominance in 2022 was because it allowed Republicans to cement themselves as aligned with Trump, who is behind many of the conspiracies surrounding his 2020 loss.

“It’s just a talking point,” Miller said. “It’s quickly and easily discarded when they move onto the next election.”

Trump in his current bid continues to claim the 2020 election was rigged against him, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) said last month that there was “massive fraud” in 2020. The RNC, which is run by more staunchly pro-Trump leaders after recent turnover, has launched election-related lawsuits in half of the swing states, including Nevada, targeting state voter rolls and mail ballot rules.

The Trump campaign — along with the RNC and Nevada GOP — filed another lawsuit last week arguing that Nevada is violating federal law by allowing any mail ballot postmarked by Election Day to count as long as it is received within four days after Election Day.

Former Republican candidate for governor John Lee speaks during the Southern Hills Republican Women's Gubernatorial Town Hall on April 26, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)


The Nevada congressional candidates with a history of making false election fraud claims are mostly concentrated in the U.S. Senate primary, though the top candidate has toned down his messaging on the topic.

Sam Brown, the front-runner backed by national Republicans, has essentially the same election integrity policy as he did in his Senate run two years ago, which includes a pledge to pass election integrity legislation and to support voter identification measures.

Brown at one point attacked his 2022 opponent, Laxalt, for not doing enough in the aftermath of the 2020 election to hand the Silver State to Trump. But he told The Nevada Independent last year that he was “pretty confident” in the nation’s elections and that he didn’t want to “relitigate” the 2020 election.

Brown’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on his election integrity policies.

Jeff Gunter, who was Trump’s U.S. ambassador to Iceland and has emerged as the biggest  threat to Brown, has focused his campaign on being “110 percent” pro-Trump. His campaign website calls for ending ballot harvesting and strengthening voter identification, and says that universal mail ballots are “wasteful, expensive, and messy.” 

His campaign did not answer over email whether he believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. He declined to answer the same question from the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year, adding that he believed there were many irregularities in the race but that he thinks voters are focused on the future.

The two prominent GOP Senate candidates leaning into election conspiracies trail significantly in money raised.

Marchant, the 2022 Nevada secretary of state nominee and former assemblyman, is one of the nation’s most prominent election deniers, suggesting in a 2022 debate that Nevadans’ votes have not counted for years, and alleging that a global “cabal” has been manipulating voting machines for years. In his candidacy announcement last year, Marchant made no mention of election fraud, but in a Senate candidate forum in February he took credit for creating “an election integrity movement throughout the country.”

His campaign has been much less active this year and only raised $49,000 from January through March.

Stephanie Phillips, a Las Vegas real estate agent, suggested at the February candidate forum that the winner of the Senate race will need at least 600,000 votes to stave off Democratic cheating. Her X account also includes a slew of unfounded claims of election fraud. She has raised around $64,000.

In the state’s four U.S. House districts, no Republican candidates’ websites included references to election integrity, but some have previously cast doubt on the security of the electoral system.

Former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien, who is running for Congressional District 3, posted a video earlier this year falsely suggesting that a glitch in Nevada’s voter history database after the February presidential primary was evidence of voter fraud and arguing that “they’re at it again in Nevada.” The next day, she posted another video that restoring faith in elections is one of her two top priorities, arguing for strict limits on mail and absentee voting.

John Lee, a candidate for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, former Democratic state senator and former mayor of North Las Vegas who switched parties in 2021 before a Republican run for governor in 2022, has posted election conspiracies on Facebook multiple times, including one post that said what was happening in the American electoral system was a “complete crime.”

Lee, who was endorsed by Lombardo, said in an interview that he is not focusing on election integrity as much this go-around because while he has heard allegations of irregularities, he has not seen anything himself. He added that his prior posts resulted from him being concerned about ballot harvesting, but that he does not have a problem with how Clark County runs its elections.

“The biggest problem we have is not the voter integrity, it's more people actually getting out and voting,” Lee said.

Updated on 5/10/24 at 8:20 a.m. to clarify the political lean of States United Action.


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