CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — More than 14 months before the midterm elections, the Republican frontrunner in Nevada's U.S. Senate race is raising fears of voter fraud and talking about preemptively mounting legal challenges — a sign that the election denialism that marked the last cycle may carry over into the next.
Adam Laxalt, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is aiming to unseat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and thus swing power to Republicans in the now-evenly split chamber.
“With me at the top of the ticket, we’re going to be able to get everybody at the table and come up with a full plan, do our best to try to secure this election, get as many observers as we can, and file lawsuits early, if there are lawsuits we can file to try to tighten up the election,” he told radio host Wayne Allyn Root on Aug. 24.
He's one of many Republican candidates running for state and federal office next year that remain committed to the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen or tainted by fraud.
Laxalt, the grandson of former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt and son of former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, served as state attorney general from 2015 to 2019 and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018.
In 2020, he co-chaired Trump's Nevada campaign, which mounted lawsuits in state and federal courts — challenging rules before the election and later the results. Laxalt has said the 2020 election was “rigged” and legal challenges failed because they were filed too late.
“There’s no question that, unfortunately, a lot of the lawsuits and a lot of the attention spent on Election Day operations just came too late,” Laxalt said on Root for America, the USA Radio Network program that airs weekdays.
Laxalt has insisted that ineligible and dead voters cast ballots; that laws adopted by the Democrat-led statehouse to send mail-in ballots to every active voter invited fraud; and that Republican observers were prevented from seeing ballot counting or challenging signatures on mail-in ballots.
Only a case to keep some Las Vegas-area polling places open until people in line had cast ballots briefly survived court scrutiny. Like all the others, it was later dismissed.
Democrat Joe Biden won Nevada by 33,596 votes out of 1.4 million cast. County commissions and the state Supreme Court certified the election and courts upheld the result.
Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said investigations found no credible reports of widespread election fraud or tampering. She assured voters that the results in Nevada were accurate and reliable.
Trump campaign complaints in 2020 focused on the Las Vegas area, a Democratic stronghold where Biden won by more than 9 percentage points.
Election officials repeatedly defended the vote as secure, accurate and fair.
“Voters should be confident that the efforts that we put into preparing for an election, conducting the election, and then tabulating the votes for the election, are good processes," Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told The Associated Press. “We’re not hiding anything from the general public."
Assurances have done little to deter Laxalt and others. Last month, at Laxalt’s Basque Fry fundraiser, former Trump presidential envoy Ric Grenell and American Conservation Union Chairman Matt Schlapp repeated false claims that Trump won the election in Nevada while Laxalt watched from the sidelines.
In a statement to AP, Laxalt again blasted Democratic state lawmakers for an emergency bill last August to send mail-in ballots to all active voters so people worried about COVID-19 wouldn't have to stand in line at polling places. The Democrat-led state Legislature subsequently made the rule permanent.
“Without a single Republican vote, Democrats radically changed the election rules in the final stretch of last year’s campaign and many voters lost confidence in the system as a result," the former state attorney general said.
“Their partisan transformation of Nevada’s system handed election officials an untested process that generated over 750,000 mail-in votes, unclean voter rolls, loose ballots and virtually no signature verification," he said. “Nevadans have a right to more transparency and voters deserve confidence in the accuracy of election results, and I will proudly fight for them.”
Laxalt did not respond to questions about whether pre-election litigation could affect voter confidence or whether he would accept the results of the 2022 election.
Nor did he describe the nature of lawsuits that could “tighten up the election,” as he said on the radio.
Courts have decided many of the issues that Laxalt raised, said attorney Bradley Schrager, who represented the state Democratic Party in several election-related lawsuits.
Schrager said more lawsuits would likely yield the same outcomes.
“Clearly, the Legislature has the power to do what they did,” he said of the decision to expand mail-in ballots to future elections. “Some people may not like it, but there’s not a lot of grounds as to why expanding access to voting could be overturned on constitutional grounds.”
Schrager said he believes that Laxalt and Republicans were exploiting the legal system for political purposes, filing complaints to sow doubt and create a storyline.
“In court you’re not dealing in whispers and conspiracy, you’re dealing with evidence,” he said.
Associated Press writers Ken Ritter and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.