A Republican Fights Voter Fraud in His Race (231 Days Before Election Day)

We have an item tonight from our colleague Nick Corasaniti, who reports on how a Republican running for Senate in Nevada has been anticipating an election-fraud fight in November.

Nevadans still have 231 days until they head to the polls in November. But Adam Laxalt, the former attorney general of Nevada and a Republican candidate for Senate, is already laying detailed groundwork to fight election fraud in his race — long before a single vote has been cast or counted.

In conversations with voters at an event at his campaign headquarters this month, Laxalt explained how he’s vetting outside groups to help him establish election observer teams and map out a litigation strategy.

“I don’t talk about that, but we’re vetting which group we think is going to do better,” Laxalt told an attendee, according to an audio recording obtained by The New York Times from a person who attended the event and opposes Laxalt’s candidacy.

At the event, Laxalt criticized the 2020 Trump campaign and outside groups for their handling of election-fraud claims, saying that they went on the offensive too late. “In 2020, it was nothing,” he said, according to the audio recording. “And then the campaign was late and the party was late. So, it’s just different now. There’s a lot of groups that are saying there’s election fraud.”

And should he be unable to find help, Laxalt pledged that his campaign would shoulder the cost of bringing in lawyers and mapping out a strategy, even at the expense of other core programs necessary to run a campaign.

“If I get into July and I’m like, ‘Dear God, no one’s going to do this right,’ we will pay from our campaign, which means less voter contact for the reason you said,” Laxalt told an attendee. “If someone’s not going to do it, we’ve got to do it. And I’m willing to lose on the other side because we’re going to take it off.”

The ‘biggest issue’ of the campaign

Of course, there was no widespread fraud in the Nevada presidential election in 2020, nor anywhere else in the country, as numerous audits, recounts, court challenges and investigations have confirmed. The secretary of state in Nevada spent more than 125 hours investigating allegations brought by the Nevada Republican Party and found no widespread fraud. And there has been no evidence in the run-up to this year’s election of any fraud in the state.

But the pledge from Laxalt is yet another indication of how vital the specter of voter fraud remains to the Republican base, an issue deemed so critical that a statewide candidate would be willing to sacrifice one of the most essential campaign tasks to ensure a litigation path was in place, months before any actual voting occurred.

When asked about the comments, Laxalt reiterated his criticisms of the 2020 election, particularly in Clark County, which is home to Las Vegas and the majority of Democratic voters in the state.

“Every voter deserves more transparency and to be confident in the accuracy of their election results, and I will proudly fight for them,” Laxalt said in a statement.

A court ruling against the Trump campaign in 2020 found no evidence “that the 2020 general election in Nevada was affected by fraud,” both in Clark County and throughout the state.

Laxalt, who was one of the leaders of the Trump campaign’s effort to overturn the results in Nevada, has stated before that voter fraud is the “biggest issue” of the campaign and has publicly talked about establishing a large force of election observers and his plan to file election lawsuits early.

“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,” Laxalt said in August in an interview with Wayne Allyn Root, a conservative radio host.

Members of the media documenting a staff member counting ballots at the Clark County Election Department in Las Vegas in November 2020.Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

‘It’s about the court of public opinion’

Laxalt’s legal strategy foreshadows a likely new permanent battleground for political campaigns: postelection court battles.

While election-related lawsuits have long been common in American politics, the traditional fights have often been over polling hours and locations or last-minute policy changes to voting rules. But in 2020, the Trump campaign drastically altered the legal landscape, filing 60 cases after Election Day. The campaign lost 59 of them. The single case the campaign won had to do with challenging a state-ordered deadline extension in Pennsylvania for the submission of personal identification for mailed ballots.

Despite that losing record, Republican candidates like Laxalt appear poised to repeat the Trump legal strategy of trying to overturn an election in court, even months before there has been any votes or any theoretical voter fraud. Experts note that while these legal strategies are likely doomed to fail in courtrooms, they risk further eroding public trust.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t just about the court of law, it’s about the court of public opinion, and seeing how dangerous these lies about our elections can be,” said Joanna Lydgate, who is a former deputy attorney general of Massachusetts and who co-founded the States United Democracy Center. “We saw the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. We see those same lies showing up on the campaign trail all across the country.”

In his conversations with voters, Laxalt reiterated that he wanted to amass a large coalition to tackle fraud as part of a “formal program,” and expected help from Republican Party leadership and “the senatorial committee,” a reference to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also discussed a group featuring Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, though the group’s title was inaudible.

The attendees at the event seemed to support Laxalt’s plans, and he was sure to mention his most prominent endorser.

“I was just in Mar-a-Lago last week with the president,” Laxalt said, referring to Trump. “And the president was just like, all over election fraud still, obviously.”

What to read

  • Jason Zengerle looks into Tucker Carlson’s influence on conservative Senate candidates’ political ads for The New York Times Magazine.

  • The confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson offer a preview of Republicans’ midterm attack lines, Annie Karni reports. The New York Times provided live coverage of the hearings.

  • President Biden will ask allies to apply more aggressive economic sanctions against Russia, Michael D. Shear reports.

in the moment

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at the Supreme Court confirmation hearings today.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Crime and confirmation hearings

Republicans made their strategy for the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson painfully clear: A tour of grievance politics that criticized Democrats for transgressions spanning decades.

For Democrats, however, there was also a political strategy. It just wasn’t quite as loud.

As Democrats attempt to defuse allegations that they’re anti-law enforcement, an attack that some party leaders blame for losses in the House in 2020, they’ve gone full out in supporting the police ahead of the midterms. It’s a key line of defense that Democrats prepared for ahead of the hearings and another way to discredit an attack line that could hurt the party in future elections.

Representative Val Demings of Florida has been highlighting her role as chief of the Orlando Police Department in her Senate race. President Biden called for funding the police in his State of the Union address. And Biden’s nominee spoke at length today about her family members in law enforcement, often in response to questions by senators.

Jackson has two uncles and a brother who have served in law enforcement, noted Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

“What do you say to people who say you’re soft on crime, or even anti-law enforcement, because you accepted your duties as a public defender?” Leahy asked.

“Crime and the effects on the community and the need for law enforcement, those are not abstract concepts or political slogans to me,” Jackson responded.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

— Blake & Leah

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].

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