2020 Election
Jim Marchant speaks at a Republican election night watch party in Las Vegas on Nov. 3, 2020.
John Locher—AP
June 15, 2022 4:01 PM EDT

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Nevada Republicans voted on Tuesday to nominate an election denialist as the state’s top elections official, an outcome that would be worrisome even if it were an isolated incident.

It is not.

Jim Marchant beat out six other Republicans candidates vying to be the party’s nominee for Nevada secretary of state. In the good ol’ days, most voters couldn’t describe the duties of a secretary of state, let alone name the person in the job. It was an elevated technocrat who made sure businesses were registered, state archives were maintained, and notaries public were current. But after a sitting president urged some secretaries of state to set aside election results for political expediency, the public, and supporters of former President Donald Trump in particular, began to better understand the role’s power. And in Marchant, Nevadans have picked an adherent to Trump’s Big Lie and a figure who, if elected in November, has pledged to do everything in his power to wield his office’s authority for political ends.

The choice would be disturbing on its own, for sure. But it fits with a broader pattern this year of Republicans siding with election deniers for prominent roles. In fact, it’s almost impossible to win a GOP nomination these days unless one caters to these fanciful ideas that Trump actually won the 2020 election and should win 2024 regardless of the vote outcome. Sure, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, fended off a Trump-backed challenger last month who focused on Raffensperger’s refusal to fudge the 2020 results, but Republicans in Pennsylvania still picked an election denier as their nominee for governor as did voters in North Carolina in the GOP primary for a Senate seat. And down the coast in South Carolina on Tuesday, Republicans backed the challenger Trump endorsed for a House seat who pledged fealty to Trump’s false claims of election fraud over the incumbent.

In other words, truth has become a liability in Republican primaries where election deniers are fueling a grassroots movement that party leaders feel merits nurturing.

Catering to this grievance is a short-term solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Review after review of the 2020 election found no significant fraud. In fact, voters turned out at record rates, the integrity was as good as it’s ever been, and the expanded early-voting systems put in place because of Covid-19 actually strengthened American democracy. Still, confidence in the results are at garbage levels, in part the result of Trump’s unrelenting campaign against the very election he lost. In fact, the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol—the one in which Trump supporters sought to make Congress deny Joe Biden’s victory through mob rule—found just this week that Trump’s persistent undercutting of voting procedures ahead of the election helped set the stage for his later questioning the legitimacy of the outcome.

The result is a danger to the very system itself. There’s a very good chance that Republicans will soon take back control of the House, if not the Senate. They’ve spent the last two years jeering election results that put Biden in power and swept Trump from it. When Republicans are ushered back into a majority and demand the whole country heed voters’ will, they won’t much appreciate even the faintest of hints that they are illegitimate rulers. Still, that’s the environment they have hatched, and they may have to live with.

The fever doesn’t look to be breaking any time soon. Looking down the calendar, there are plenty of upcoming primaries where election deniers are in play. In fact, almost every race in Colorado’s June 28 Republican primary features at least one denialist. An upstart candidate for Wisconsin governor has made reinstating Trump the central plank of his platform, while the establishment-favored candidate for the same job has walked back her assertion that Biden had won the state legitimately. And Arizona may also end up with an election conspiracy theorist as its GOP nominee for secretary of state.

These candidates are following the lead of Trump, who weaponized the secretary of state gig in a major way, and Democrats remain at a disadvantage. Of the 47 states with a secretary of state, Republicans have 27 of the posts, meaning they could—in the absence of decency or shame—put their thumb on the electoral scales. In 2020, folks like Raffensperger held the line and told Trump his requests were inappropriate if not criminal. As Trump continues to wage war on these positions and works to install his loyalists ahead of a potential 2024 run, election denialists in all corners of government undercut the legitimacy of the very institutions they’re trying to lead. And, in that, all voters should be mindful of even those running to be backwater bureaucrats.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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