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Trump-backed election denier loses to Democrat in Nevada's secretary of state race


Every election denier that tried to become a top election official in a battleground state lost in this year's midterm elections. They include Jim Marchant, a Nevada Republican who falsely claims that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. He organized a coalition of secretary of state candidates across the country pledging that if they won, Donald Trump would again be president in 2024. But Marchant lost to Democratic attorney Cisco Aguilar, who joins us now. So you're going to be Nevada's next secretary of state. What was at stake in this race for you?

CISCO AGUILAR: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here. There was a lot at stake, especially when you talk about voter confidence. As you mentioned, my opponent wanted to disenfranchise a large group of Nevada voters by taking away some of our early access, taking away mail ballots and going back to a single Tuesday in November for everyone to vote across our great state. And one, I'm honored to serve in this position. I'm glad the voters believed in my vision. But also two, delivering a big blow to the leader of the America First Coalition, who wanted to deny a large group of Americans from having a voice in the future of our democracy.

MARTÍNEZ: Here's the thing, though. You won the election, but your opponent still had 465,000 votes. That means 465,000 people at least knew what he was about and still cast their vote for him. So what's your message to them?

AGUILAR: Well, I'm not sure that they knew who he was or what he represented because throughout the entire election, he hid. He was never present. He never agreed to a debate. He never agreed to be on a panel. And so I don't think the voters really knew who he was. What he had going for him was the power of the R next to his name.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, I just noticed a tweet from former President Barack Obama, who wrote, let's celebrate Democratic candidates like Cisco for Nevada - that's you - who will be Nevada's next secretary of state. His opponent spread conspiracy theories and lies about voting machines. Cisco will protect the integrity of Nevada's elections.

So for those who don't know, what does a secretary of state of a state do?

AGUILAR: (Laughter). It's different from state to state. But in Nevada, there are actually eight divisions within the secretary of state's office. The two most important one are elections. You are a regulator of elections. You are supposed to ensure that the 17 counties are doing what they need to do to make our elections lawful, secure and transparent. The other division that's really important is every business in Nevada has to file with the secretary of state's office. And so you have to have an understanding of what our business environment is and realize what we need to do in this office to make it easier for businesses to do what they do.

MARTÍNEZ: Did your job get tougher with Joe Lombardo, who was backed by Donald Trump, becoming the governor?

AGUILAR: No, not at all. I believe Joe Lombardo has the priority of all Nevadans at heart, and he will do the best job to protect that interest.

MARTÍNEZ: So as secretary of state, then, of Nevada, how much will you focus on targeting election-denying efforts anywhere in the state?

AGUILAR: Well, obviously, they're going to be - continue to put information into our state. Nevada is going to determine who the next president of United States is in 2024. So it's going to be a hot topic. It's going to be a discussion. However, I have to be out front and center in it. I have to build trust with our electorate throughout the state and get them to understand that, sometimes, information being given to us is not always accurate.

MARTÍNEZ: You had a tough win this time around. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was locked in a battle with Adam Laxalt. And just looking at the last few presidential elections, Democrats are winning over Nevadans, but the margins are getting smaller and smaller every single year. What is going on, do you think, with the Democratic Party in Nevada?

AGUILAR: I don't think it's an issue of the Democratic Party. It's just Nevada is a deep purple state. We've had success as Democratic candidates in the last election cycles. But there's been challenges. There are issues that Nevadans care about that we need to get better at addressing and understanding and finding solutions. Democrats this cycle had a vision. They had a solution to some of those issues. And really look at this from a long-term perspective. We're going to have to fight to continue to get Nevadans to believe in our vision.

MARTÍNEZ: And we're hearing election officials across the country reporting being threatened because of their work. How do you plan to protect election workers and volunteers in Nevada once you begin your term?

AGUILAR: Absolutely. And that's been a big priority of my campaign. We recognized from the very beginning that we can't continue to have secure elections, fair elections, accessible elections without the human component. The human component is so critical to the success of our elections. And we have to continue to ensure to protect them. They have to feel comfortable. They shouldn't feel threatened. They shouldn't feel intimidated by doing the job they're doing to put food on their table. I'm going to stand up. I'm going to have their back. We're going to introduce legislation this upcoming legislative cycle to make it a felony to harass any election worker or volunteer.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Cisco Aguilar, Nevada's next secretary of state. Thanks for speaking with us.

AGUILAR: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.