Jeanette Strong: Refereeing Nevada’s elections

“Strong leaders inspire. Weak leaders instill fear,” Cisco Aguilar, candidate for Nevada Secretary of State.

The office of Secretary of State is one of the most important in state government. A secretary of state is responsible for regulating elections and administering corporate and business filings, among other duties. He or she also helps small businesses access the resources they need to succeed.

A secretary of state must be a person of integrity, who believes in the functions of government, dedicated to serving the people. Nevada has been fortunate to have a Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, who has fulfilled these duties well. Cegavske, a Republican, stood up against members of her own party who claimed the 2020 election was rigged. Admired as an impartial regulator of Nevada's elections, Cegavske investigated and found no basis for these claims. Now she’s termed out, and two candidates are competing for the position.

The Democratic candidate is Aguilar. He was born in Tucson, Ariz., to a working-class family. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, and went on to earn an MBA and a law degree from the University of Arizona.

He moved to Nevada more than 20 years ago and began forging bonds with community leaders and organizations. He became Special Counsel to Jim Rogers, Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. He was appointed to the Nevada Athletic Commission by Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and reappointed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, serving for eight years, two of those as chair.

Cisco is a member of the Nevada, California and Arizona Bars. He sits on several boards such as Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and is a founding board member of the Innocence Center of Nevada. All of this will contribute to Cisco’s ability to be an outstanding Secretary of State.

Regarding his role in elections, he says the secretary of state is like a referee. There are 17 counties in Nevada. The counties set their rules for administering elections, and the secretary of state has to make sure those rules follow the laws the state legislature has passed. The secretary of state must remain neutral and not impose his or her own political agenda, any more than a referee can change the rules of a game to suit his own wishes.

This is in sharp contrast to the Republican candidate, Jim Marchant. Marchant has claimed that the 2020 election was rigged, despite no evidence to support that claim. He has said he wouldn’t have certified the election, even though the secretary of state has no authority to certify results. As secretary of state, Marchant would work to make voting harder in order to achieve his own partisan goals.

For example, Marchant wants to wipe out the current voter registration rolls and force every Nevadan to re-register to vote. He wants to eliminate mail-in voting, requiring everyone, even those with medical issues, to vote in person. He wants to eliminate early voting, so everyone in Nevada would have to vote on Election Day, creating unimaginable chaos and confusion. (Washington Post, June 15)

He wants to eliminate all voting machines, using paper ballots exclusively, which would then be counted by hand. Since Nevada requires counties to certify their final vote count within 10 days after the election, this would create a massive, complicated, expensive effort to get all votes counted in time, inevitability leading to errors. Rather than make elections fairer, this would cripple the whole system.

As a real life test, Nye County will use paper ballots this election. They will be hand-counted, while a parallel counting process will be done by machine. The results should show which process is more accurate. (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 26)

Cisco wants to protect mail-in voting and access to the ballot box. “We must make elections accessible to individuals, we must make sure that early voting continues because it is critical to our working-class people…. Nevada is a 24/7 economy…. Imagine if we take away early voting, how long the lines would be at 6:45.” There are always ways to improve but gutting the whole system would not lead to better voter participation.
Marchant is trying to scare Nevadans into abandoning a system that has worked well for decades. Cisco wants to reinforce Nevadans’ faith in our democracy, assuring them that their votes count and our elections are fair. Choosing which man will referee our elections is one of the most important decisions we will make this November.

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


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