From the halls of Congress to statehouses around the nation, the Grand Old Party is burning its heretics at the stake.
In Carson City, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican holding a statewide elected office, is among the martyrs. Cegavske, a former assemblywoman and state senator, is under fire from the pro-Trump state party for the unforgivable crime of doing her job.
In April, Shawn Meehan, a Nevada Republican Party Central Committee member from Douglas County, submitted a sudden and stark resolution at the party’s April meeting rebuking Cegavske’s handling of the 2020 presidential election. The motion stated that she disregarded “her oath of office by failing to investigate election fraud.” The motion narrowly passed with a vote of 126 to 112.
Cegavske has joined the ranks of other national and state GOP functionaries who refused to fall in line and buy into the “Big Lie” that Donald Trump was cheated out of a second term, despite irrefutable facts to the contrary.
She has a lot of company among others who have failed the litmus test of loyalty to the former president, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Cegavske’s experience parallels that of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Rafensberger, who refused to support the reversal of the election results in his state after multiple recounts, lost lawsuits, and the certification of Georgia’s electoral votes.
According to the Trump loyalists, those Republicans, Cegavske included, are traitors. The accusers, meanwhile, style themselves as patriots, rather than the blind partisans they certainly are. Their actions are unmoored from traditional conservative values. As a result, they are changing the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, in a way that is almost unrecognizable.
Cegavske is at the center of a storm that has lashed her from all sides. Last year, when the Legislature in special session changed election procedures to make voting safer and easier during the pandemic, she found herself in the crosshairs of the Nevada Republican Party, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Trump himself.
Mail-in ballots were sent out to all eligible Nevada voters for the state’s primary election in June. In August, lawmakers approved voting by mail and other changes to elections with AB4, a bill that passed without much involvement by Cegavske. “The secretary was only made aware of the AB4 the day before it was presented, and didn’t see a copy until one hour before the hearing,” Cegavske’s spokesperson wrote in an email. “She did not have any input whatsoever on the crafting of the language. She was in opposition to AB4 and said so in her testimony at the hearing…”
Court challenges failed
The secretary was walking a fine line. On Aug. 4, the day after Sisolak signed AB4 into law, the Trump campaign sued Cegavske over the mail-voting issue. She told the court that the measure made only “modest changes” to election procedures. She urged that the complaint, which alleged that the law made “voter fraud and other ineligible voting inevitable,” be thrown out of court. It was.
The secretary of state also penned a guest column in the Nevada Independent July 29, arguing that AB4’s changes weren’t needed. Cegavske wrote that she instead supported “easy access to absentee voting coupled with robust in-person voting opportunities, both during early voting and on Election Day.” She lost that battle when AB4 passed and general election ballots were mailed to all registered voters prior to Nov. 4.
Other suits related to the election were filed in Nevada – and ultimately failed. Instead of resolving the issues, those unfounded allegations provided a foundation for the myth of the stolen election. But Meehan, who submitted the resolution condemning Cegavske, told me that the censure really wasn’t about Trump after all.
‘That’s over, we lost’
The action against Cegavske, he said, “is not about the 2020 election. It’s associated with it, but it’s not part of it. That’s over, we lost. I think we lost (voters) barely and certain races were stolen.” He can’t be specific, he said, because “proper investigations were not done.”
Mehan, a retired Air Force senior non-commissioned officer, noted his background as a student of military history and a “citizen-teacher and activist” on Constitutional matters. He said Cegavske has an obligation to communicate with and respond to critics, but won’t do so.
“I’m not playing anymore, (and) not apologizing,” he said. “We don’t want to be brutal. We don’t want to be pugilistic, but when you’ve got an elected official that won’t be responsive, who claims the mantle of ‘I’m the highest ranking person of a certain party’ and then they won’t take a call from the chairman, or meet with the chairman of that party, you’ve got a problem.”
Cegavske declined to be interviewed for this column, but the day after she was rebuked by the party, she issued a statement that said, in part: “My job is to carry out the duties of my office as enacted by the Nevada Legislature, not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy. Unfortunately, members of my own party continue to believe the 2020 general election was wrought with fraud — and that somehow I had a part in it — despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief.”
Her rebuttal sparked another statement from the state GOP, reiterating the accusation that the secretary of state was guilty of “failure to implement reasonable election security measures, failure to investigate all potential fraudulent votes, and (made) irresponsible public statements regarding the fairness of the 2020 election. The Nevada Republican Party is disappointed by the inaction of the Secretary of State to communicate and timely investigate claims of voter fraud in the Silver State.”
Cegavske then released a report noting that the claims of fraud, including many that had already been dismissed by the courts, had been investigated by her office. She wrote that “these allegations and others are based largely upon an incomplete assessment of voter registration records and lack of information concerning the processes by which these records are compiled and maintained.”
In other words, the people who made the allegations don’t understand the elections process.
Meehan, who said the rebuke was a means of getting the Secretary of State office’s attention and focusing the party’s complaints and concerns about the integrity of the election, said Cegavske’s report ignored valid evidence of fraud. He defended the party’s allegations against her.
“I don’t just write these things,” he said. “I actually was a mishap investigator in the military. If I am going write something, I also want to know that it’s true, as best I can understand, so I investigated everything I wrote in the resolution to the extent that we were able… There have been some pieces of data that have been further clarified and, and, I guess, they may be reduced, but there’s also things that were just simply blown off by her report.”
Getting to ‘Stupidville’
Meehan said he was reluctant to censure Cegavske, but that she refused to “have a dialogue with us” about the allegations of fraud and he was exasperated by her office’s response to the evidence presented. Although Republicans said they submitted evidence of more than “120,000 instances” of voter fraud to the secretary of state, only 3,963 Election Integrity Violation reports were actually submitted to her office, Cegavske has noted.
“She ridiculed the party because we didn’t use the proper form,” Meehan said, “or we only had an X number of couple thousands of complaint forms when there were actually almost 123,000 individual incidents described on those forms, and I mean that’s kind of where that went.
“It just got Stupidville, so we had to bring (the censure)”
He doesn’t take pride in attacking Cegavske. “I don’t enjoy it,” he said.
Still, the sin that made Cegavske a political pariah to many in the GOP is that she refused to be partisan and executed her oath with integrity. Like Liz Cheney, who lost her Congressional leadership position this month, Cegavske would not repeat the Big Lie.
Many neutral observers and media commentators have commended Cegavske for her professionalism and impartiality throughout the 2020 election cycle. She is term-limited, but the backlash against her from Trump loyalists may undermine her chances to attain higher statewide and federal offices.
A plague of partisanship
Several Republican hopefuls for her seat have surfaced, including Sparks City Councilman Kristopher Dahir and former assemblyman Jim Marchant, who believes that both Trump’s defeat and his own loss to Rep. Steve Horsford in 2020’s congressional race were the result of fraud.
Meanwhile, both parties have formed political action committees to bolster candidates in secretary of state races across the nation. What have been relatively non-partisan positions charged with fairly administering election laws now are targets of some candidates who see an opportunity to tilt the scales.
Those candidates and their supporters are playing a reckless game. They seek short-term gains at the expense of long-term public confidence in our democracy.
Meehan accused Nevada’s secretary of state of residing in “Stupidville.” Recent developments in Nevada and across the nation show that the road to that mythical destination is paved with doubts, discord and uncertainty about what must be free and fair elections.
Donnell Dike-Anukam is a Reno native and a Northern Nevada college student. He has been a regional and local activist and is currently a political and news writer, interested in all things political and newsworthy in Northern Nevada. He is a former ThisIsReno political writer and intern.