Incumbent fends off far-right challenge in local Nevada race with potential elections implications

A Republican incumbent on a commission that has a hand in overseeing elections in Nevada's major swing county has fended off a far-right challenge and secured her party's nomination in a race that could have had implications for national elections.

Heading into Nevada's primary on Tuesday, the incumbent, Clara Andriola, had been facing a challenge from the far right for her seat on the Washoe County Board of Commissioners, part of an ongoing effort by election conspiracy theorists who want to create a majority on the board that has some important oversight of the county elections office.

Washoe includes Reno and is the second-largest county by population in the key presidential and Senate battleground state.

Andriola has said that administering elections should not be a partisan issue. In a statement Wednesday, she said her primary victory “is validation that Washoe County voters care about policy, not politics.”

Andriola is likely favored to win reelection from her district, which covers a reliably Republican-leaning part of the county.

The commission’s authority over its election department includes appointing the registrar of voters, certifying the vote counts, identifying polling locations and providing ballots in Spanish in a county where the population is about one-quarter Latino. The state and courts provide a safeguard against any local manipulation of elections.

The effort to unseat Andriola was backed by wealthy far-right political activist Robert Beadles, who has been trying for years to tip the balance of power on the commission further to the right: He has publicly spread rumors about the family lives of officials he opposes, unsuccessfully sued to oust county officials and roll back protections for election workers, and led a local movement that has encouraged officials to avoid certifying election results and overhaul the elections department.

Beadles didn't respond to emailed requests for comment.

Against this backdrop, Washoe County commission meetings are regularly filled with heated rhetoric about “puppet masters” manipulating elections, false accusations of stolen votes and conspiracy theories about voting machines. The claims stem from the repeated lies promoted by former President Donald Trump.

Through his political action committee, Beadles endorsed Mark Lawson, a former fire chief from nearby Sparks, for Andriola's seat. Lawson has said he’s skeptical of the 2020 presidential election results.

Lawson conceded the race to Andriola, but in a text message Wednesday to the AP, he said he hopes she recognizes “her lack of support with so many voters" because of her bipartisan votes that have created a familiar split on the five-member commission, which currently includes Andriola, two Democrats, and two Republicans financially backed by Beadles.

Ahead of Nevada's primary, Andriola had campaigned on relaxing business restrictions and supporting voter ID, but her bipartisan votes earned her a censure by the county GOP, which rejected the 2020 election results.

The dynamic unfolding in the politically mixed region of northern Nevada is similar to dramas that have played out elsewhere, including in neighboring Arizona, another swing state where conspiracy theorists have targeted local boards and elections offices the past several years.

Multiple reviews, recounts and audits in the states where Trump disputed his 2020 loss have affirmed President Joe Biden’s win, and there has been no evidence of widespread fraud.

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Associated Press writer Gabe Stern in Reno contributed to this report.

Rio Yamat, The Associated Press