Election Day

Sooner Than You Think


Here comes Election Day, across the nation and in the county where I live in northern Nevada. It will be interesting to see how the scoreboard looks on November 9, but whatever the day brings the democratic process as we know it will still be on life-support.

Hundreds of Republican election deniers are running for local, state, and national office, including here in Nevada. They’ve created a “Heads I win, tails you lose,” scenario. If they come out ahead, they will happily overcome the irony of the situation and claim their victories. If they lose, they won’t accept the results and will spend the foreseeable future bombarding us with their faux outrage, cries of fraud, and “alternate” arithmetic.

But election denial won’t be our only worry. Every election exposes voters’ thought processes, judgment, and intellectual standards. Or, less charitably, what they will fall for. 

The situation is further muddled by the tribalism that now passes for political discourse, and has led us to replace serious thinking and common sense with uncompromising slavish devotion to party.

This is not an exclusively Republican or Democratic failing, although the most egregious examples fall on the Republican side. Especially where I live.

About half the registered voters in my county are Republicans. Democrats and nonpartisans divide the rest more or less evenly. Nonpartisans commonly go for Republicans. 

The temptation for Republican candidates is to not bother expanding their appeal beyond their confirmed followers. On the other hand, we do have Democratic and nonpartisan candidates, and voters, standing against one-party rule. 

This has consequences. Even though Democrats are at a disadvantage in our county, a vote is a vote. In statewide elections, especially close ones, it doesn’t matter whether the votes come from Las Vegas or out here in the sagebrush. 

It is also interesting to see county-level Republican strategy defined and implemented here, where I live. They have not presented a candidate approaching Herschel Walker levels of moral and performative unfitness for office—and demanded loyalty anyway. But a rundown of the current Republican slate is eye-opening, to say the least. 

The Republican candidate for the State Assembly district that includes a big chunk of our county is a staunch election denier and something of a democracy skeptic. Back when Michael Flynn suggested President Trump declare martial law to nullify the 2020 election results, he posted on his Facebook page that he thought that was a good idea. 

But more to the point, he seems to believe that holding public office requires nothing more than gauging what excites you or your constituents and then playing cheerleader. Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent soldiers on through discussions of the issues–education, health care, the environment, the needs of rural Nevada—and how she will work as a legislator to address them.

“Cheerleader” means repeating well-worn talking points without ever mentioning the next step of turning that emotional appeal into legislation. To understand, we only need to look at the Republican Assembly candidate’s record as a county commissioner, an office he presently holds. His routine of choice is the “resolution,” and he has masterminded a long list of “whereas” this and “be it resolved” that. 

Among other things, the Commission has resolved to oppose a state law banning ghost guns; to hamstring state health inspectors and ignore the Governor’s orders closing businesses during the Covid pandemic; to oppose voting by mail; and, the pièce de resistance, to rename the building housing the county jail, sheriff’s office, and district court the “Donald J. Trump Justice Complex.” None of these resolutions had any actual effect whatsoever, with the exception of a small bronze plaque mounted on the wall in the lobby downstairs from the courtrooms. 

The incumbent Republican candidate for District Attorney has his own version of the strategy. He does mention his experience, the dangers of methamphetamines, and supporting law enforcement. But at the heart of his campaign is his repeated declaration that he is a conservative Republican and that he supports the Second Amendment. This, apparently, is all he thinks he needs to win. 

His nonpartisan opponent not only checks all the boxes but focuses his messaging on the nuts and bolts of running the office. He is an experienced attorney with plenty of trial and prosecutorial experience. His particular concern is with creating a position responsible for helping victims and witnesses navigate the legal system—a position lacking under the current DA.

Then comes the county clerk-treasurer. The Republican candidate stresses two things in her campaigning: she does not like what is happening in our country today, and she is against voting by mail. 

Her nonpartisan opponent is an experienced county administrative assistant, who seems the embodiment of competence. She has not offered a right track / wrong track take on the country, probably because her experience has shown that the personal opinions of a county clerk on the state of the nation have nothing to do with her job.  But following election law has a lot to do with her job. The opportunity and choice to vote by mail is state law in Nevada. That is the end of the discussion, something her Republican opponent doesn’t seem to grasp. 

The last, and frankly most disconcerting of our county’s Republican candidates is the man running for a seat on the School Board. By state law, this is a nonpartisan position on a nonpartisan board. 

The logic here is that there is no Democratic or Republican version of a good education, and certainly you never want board members faced with choosing between what is good for students and what is good for their party. Nor can you have parents and students wondering if they will be treated fairly by the School Board, or school administrators, because they happen not to be Republicans.

Not this time. The Republican School Board candidate has flaunted his affiliation with the Republican Party, featuring it on his campaign signs, Facebook page, and touting it as a selling point in his public appearances. His issues, as you might expect, are more Republican than educational.

They are “parental rights,” teaching “traditional American history and civics,” and opposing Critical Race Theory and “non-factual teaching.” He does not, or cannot, define these in any meaningful way, let alone explain to voters how they relate to classroom instruction. 

His incumbent opponent personifies the concept of citizen involvement in their local school board. She originally ran for the Board because, as an employer, she was concerned about the level of training and quality of education shown by the young people who had graduated from our schools and were coming to her for jobs. 

She of course has her ideas about how history and topics like sex education should be taught. And she helped navigate the Board through our own version of the CRT controversy, resolving parents’ concerns even though CRT is not taught in our schools in any shape or form. Most importantly, in her appearances before voters, she does not deal in abstractions but brings the issues down to the classroom level.

The common thread among the Republican candidates running in my county is that they are focused on one segment of the electorate: their own. They communicate in generalities, using code words and dog whistles because it’s easy on them and their audience. No one asks just what being a strong supporter of the Second Amendment means, or why a District Attorney should be more supportive of one part of the Constitution over any other. No one asks what part of today’s America they don’t like, or why. No one asks what in the world “non-factual teaching” is, or in what classroom in our county they could find it. They just know it, and all those other things, when they see them.

At one level, this is politics as usual. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. But treating an election like a séance, where believers walk away all believing they know what that funny tapping sound or some other signal really meant, only opens the door for worse. 

Let’s return to the school board election. State law makes two things absolutely clear. First, “school offices,” are “designated nonpartisan offices.” Second, “No words designating the party affiliation of a candidate for nonpartisan offices may be printed upon the ballot.” (You can look it up, NRS Sec. 293.195).

In the past, School Board candidates have not necessarily hidden their affiliations, which are public records anyway. But they have accepted the fact that party membership—or non-membership—should never be part of their campaign or, ultimately, play a role in their service on the Board.

So how is it a Republican candidate decides to run for office, gets the complete support of his party, and then blatantly violates the spirit, if not the letter of the law? 

The answer lies partly in the way Republicans in my county have so demeaned the political process. It has become, in their minds, nothing more than a test which you only pass by replacing facts and logic with unquestioning loyalty. Put another way, if a Republican does it, it can’t be wrong. 

Simply put, this man exemplifies the self-righteous sense of entitlement Republicans have lately granted themselves, following the lead of their ex-president. The rules don’t apply to them, nor do what educators might see as normal thought processes. How else could someone aspire to an office guiding the teaching of young people to be responsible citizens and at the same time break the law just to get elected?

Of course, he will say this is only a technical violation. But in this case, in front of young people searching for examples and role models, violating the spirit of the law is actually much worse than violating its letter.

The lesson they learn is deviousness. If a law restricts your ambition, don’t argue the facts, just find a loophole and wriggle through it. Don’t worry about the reasoning behind specifically designating the office, in law, as nonpartisan. Don’t worry about why party affiliation is kept off the ballot. 

After all, the law doesn’t anything about signs, or flyers. Gotcha. What teenager faced with a curfew or limited screen time couldn’t admire that? Although one has to ask how this whole rigamarole squares with “traditional civics.”

So, what country we will wake up in on November 9? It’ll be the same county around here in a lot of ways. Same blue skies, same hills, same dust, and same rabbit brush ready to send your sinuses to Defcon 1. Some other things could be different, you never know.

Erich Obermayr, a columnist for the Sierra Nevada Ally, is an author, community activist, and career archaeologist specializing in sharing historical and archaeological research with the public. He writes about Nevada politics and social issues. He lives in Silver City, Nevada, with his wife. Support Erich’s work in the Sierra Nevada Ally here.

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