Candidate Q&A: Cisco Aguilar on His Run for Nevada Secretary of State

Light blue background with an ink and white toned image of Cisco Aguilar (candidate for Nevada secretary of state) over a white text bubble, a blue sign that says "Early Voting Today" in English and Spanish, a blue-toned mail-in ballot envelope over a red text bubble and a blue-toned Nevada sign saying "Welcome to fabulous voter-friendly Nevada" over a pink-toned text bubble

With current Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cesvasgke (R) term limited, Democrat Cisco Aguilar is vying for Nevada’s top elections position. In his race, Aguilar is running against former state Rep. Jim Marchant (R), a dedicated election denier who has asserted that he would not have certified Biden’s win in 2020 and would consider sending “alternate electors” in 2024. 

In Democracy Docket’s first candidate Q&A of the 2022 cycle, Nevada secretary of state candidate Cisco Aguilar lays out the Silver State’s best election features, provides his take on why the “Big Lie” has become so resonant with Republicans in his state and picks Nevada native Imagine Dragons to play his campaign walk-up song.

Responses have been edited for style and clarity.

How will you use the secretary of state’s office to protect voting rights in Nevada? Why is your position as secretary of state crucial in this fight?

I think it’s safe to say the stakes of secretary of state races have never been higher. Myself and other Democratic nominees for this office in states across the country are facing opponents who have said loud and clear that they don’t care about facts or the rule of law, and that they’re willing to get the results they want by any means necessary.

In Nevada, the secretary of state is the regulator of elections. It’s their job to call balls and strikes, to ensure that there’s a level playing field. As the former chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, I know how hard regulators have to work to keep the trust of the public. When you lose that trust, you lose faith in the whole system. Now more than ever, we need people to believe that their vote counts and their voice matters. America needs secretaries of state they can trust, not ones who will change the rules for political gain.

What is Nevada’s best voter or election feature? What is one area where the Silver State can improve its election process?

It’s hard to pick a favorite! Between our lengthy period of early voting, universal vote by mail and same day voter registration, voting in Nevada has never been more convenient or secure. If I had to pick I’d say that our move to mail-in ballots is what makes voting more accessible than ever. Every registered voter gets their ballot sent right to their mailbox, with plenty of time to do their research and mail it back, or bring it to a drop box at any polling location. Since Nevada implemented the vote by mail system, we’ve seen an increase in voter participation. I think that’s incredible.

I think there are a few places that we could improve, but they’re not just limited to Nevada. Every election, our election workers and administrators show up to do their jobs, but are facing increased occurrences of intimidation, harassment and threats. We saw this in news reports after the 2020 election and heard it from the election workers themselves during the Jan. 6 hearings. These are our friends and neighbors who show up to make sure our elections run smoothly and they deserve to do so in a safe environment. I would like to see improvements in protections for election workers so that Nevada can continue to run some of the best elections in the country. 

In 2020, former President Donald Trump lost Nevada by just over two points and proceeded to reject these results and falsely claim that thousands of Nevadans had voted twice or from out of state. Your Republican opponent, former Nevada state Rep. Jim Marchant, has also denied the results of the 2020 presidential election and continues to perpetuate Trump’s “Big Lie.” Why do you think this rhetoric is so resonant with Republicans in Nevada?

I think there are a lot of people who are fed up with what they think of as “business as usual.” Real leaders, honest leaders, want to work with people and find solutions to the problems everyday Nevadans face. That’s what I want to do, and I know it’s what my Democratic colleagues up and down the ballot want to do as well.

But there are some leaders, weak ones, who will say anything to get their way. They’re willing to spout falsehoods, claims they know are unsubstantiated, conspiracy theories, anything they can say to make voters afraid. They believe that keeping people scared is their path to power. Nevadans have been hit hard, over and over, by recessions and tragedy and inflation. I’m not surprised some of them are looking for something to blame, an easy way out. But the truth is, there’s no easy way out — there’s just hard work, community and time. I wish my opponent, and all of his allies, would just be honest. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. 

In 2021, the Nevada Legislature permanently codified changes made in 2020 to the state’s strict ballot collection rules, allowing any person authorized by the voter to return that voter’s ballot, as long as the ballot is returned within three days. This year, a Republican-led PAC unsuccessfully attempted to get a referendum on the November ballot that sought to repeal three provisions of that 2021 law, including the provision expanding ballot collection. Why has community ballot collection become such a target in Nevada?

The fact of the matter is, voter assistance is not new ground — it’s just newer in Nevada. We are a state with a 24-hour economy and voters might not be able to make it to a polling location when it’s open because of their work schedule. We are also a vast state with many rural communities and Native reservations that have to drive significant distances to get to their nearest polling location and voter assistance helps make sure they can cast their ballot and have a say in our state’s future. This is also true for our state’s immigrant and multi-generational families. We know that when people vote, Democrats win elections. The opposition will do anything they can to decrease turnout among those groups, even opposing common-sense policies like ballot assistance.

Last month, two Republican lawsuits filed against Secretary of State Cegavske seeking to drastically expand election observation activities in two Nevada counties failed. What do you make of the basis of these lawsuits — that observers, who have no legal role in election administration, should be present at every step of the election?

There’s nothing wrong with sensible election observation, but that’s not what this was. These lawsuits were an attempt to intimidate voters and poll workers and for one party to put their thumb on the scale of our democracy. That’s unacceptable, and I’m glad they failed.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating decisions and the ongoing hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, it’s easy for us to feel discouraged by the state of our democracy. What do you say to voters who don’t feel like their voices are being heard?

I absolutely understand why some people feel like our government is no longer working for them. For too long, the powerful have made it harder and harder for everyday Americans to have their voices heard and have an impact on how our country works.

What our opponents are counting on is that we get too discouraged, too cynical and check out. The truth is, who we elect matters. I’m making a commitment to work hard for the people of Nevada and to be accountable to them. The same should be true of every elected official, up and down the ballot. No one should be above accountability to their constituents, and this November voters should remember that they have the power.

Favorite way to vote? 

I love the convenience of filling out my mail-in ballot at home and dropping it off at a secure drop box!

First election you voted in? 

My first electoral vote was for now-U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D) in his re-election to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, but my first vote was in the University of Arizona Student Body elections, where I was elected senator.

Go-to walk up song? 

“Radioactive” by Las Vegas locals Imagine Dragons!