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Nearly 80 officials overseeing elections in 7 swing states doubt 2020 results

2020 election deniers oversee some 2024 elections
Some officials overseeing election in swing states are 2020 election deniers 02:40

Reno — Washoe County, Nevada, is a battleground county in a critical battleground state and may hold the keys to congressional contests, and potentially the presidency. But in this cycle, one of the most consequential races in the state is that of county commissioner. 

That commissioner would wield the swing vote on a panel that — among other responsibilities — oversees elections in Washoe. Members appoint the county's top election official, set the budget for elections and ultimately certify statewide election results.

"It's important to realize that we are in a national election, that national election is being run at the local level," said Democratic Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar in an interview. "And at that local level, they can completely shut down the election at the state, for the state and for the nation."

At a time when the electoral process has come under withering attack by former President Donald Trump and his boisterous MAGA following, control of the elections has emerged as a target of his allies in places like Washoe County, despite a persistent lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud in Washoe, or any other county in the U.S.

A new CBS News investigation found there are nearly 80 officials working in election oversight positions across seven battleground states, including Nevada, who don't believe the 2020 election results, refused to certify the election, publicly supported the actions taken on Jan. 6, 2021 in the U.S. Capitol riots or have pushed election conspiracies. 

In Washoe, the power of the commission has attracted the attention of a powerful and wealthy right-wing activist named Robert Beadles, who has falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged. Since 2022, he has been lobbying in support of controversial voting changes introduced by other Commissioners, which include eliminating voting machines in favor of hand-counting paper ballots and having the National Guard at polling places — steps the ACLU has called "categorically illegal." 

Beadles, who says he made his fortune in real estate and cryptocurrency, has spent significantly in local elections for school board, city council and the state legislature. He has also spent over $100,000 on commission races, particularly in support of two of the five current commissioners, Jeannie Herman and Michael Clark, both of whom have pushed election conspiracies or denied that Joe Biden won the election. This cycle, he aims to build a majority on the commission to promote his agenda. 

"We have our two superheros on the county commission. We have Mike Clark and Jeanne Herman." Beadles said in a video posted to his Facebook. "However, those two votes are not enough. We need three."

"If you want to save a county, you save the county commission, because they're the ones with one vote that can fix or destroy the county," Beadles told CBS News at a local Republican event he was moderating. "People are looking at the president and Senate and all those types and that's great, but that one person can't necessarily make a difference. As much as one person in the county commission or city council can, they could sway the entire board."

In his pursuit of one more vote on the county commission, Beadles has targeted fellow Republican and a current commissioner, Clara Andriola, for defeat in the upcoming June primary. Andriola has held the line against the voting changes Beadles has proposed — which contributed to her censure by the Washoe County GOP — where Beadles serves on the executive committee. That committee also passed a resolution in 2022 claiming that President Biden was not legitimately elected. 

"It was disappointing. It was hurtful … but I am a Republican, I still am a Republican and I will vote as a Republican," Andriola said of the censure. When asked how she thinks elections are run in Washoe, Andriola told CBS News. "I think elections have been run as best as we can."

But for Beadles, Andriola is not Republican enough. Instead, he is backing several other Republican candidates, including Andriola's primary opponent, Republican Tracey Hilton-Thomas. In an interview with CBS, during a campaign stop, Hilton-Thomas says she works closely with Beadles and current Republican Commissioner to draft new election resolutions.

"I do believe that there is interference in our elections," said Hilton-Thomas. When asked whether she believed the results of the 2020 election, she said: "I would have to say at this time, no, I do not believe the results … they won't show us, they won't show us the proof, we have to just trust their word. And I'm not a person that trusts people's word."

Beadles has continued to peddle false claims about election fraud. In 2022, he told the Washoe County Commission that "the elections are rigged … it's treason, you all are committing treason." He directed much of his ire about the election at County Registrar Deanna Spikula, who later resigned her position after facing an onslaught of harassment. Beadles has denied any responsibility for the harassment of Spikula or other officials. 

Beadles filed a lawsuit to try and block the The Election Worker Protection Act, which makes it a felony to harass, threaten or intimidate election workers. The suit has twice been rejected in federal court, but Beadles filed another appeal earlier this month.  A public affairs officer with Washoe County Commissions said there has been a 100% turnover of election officials in that office since 2020. 

The Reno activist has been promoted by Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to Donald Trump. 

"They're really scared of Trump, but what they should be scared of is like 25 (million) to 100 million little Trump 2.0s running around the country," Beadles said on Bannon's "War Room" podcast. 

In the June 11 primary, Washoe County voters will decide whether or not to vote out Andriola. And if Beadles is successful in getting one more vote on the commission, his allies will be in charge of certifying elections in the future. 

Aguilar, the Nevada secretary of state, says election deniers "understand the power of a county at the national level … Nevada is a battleground state, we are going to be part of a small group of states who determines the next president of the United States. And when you start to break down the data in the information county by county, you start to recognize the power of Washoe."

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