Arizona Republican Secretary of State Mark Finchem doubled down on the conspiracy theories he espoused about the 2020 presidential election during a debate against Democrat Adrian Fontes Thursday night, saying the votes in several key Arizona counties should even have been “set aside”. although there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 contest.
“There are certain counties that should have been set aside as irretrievably compromised – Maricopa County was one of them. Yuma County was one of them,” the Republican state lawmaker said, echoing claims he made in a February resolution calling for the decertification of 2020 election results in three Arizona counties – even though legal experts say there is no legal mechanism to do so. “We have so many votes outside the law that it begs the question, what do we do with an election where we have votes that are in the stream, that shouldn’t be counted?”
Finchem, a Republican state representative in Arizona, was endorsed by Donald Trump in September 2021 after becoming one of the most vocal supporters of the former president’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. Trump is backing a broad spectrum of election deniers vying for the job in November as he continues his relentless campaign to undermine and overturn the 2020 results.
Finchem is one of at least 11 Republican candidates vying for state election chief who have questioned, rejected, or attempted to overturn the 2020 election results, as recounted by Daniel Dale of CNN last month – a trend that has alarmed election experts and has gained increasing attention. public.
His claims Thursday night — which he made when asked by a moderator if he had certified the 2020 presidential results — drew a sharp rebuke from Fontes, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, who said Finchem just explained why it would be so dangerous. to be responsible for managing and overseeing Arizona’s electoral systems.
“Our democracy is really based on the decisions (of) thousands of people – Republicans and Democrats alike – who have done the work of elections. When we have conspiracy theories and lies like the ones Mr. Finchem just shared, based on no real evidence, what we end up eroding is the trust we have in each other as citizens,” said Fontes, who was formerly the recorder of Maricopa County. “The kind of division, not based on fact, not based on evidence, that we have seen trumpeted by Mr. Finchem is dangerous for America.”
Fontes was elected Maricopa County Recorder in 2016 but was defeated in his bid for re-election in 2020 after coming under fire for some of the changes he made to the county’s voting systems. Finchem repeatedly criticized his performance in the recorder’s office on Thursday night.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released last month, 67% of Americans said they believed the nation’s democracy was “in danger of collapsing,” a 9-point increase from January.
As Trump considers another bid for the White House, Finchem’s close alliance with the former president has come under scrutiny as he would be tasked with managing and certifying the results of the 2024 presidential election. in a pivotal state that President Joe Biden has won less and less. more than 11,000 votes.
The position he is seeking is also of crucial importance in another respect, because in Arizona the secretary of state is second in line to the governorship.
Finchem co-sponsored legislation with other Republican lawmakers in Arizona that would allow lawmakers to reject election results and require poll workers to count ballots by hand instead of using electronic equipment to tally the results. He also claimed without evidence that early voting leads to voter fraud and questioned whether it was constitutional.
During the 30-minute debate, sponsored by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and broadcast on Arizona’s PBS, Fontes, a former Marine, repeatedly tried to have Finchem respond to some of the ideas he has proposed as a legislator as limiting the possibility of voting by mail.
Finchem resisted, arguing that the Secretary of State does not set policy: “The Secretary of State does not eliminate people’s ability to vote. It is up to the legislator to decide,” he said.
When a moderator chimed in and pressed Finchem to respond if he wanted to eliminate mail-in voting, Finchem replied, “It doesn’t matter what I want.”
He later admitted that he “didn’t care about mail-in voting. That’s why I go to the polls. The Republican lawmaker said he supports “vote-by-mail” programs, but not programs where ballots are sent to voters who have not requested them.
When one of the moderators asked Finchem if the August primary election was fair, Finchem replied that he had “no idea”. When the moderator went on to ask Finchem what changed between the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 Arizona primary, Finchem replied, “The candidates.”
When asked what role the federal government has in Arizona’s elections, Finchem said he thinks the federal government “must crush,” adding that it should be the legislature “that appoints the hour, the place and manner of election, not the federal government.”
Fontes tried to lure Finchem out of some of his controversial associations – including that he is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group known as the Oath Keepers – but the Republican lawmaker did not engage.
CNN’s KFile team uncovered a series of posts from Finchem where he shared anti-government conspiracy theories, including a Pinterest account with a “betrayal watchlist” (which included photos of Democratic politicians) and pins of photos of Barack Obama alongside images of a man in Nazi gear giving a Nazi salute.
Fontes also pressed Finchem to explain what he was doing in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.
Finchem attended the January 6 rally that preceded the storming of the US Capitol – although he said he did not participate in the riot. Around the same time, the Arizona Republic reported that he had posted a photo online of rioters on the steps of the Capitol and said the events were “what happens when the people have the feeling of having been ignored and that Congress refuses to recognize endemic fraud”.
Fontes accused him of engaging in “a violent insurgency” that attempted to “overthrow the very constitution that holds this nation together.”
Finchem rejected this characterization. “Mr. Fontes has just engaged in total fiction, the creation of something that did not exist,” he said. “I was questioned by the (Ministry of Justice) and the commission (from January 6) as a witness…. For him to say that I was part of a criminal uprising is absurd and frankly, it is a lie.