Republican Arizona Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem doubled down on conspiracy theories he has espoused about the 2020 presidential election in a debate against Democrat Adrian Fontes on Thursday night, asserting that votes in several key counties in Arizona should have been “set aside” even though there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 race.
“There are certain counties that should have been set aside as hopelessly compromised: Maricopa County was one of them. Yuma County was one of them,” the Republican state legislator said, echoing claims he made in February. resolution calling for decertification of 2020 election results in three Arizona counties, though legal experts say there is no legal mechanism to do so “We have so many outlaw votes that the question arises, what do we do with an election where we have votes that are in the flow, 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 wide range of deniers. candidates vying for office in November as he continues his relentless campaign to undermine and subvert the 2020 results.
Finchem is one of at least 11 Republican candidates running for state elections chief who have questioned, rejected or tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election, as CNN’s Daniel Dale described last month, a trend that has alarmed election experts and has attracted increasing attention. of the public
His remarks Thursday night, which he made when asked by a moderator whether he would have certified the 2020 presidential results, drew a sharp rebuke from Fontes, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, who said Finchem had just explained why he would be so dangerous. that he be entrusted with administering and supervising the electoral systems of Arizona.
“Our democracy is really based on the decisions (of) thousands of people, both Republicans and Democrats, who made the election work. When we have conspiracy theories and lies like the ones Mr. Finchem just shared, based on no real evidence, what we end up doing is eroding the faith we have in each other as citizens,” said Fontes, who previously served as the Maricopa County Recorder. “The kind of division, which is not based on facts, which is not based on any evidence, that we have seen Mr. Finchem touting is dangerous for America.”
Fontes was elected Maricopa County Recorder in 2016, but was defeated in his 2020 re-election bid after facing criticism for some of the changes he made to the county’s voting systems. Finchem repeatedly criticized his performance in the registrar’s office on Thursday night.
in a Quinnipiac University Survey published last month, 67% of Americans said they believe the nation’s democracy is “in danger of collapsing,” an increase of 9 points since January.
As Trump considers another run for the White House, Finchem’s close alliance with the former president has come under close scrutiny because he would be in charge of managing and certifying the election results of the 2024 presidential election in a crucial state that President Joe Biden won by less than 11,000 votes.
The job he’s running for is critically important in another way, too, because in Arizona, the secretary of state is second in line to the governor.
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 tabulate the results. He has also claimed without evidence that early voting leads to electoral fraud and has questioned whether it is constitutional.
During the 30-minute debate, which was sponsored by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and broadcast on Arizona’s PBS, Fontes, a former Marine, repeatedly tried to get Finchem to vouch for some of the ideas he has proposed. as a legislator how to restrict the possibility of voting by mail.
Finchem resisted, arguing that the secretary of state doesn’t set policy: “The secretary of state doesn’t take away people’s ability to vote. That’s up to the legislature,” he said.
When a moderator jumped in and pressed Finchem to answer whether he wanted to eliminate mail-in voting, Finchem replied, “What I want doesn’t matter.”
He later admitted that he doesn’t “care about voting by mail. That’s why I’m going to the polls.” The Republican lawmaker said he supports “absentee voting” programs, but not programs where ballots are mailed to voters who haven’t 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 followed up by asking Finchem what had 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 elections, Finchem said he believes the federal government “should meddle,” adding that it should be the legislature “that determines the time, place, and manner of an election.” not the federal government.” .”
Fontes tried to get Finchem out of some of his controversial associations, including that he is a self-proclaimed member from the far-right extremist group known as the Oath Keepers, but the Republican lawmaker did not participate.
CNN’s KFile team has uncovered a number of posts by Finchem in which he shared anti-government conspiracy theories, including a Pinterest account with a “Treason Watch List” (which included photos of Democratic politicians) and photo pins. of Barack Obama alongside images of a man in Nazi garb 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 seizure of the US Capitol, although he has said he was not involved in the riot. Around that time, the Republic of Arizona reported that he posted a picture online of rioters on the steps of the Capitol and said the events were “what happens when people feel like they’ve been ignored and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.”
Fontes accused him of participating in “a violent insurrection” that sought to “overthrow the very constitution that holds this nation together.”
Finchem rejected that characterization. “Mr. Fontes has just engaged in total fiction, the creation of something that did not exist,” he said. “I was interviewed by the (Justice Department) and the commission (Jan. was part of a criminal uprising is absurd and, frankly, a lie.”