Over the span of 30 televised minutes on Thursday night, the far-right legislator Mark Finchem clearly demonstrated why he is Donald Trump’s preferred pick to run Arizona’s elections.
In his first debate with Democratic secretary of state candidate Adrian Fontes, Finchem held fast to his false claims that the 2020 election in Arizona was beset with widespread fraud, defended his presence at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, and declined to say whether he would seek to make it harder to vote in Arizona.
The debate had barely begun before Finchem began conjuring disproven claims of faulty Dominion voting machines and allegedly dubious ballots stuffed into drop boxes. Asked to back up his arguments, Finchem pointed to so-called evidence included in the Dinesh D’Souza conspiracy film “2,000 Mules” that has become a sacred text on the MAGA right—though few elected Republicans have decided to go anywhere near the film’s far-fetched claims.
When Fontes argued that Finchem’s goal was to overturn an election, the Republican strenuously denied the suggestion.
“I’m not talking about overturning an election,” he said. “I’m talking about declaring one county’s election irredeemably compromised.” Of course, the contest between Trump and Joe Biden in Arizona was close. To have made that declaration as the state’s most senior election official would have thrown the entire state’s electoral votes in doubt—and potentially would have put the national presidential election in the air.
At several points in the debate, Fontes referenced Finchem’s presence at the Capitol in Washington during the Jan. 6 riot. Previously, Finchem has downplayed his activity on that day, saying he just flew to Washington to present evidence to GOP members of Congress. Footage of the crowd outside the Capitol that day, however, showed Finchem very close to the Capitol building after it had been breached by rioters.
Asked directly if Arizona voters would approve of their top election official being present at an attempt to derail a presidential election, Finchem simply said, “to be at a place when something is happening is not illegal.”
He also said that he had been interviewed by both the Department of Justice and the House select committee investigating Jan. 6—as a witness.
The debate moderator attempted to pin down Finchem on his position regarding mail-in voting, a focus of GOP consternation in 2020 though it has been widely used in many states, such as Arizona, for years.
Finchem has previously expressed opposition to mail-in voting but was reluctant to do so on the debate stage Thursday night. Asked repeatedly if he would seek to curtail the practice, Finchem simply said that it was his job to implement the legislature’s plans and that his own views were irrelevant.
“What I want doesn’t matter,” Finchem insisted, before finally admitting, “I don’t care for mail-in voting.”
While races such as secretary of state are typically under the radar contests, the elevation of Finchem—and like-minded candidates in other states—has alarmed many in both parties who are concerned that they might use their power not only to roll back voting access but refuse to accept the outcome of the elections in 2024 and beyond.
But in few states is the contrast between the secretary of state hopefuls is as stark as it is in Arizona.
Fontes, a former Maricopa County Recorder, eagerly linked Finchem to 2020 conspiracy theories and the violence of Jan. 6, calling that record “an unhinged and violent aspect of Mark Finchem he’d rather not discuss.”
Clearly, Finchem was unhappy with how the debate focused on his far-fetched claims and controversial record. Afterward, he tweeted, “NOT ONE QUESTION QUESTIONING ADRIAN FONTES FOR HIS QUESTIONABLE PERFORMANCE AS AN ELECTIONS OFFICER.”