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Finchem fiery, Fontes focused in debate for Arizona Secretary of State

Candidates for the next Arizona Secretary of State debate on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2002. At left, Republican Mark Finchem, on the right, Democrat Adrian Fontes. The debate was moderated by Ted Simons of “Arizona Horizon” and Richard Ruelas of The Arizona Republic.
Candidates for the next Arizona Secretary of State debate on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2002. At left, Republican Mark Finchem, on the right, Democrat Adrian Fontes. The debate was moderated by Ted Simons of “Arizona Horizon” and Richard Ruelas of The Arizona Republic.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The Republican candidate for Arizona secretary of state defended his attendance at the Jan. 6, 2021 riot, saying his presence there did not make him a participant.
"The last time I checked, being at a place where something's happening is not illegal,'' said Mark Finchem.
During a half-hour televised debate Thursday, Finchem said he went to Washington to deliver a "book of evidence'' to federal lawmakers about claimed irregularities in the 2020 vote in Arizona, material that came out of a hearing in Phoenix involving attorney Rudy Giuliani and other Trump supporters.
Democrat Adrian Fontes said he does not buy that explanation. And he said it shows that Finchem was not interested in following the legal procedures to contest the election results.
"What he did is engage in a violent insurrection and try to overturn the very Constitution that holds this nation together,'' Fontes said.
"For him to assert that I was part of a criminal uprising is absurd and frankly, it is a lie,'' Finchem responded.
There is no evidence Finchem entered the Capitol as Congress was certifying the Electoral College win for Joe Biden.
He was, however, part of the crowd just outside. And he even posted a photo on Twitter of the rioters, saying this is "what happens when people feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.''
Some of the debate focused on Finchem's continued insistence the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Finchem previously said he would not have certified the results. But on Thursday, he dodged the issue.
"There are too many hypotheticals to really answer that question because we didn't know what we knew after the election until after certification of the canvass occurred,'' Finchem said. "But knowing what we know today, there are certain counties that should have been set aside as irredeemably compromised,'' he said, specifically naming Maricopa and Yuma counties.
"We've got the evidence,'' Finchem said. "The media has just refused to look at it.''
For example, he said there are more than 140,000 ballot images out of Maricopa County that were "allegedly scanned by Dominion equipment'' that have no audit head stamp. And he pointed out that two people have pleaded guilty in Yuma County to "ballot harvesting,'' including filling out and casting ballots for others.
Finchem, however, provided no answer of what he believes should have been done at the time.
"I'm not talking about overturning an election,'' he said. But he said there needs to be some remedy when an election is "mismanaged,'' especially if there is evidence it altered the outcome.
Fontes said he sees something else behind the conspiracy theories about the 2020 vote.
"What we now have is an entire set of fiction that has somehow managed to make a lot of money for some people outside of the regular norms that we expect,'' he said. "This is a chaotic way of redressing a political loss.''
But much of the discussion was about who was fit to be not only the state's chief election officer but also first in the line of succession if the governor leaves office.
"You can decide between community building and stability or conspiracy theories and cantankerousness,'' Fontes said. And he said the "conspiracy theories and lies'' advanced by Finchem "end up eroding the faith we have in each other as citizens.''
Finchem, for his part, pointed out that Fontes, then the Maricopa County recorder, had to be stopped by a judge from pursuing his plan in the 2020 presidential preference primary to send ballots to all voters, regardless of whether or not they had asked for an early ballot.
Fontes, for his part, was unapologetic. He said he was trying to address the fact that there were people who, due to the COVID outbreak, were afraid to leave their homes.
Finchem also cited problems in the August 2018 primary where some polling places did not open on time.
"In fact, people stood in line for hours,'' said Fichem. "He was fired by the taxpayers,'' noting Fontes' loss in his 2020 bid for reelection.
Finchem also took a shot at Katie Hobbs, the current holder of the office.
"I am running for secretary of state to restore honor, to restore integrity, to restore security to the secretary of state's office,'' he said. And Finchem said the person in that position should not be making law but following the laws approved by the legislature.
He used that to dodge questions about whether he wants to kill early voting, a system that has proven wildly popular, what with close to nine out of every 10 ballots cast in 2020 sent early to voters.
"That is up to the legislature,'' he said.
"But you've called for that,'' Fontes interjected.
"What I want doesn't matter,'' Finchem responded.
Fontes said if Finchem got his way, the only way to vote would be on Election Day, standing in line at an assigned polling place.
"What if you're one of Arizona's hundreds of thousands older voters, or a disabled veteran?'' Fontes asked.
Finchem called that a "false choice,'' saying he supports "absentee votes,'' like in Tennessee. That state allows ballots to be mailed, but only to people who meet certain conditions like neing 60 or older, being outside the county on Election Day, or being hospitalized or physically disabled.
That is similar to the system Arizona had prior to 1991 when the Republican-controlled legislature enacted the current "no excuse'' early voting. A lawsuit by the Arizona Republican Party to scrap that law was dismissed earlier this year.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia