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Adrian Fontes closing in on Arizona secretary of state race

FINCHEM FONTES ELEX 22.png
Lisa Sturgis/KAWC
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Arizona secretary of state candidates Democrat Adrian Fontes and Republican Mark Finchem.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Voting results late Wednesday showed Arizona voters rejecting Republican election denier Mark Finchem for secretary of state in favor of Democrat Adrian Fontes.
With 99% of precincts reporting, Fontes was ahead by nearly 85,000 votes, tallying 52.4% of the more than 1.7 million ballots counted so far against 47.6% for his GOP foe.
All this comes as Arizonans are deciding whether to choose someone who had administered an election or someone who claims the results were fraudulent to be the state's top election official -- and first in line for governor if the incumbent leaves office.
Fontes was the Maricopa County recorder for four years before being defeated in a reelection bid in 2020. Finchem said Fontes was "fired by the taxpayers'' for doing such a poor job.
But Fontes has an ally of sorts to deflect Finchem's claims that the 2020 presidential election in the state's largest county was "irredeemably compromised,'' resulting in a sufficiently large margin of victory for Joe Biden to overcome Trump support elsewhere.
That is Stephen Richer, the Republican who ousted Fontes. And Richer has defended both how the 2020 race was conducted by his predecessor and the results, as has the Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
That isn't to say his tenure was flawless.
In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary -- the Republicans did not have one, settling on incumbent Trump as their nominee -- Fontes announced plans to send every eligible voter a ballot through the mail. But Fontes had to back off after Attorney General Mark Brnovich got a court order to block the move.
Fontes, however, said he was trying to address the fact that there were people who, due to the COVID outbreak, were afraid to leave their homes. And he argued he was acting within his authority, even if the court disagreed.
There also were problems in the August 2018 primary where some polling places did not open on time.
But Fontes also set up a system of voting centers, allowing any county resident to vote at any location rather than having to go solely to his or her own precinct.
Finchem has built virtually his campaign on the claims, without proof, of a rigged system and stolen election, even saying that he would not have certified the 2020 state election results as did Gov. Doug Ducey and current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
He acted on that in several ways, including being present at the Jan. 6 riot where some actually broke into the Capitol in a bid to halt the counting of the electoral college votes that confirmed Biden's election.
Fontes has dubbed Finchem an "insurrectionist.'' But Finchem said he had been scheduled to speak at an earlier rally near the White House and did not enter the Capitol.
But his efforts did not end there.
Earlier this year he introduced a resolution calling for the results of the 2020 elections in Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties to be set aside because of what he said was evidence of fraud and mismanagement and for the state to "reclaim'' the 11 electors and their votes for Biden.
And Finchem, along with Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, attempted to convince a federal judge to require ballots in this year's election to be counted by hand. Judge John Tuchi rules that their claims that a machine count can produce inaccurate results are little more than speculation on their part, backed only by "vague'' allegations about voting systems generally.
While they filed an appeal there appears to have been little action in that case.
Finchem has been less than clear when asked if he will certify the results of the 2024 election -- one of the jobs of the secretary of state -- if the results show that Biden outpolled whoever is the GOP nominee.
He said he would comply "as long as all the lawful votes are counted and all votes cast are under the law.''
But Finchem has not said how he would make that determination for himself. And he brushed aside the possibility of a Biden victory as "something that, quite frankly, is a fantasy.''
Fontes also is a supporter of the current "no excuse'' system of early voting. That system, used by close to nine out of every 10 people who voted in 2020, allows anyone to request an early ballot which can be filled out at home and mailed back or taken to a polling place.
Finchem, by contrast, said he does not like early voting. And he even said during a debate earlier this year "that is why I go to the polls.''
As it turned out, Finchem had turned in an early ballot for elections as far back as 2004.
When asked, he acknowledged the record. "But that's before I realized that it's not secure.''
Finchem said he supports "absentee votes,'' like in Tennessee. That state allows ballots to be mailed, but only to people who meet certain conditions like being 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.
While most of the campaign has been about how elections are run, the race has another significant implication.
Under the Arizona Constitution, it is the secretary of state who becomes governor if the incumbent dies, resigns, is convicted of a felony or is impeached and removed by the legislature. That has occurred five times since 1977.
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On Twitter: @azcapmedia