Mark Finchem, who led efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Arizona and was at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, won the Republican secretary of state primary on Tuesday, moving him one step closer to an office that would allow him to oversee future elections in the emerging battleground.
Arizona was among the states at the epicenter of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to reverse his loss in the 2020 election. If Finchem, a state representative, prevails in November, he could wield tremendous power over the state’s election system in two years, whether Trump is on the ballot again or not.
Finchem’s rabid embrace of election conspiracies won him Trump’s endorsement and made him the front-runner in a crowded primary field that featured another election skeptic, a state senator who sponsored multiple new laws to curb voting rights, and a political newcomer who had the backing of an old-school Republican establishment that has largely lost control of an Arizona GOP that has raced to the far right.
Part of a so-called America First slate of election-denying secretary of state candidates, he will join Nevada’s Jim Marchant and Michigan’s Kristina Karamo as the most prominent right-wing Republicans vying to win seats in order to exert influence over key swing state elections.
Finchem may be the most radical of the bunch. He was once a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group, and assumed a frontline role in Trump’s efforts to invalidate the 2020 election: He met with Trump lawyers and advisers, including Rudy Giuliani, shortly after the election to argue that there had been substantial fraud in Arizona, and participated in the push to nominate “fake electors” to help overturn the election. He was in Washington during the Jan. 6 insurrection, and footage from that day has shown that he was outside the Capitol during the riot.
Finchem has told supporters that he would not have certified the 2020 election results were he in charge, and he backed the conspiratorial CyberNinjas “audit” of election results in Maricopa County, Arizona, that failed to find evidence of widespread fraud despite being explicitly designed to do so. His role in the fake electors scheme and other attempts to overturn the election earned him a subpoena from the congressional committee investigating the insurrection.
Already, he has threatened to challenge the legitimacy of November’s election if he loses:
“There ain’t gonna be no concession speech coming from this guy,” Finchem said at a campaign fundraiser in late June, according to the Arizona Republic. “I’m going to demand 100% hand count (of ballots) if there’s the slightest hint of any impropriety. And I would urge the next governor to do the same thing.”
The bigger concern may be what Finchem will do if he wins. Arizona Republicans responded to the GOP’s first loss in a presidential election there since 1996 by targeting voting rights, and Finchem has pledged to supercharge those efforts.
Finchem has argued that early and mail voting are main sources of fraud, without providing evidence to support his claims. He has questioned the constitutionality of early voting on dubious grounds, and suggested that it will become one of his chief targets despite the fact that 90% of Arizonans regularly cast ballots before Election Day. He wants to force Arizona officials to hand count all ballots, a nod to right-wing conspiracy theories that voting machines rigged the results for Biden.
Finchem also supports efforts to give the state legislature, which Republicans currently control, the power to reject election results ― a practice that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority may bless in a case it will consider this fall. (The Arizona legislation died in the state legislature this year.)
Finchem’s primary victory could bolster Democratic hopes of holding onto the seat, which incumbent Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) vacated to run for governor, even in a year that could favor the GOP overall.
But it also puts him one step closer to a position that would potentially allow him to contest the 2024 results if they don’t break in favor of the GOP. Arizona Democrats, in fact, take it as a virtual certainty that Finchem would attempt to reject any future GOP loss in the state.
“Not only Arizona, but our country could be in store for a constitutional crisis” if Finchem wins in November, state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, one of two candidates in the Democratic secretary of state primary, told HuffPost this week.
“He’s communicated the fact he will not certify an election that Donald Trump does not win,” said Adrian Fontes, a former Maricopa County recorder who oversaw its elections in 2020 and is also seeking the Democratic nomination. “He has no integrity. He has no honor. He has no intention of executing the office, under the oath that he will falsely swear to. So there’s really no question in my mind. He just won’t do the job.”