In raucous debate, Finchem reveals Jan. 6 committee interview as Fontes defends early voting
Republican Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem revealed during a debate Thursday that he was interviewed as a witness by both the U.S. Department of Justice and the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
His comments came as he debated his Democratic opponent, Adrian Fontes, in a raucous back-and-forth that focused on whether election results are trustworthy and the value of early voting.
Finchem was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 and took part in the Stop the Steal march to the Capitol, although he said he did not go into the building that was breached by rioters. He has maintained the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump and on Thursday invoked the "2,000 Mules" conspiracy documentary as evidence that there was fraud in the election — three terabytes' worth.
After the debate, he offered scant details about his talks with federal and congressional investigators, saying only that the interviews happened several months ago.
That federal officials interviewed Finchem is new information; all that was known publicly to date was that he was subpoenaed by the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. He has declined to comment on whether he complied with that subpoena. Any involvement with the Justice Department also is a new revelation.
Who won the election in 2020?
Moderator Ted Simons of "Arizona Horizon" on Arizona PBS opened the debate with the question that has defined much of this year's electoral contests: who won the 2020 presidential race and would the candidates, if they were secretary of state, have signed off on the official results?
Finchem said there were "too many hypotheticals" for him to have faith in the results, but those questions arose only after the election concluded. Given what is now known, Finchem said the election in Arizona was "irredeemably compromised" in several counties, including Maricopa, Pima and Yuma.
Pressed for evidence, Finchem pointed to recent actions by the state attorney general in Yuma County. The criminal cases in Yuma County were unrelated to the 2020 general election.
“You have at least three people who have been indicted," he said. He tried to draw a distinction between overturning an election — the handful of improper ballots would not have made a difference — and loss of confidence in what he called a mismanaged election.
“I’m talking about if an election is mismanaged what recourse do the people have?” Finchem said.
Fontes, who oversaw the 2020 election as Maricopa County recorder, answered that the courts and the rule of law are the recourse. He accused Finchem of repeating lies that have undermined faith in elections.
“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.”
Criticism of election management
Finchem jumped on that comment, saying that Fontes' tenure as recorder was chaotic. He criticized Fontes' decision in 2020 to send ballots to all Democratic voters for the presidential preference election — a move that current secretary of state and fellow Democrat Katie Hobbs told him to not do and that a court blocked him from carrying out.
Fontes defended the move as in the best interest of voters, given the preference election was happening in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and people were afraid to leave their homes.
End early voting? Ban machines?:Here's where Arizona's secretary of state candidates stand on elections
In comments after the debate, Fontes didn't back down from his decision, arguing that his guiding light is doing what is best to serve voters.
"If we can make it easier for them while maintaining security and accountability, that's what I'm going to fight for," he said.
Finchem also criticized Fontes' conduct of the 2018 election, in which some polls did not open on time and others were without all the needed equipment.
"You want to talk about predictability?” he said. He said Fontes' performance led to him losing his reelection bid in 2020.
“If you can’t handle one county, how can you handle 15?” he said, referring to the oversight role the secretary of state has over the counties, which actually run elections.
Questions about August primary
Co-moderator Richard Ruelas of The Arizona Republic asked Finchem how, given his distrust of the 2020 election, he viewed the Aug. 2 primary that resulted in him winning the GOP nomination for secretary of state.
“I have no idea. It is what it is," Finchem said. Asked what changed, he said “the candidates," adding that no one has really dug into how ballots were processed.
Fontes called the response “most telling.”
Finchem singled out the candidates, Fontes said. "Not the process, not the people running things, not the rules, generally speaking.” That, he suggested, is inserting personal beliefs ahead of what the facts show.
Differing views on early voting
The candidates also offered differing views on Arizona's early voting, or vote by mail, system.
Fontes charged that Finchem wants to force voters to stand in long lines on Election Day and eliminate the longstanding and popular early voting system.
Finhem is a critic of the system, saying it opens up the potential for fraud, and has advocated for a return to a process where people go to the polls to cast their ballots, with allowances for absentee voting.
The two are vying for the seat that Hobbs is vacating as she runs for governor.
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