A new poll from The Trafalgar Group shows Trump-endorsed State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), who is running for Arizona secretary of state, more than six points ahead of his opponent, Democratic former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Conducted between September 14 and 17, the survey of 1,080 likely voters by the Republican-aligned pollster found that 47.5 percent chose Finchem and 41.1 percent chose Fontes.
Finchem told The Arizona Sun Times he believes his lead is due to championing election integrity. “Our lead in the polling comes from our message that the people want to secure their elections, they want clean and accurate voter rolls and they want someone to prosecute the fraud,” he said. “The grassroots in Arizona have done a great job spreading this message: #JustFollowTheLaw.”
Finchem led on election integrity while serving in the Arizona Legislature, sponsoring bills and holding an election integrity legislative hearing in Tucson last December, where he produced an email from an anonymous sender who alleged there was a plot by Democratic officials to insert 35,000 fraudulent votes into the Pima County 2020 election.
In contrast, Fontes has come under fire for presiding as Maricopa County Recorder over the problematic 2020 presidential election, as well as a series of other mishaps during his tenure from 2016 to 2020. Arizona Republic columnist Abe Kwok stated in an article near the end of Fontes’ tenure on Sept. 13, 2020 that Fontes had some “dramatically bad moments” during his term. He said some voters considering whether to vote to re-elect him that fall might view his tenure as “recklessly irresponsible and deserving the boot.”
In 2016, Fontes defeated longtime incumbent Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, a Republican, by campaigning on a platform of fixing various problems that had surfaced during her tenure – particularly, long lines during one election – but ended up with the same situation during his term.
In 2018, 62 polling locations did not open at 6 a.m. as required for the primary election, affecting thousands of voters, many of whom got stuck waiting in long lines until those locations finally opened at 11:30 a.m.
At first, Fontes blamed the contractors who assisted with the election for the delay. After The Arizona Republic submitted a public records request to get to the bottom of the problem, he blamed lack of funding.
Fontes said during a Facebook Live stream that after he got into office he would release a report to the public about his examination of the previous administration’s flaws, but he never did. Instead, he submitted the report to the Maricopa County Auditor.
During the 2018 general election, he “cured” nearly 7,000 ballots, which held up vote counting until days afterwards, November 14. The Arizona Republican Party (AZGOP) stated this was illegal.
The AZGOP commissioned a report on the 2018 election problems afterwards, which found four questionable issues. It noted that voters went to bed on election night believing Republicans had won three statewide races – the Associated Press had even called one of them, the secretary of state’s race, for Steve Gaynor – but ultimately Democrats ended up taking all three of those races, which included superintendent of public instruction and U.S. Senate. The AZGOP report found questionable: 1) Fontes’ decision to open special emergency voting centers; 2) his decision to rehabilitate ballots following election night; 3) allegations of partisan behavior by Fontes; and 4) particularized allegations of voter fraud or irregularities in Maricopa County.
Protesters demonstrated outside Fontes’ office on November 19, 2018, after the problematic election, demanding his resignation.
In the spring of 2020, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went to court to force Fontes to stop mass-mailing ballots to voters who hadn’t requested them in the Democratic Presidential primary. Even Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, currently running against Trump-endorsed Kari Lake – who called for Hobbs to recuse herself from overseeing the race due to her own flaws with election integrity – told Fontes it was illegal, but he ignored her advice.
In September 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court declared that Fontes acted illegally when he sent voters instructions on how to handle correcting overvotes on early ballots, since his instructions conflicted with the state’s Election Procedures Manual. The AZGOP sent Fontes a cease-and-desist letter, which stated in part, “These new instructions allow any bad actor in a ballot’s chain of custody to change a vote that has already been cast in a manner that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify that wrongdoing has occurred.” Justice Andrew Gould wrote in the court’s decision, “[W]hen public officials, in the middle of an election, change the law based on their own perceptions of what they think it should be, they undermine public confidence in our democratic system and destroy the integrity of the electoral process.”
The current Maricopa County Recorder, Republican Stephen Richer, defeated Fontes in 2020 even though he ran a bare-bones campaign with little money. Many believe Richer won due to focusing on rectifying election maladministration under Fontes. Richer had no name recognition and contributed only $125,000 of his own money to the campaign.
Counties begin mailing early ballots to voters on October 12.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Adrian Fontes” by Adrian Fontes. Background Photo “Arizona Capitol” by Adavyd. CC BY-SA 3.0.