Democrat wins Arizona elections post over GOP conspiracist

Adrian Fontes, a candidate for Arizona secretary of state, speaks at a Democratic rally in Phoenix, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Mariani)

PHOENIX (AP) — Democrat Adrian Fontes won the top elections post in Arizona on Friday, defeating a Republican rival who attended the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol and who said he would not have certified Joe Biden’s win in the state.

Fontes, who formerly oversaw parts of the election system in Arizona’s most populous county, had said Republican Mark Finchem represented a danger to democracy if he had won. The secretary of state, working with the governor and attorney general, has broad authority to rewrite the state’s election rules and plays a role in the certification of results.

Finchem had emerged as one of the most prominent Republicans running for secretary of state positions around the country who falsely claimed that Biden was not elected legitimately. He had argued for significant changes to Arizona’s elections after Biden won the state in 2020 and had been endorsed by Trump.

Finchem, losing GOP Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and other Republicans complained Friday about the length of time it takes to count ballots in Arizona.

Fontes said that is how the system is designed.

“They wouldn't be complaining if they were winning,” Fontes said. “And so that says everything that needs to be said.”

Fontes said he would not be doing much celebrating as election officials continue tallying votes, despite the mathematical improbability of Finchem turning around the overwhelming lead he had built since polls closed Tuesday night. The Associated Press declared he had won Friday night after his lead grew with the latest batch of election returns

“I'm not going to do a ton of crowing or celebrating for some time,” Fontes said. “I get that statistically it may be impossible for Mr. Finchem to beat us, but there's a whole hell of a lot of votes that haven't been tabulated yet, and I want to respect those voters. I want to stay true to my word.”

Fontes did crow about Arizona's election system and the one he helped implement used by Maricopa County, which processes hundreds of thousands of late-arriving ballots in just a few days to churn out vote counts each evening for days until all the votes are counted.

“This is a very thorough, very careful system,” he said. "Maricopa County's election system and the rest of Arizona's by connection, is the single most highly scrutinized election system ever. And they go a great job down there."

After winning the state’s primary election in August, Finchem said he wanted to restore the rule of law to elections in the state, declaring: “Right now, we have lawlessness.”

There was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 elections, including in Arizona, where reviews of the voting upheld Biden’s narrow victory.

He joined with Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor, in a lawsuit seeking to get rid of the machines that tabulate votes for the midterm elections and replace that process with a hand-count of all ballots in the state. Election experts say full hand-counts can be painfully slow, are prone to human error and are not as accurate as machine tallies.

The lawsuit alleged that the vote-counting machines used in Arizona aren’t reliable, a claim for which there is no evidence. They are appealing a decision by a federal judge to dismiss their lawsuit.

Fontes is a former Marine and local prosecutor who staked his campaign on pledges to protect voting rights. He lost his seat as Maricopa County recorder after one term to a Republican in 2020.

Fontes is latest among a group of Democratic candidates for top state posts who defeated GOP candidate s that questioned Biden's win over former President Donald Trump. He said it was time for the public and press to move on from them.

“You do what you do with the sore loser on the fourth-grade playground. You ignore them and you keep moving along," he said. “They are not a story.”