For many voters, secretary of state — at the state level, not the cabinet secretary who leads the US State Department — is probably a fairly obscure office. As we’ve discussed, these officials tend to work behind the scenes on unglamorous tasks such as election administration, and few reach the household-name level.
But in the wake of Jan. 6, the Republican Party’s “big lie,” and Donald Trump’s fixation on installing election-denying allies in key positions, secretaries of state — and this year’s campaigns to elect secretaries of state — have taken on extraordinary importance .
Franita Tolson, an election law expert at the University of Southern California, told NPR, “The reasons why Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election failed is because there were state officials who refused to substantiate his claims of fraud. These folks really are gatekeepers.”
It was against this backdrop that Arizona Republicans voted yesterday in their secretary of state primary — and their choice reverberated nationally for a reason. NBC News reported:
Mark Finchem, a prominent 2020 election denier and an Arizona state legislator, has won the Republican secretary of state primary, NBC News projects. With 99% percent of the expected vote in, Finchem, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, had 40% of the vote. State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, another 2020 election denier, had 19% of the vote.
State Rep. Beau Lane acknowledged the reality of the 2020 race and received a fair amount of support from the state’s Republican establishment. I have finished a distant second with 25 percent support.
Right off the bat, the obvious problem with Finchem’s candidacy is that he’s an unhinged election denier, basing much of his candidacy on ridiculous conspiracy theories about Trump’s defeat. In fact, the Arizonan recently said he wouldn’t accept the legitimacy of his own primary unless he won.
The result is an inherently dangerous dynamic: Arizona is a large and competitive battleground state, and the winner of this year’s secretary of state race will have the authority to administer the 2024 elections — in ways that might affect outcomes. Having a far-right conspiracy theorist who doesn’t accept legitimate election results in an office that oversees elections opens the door to a possible crisis.
A Slate report added, “In Arizona, the secretary of state, along with the governor, is charged with certifying there elections. So, if elected, Finchem could simply refuse to certify any democratic victory in any state, local, or federal election, citing the sorts of unspecified and unproven claims of fraud he has raised to say that 2020 should not have been certified.”
But with Finchem, the fact that he’s an election denier isn’t the only problem. NBC News’ report added:
Finchem has appeared on QAnon radio talk shows and attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, which led to the storming of the Capitol. He also spoke at a “Stop the Steal” event a day earlier, telling the crowd that Trump had won the 2020 election. In a 2014 interview with local news outlet InMaricopa.com, Finchem identified himself as a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group whose founder was charged with seditious conspiracy and other accounts in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection.
For good measure, let’s not forget that there was a farcical “hearing” at a Phoenix hotel after the 2020 election, featuring bizarre claims from Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis.
It was Finchem who helped settle the faux proceedings.
Obviously, there’s no shortage of significant elections this year, but those who see Arizona’s secretary of state race as among the most important are not being hyperbolic.