On Tuesday, Arizona Republicans voted to make one of the most dangerous election deniers in the country, Mark Finchem, the party’s nominee for secretary of state. Winning in the general election would put Finchem squarely in charge of voting in one of 2024’s most pivotal swing states. In other words, this guy would be in a prime position to try to throw Arizona to the next Republican candidate for president—or whoever he wants, really—vote count be damned.
Along with a handful of other pivotal executive elections in swing states this fall, the once-quiet Arizona secretary of state race is now one of the most important midterm races in the country.
“The fate of democracy not only in the state of Arizona but also in this country really rests on the secretary of state’s office,” said Arizona state Rep. Reginald Bolding, whose race against former Maricopa County elections official Adrian Fontes to be the Democratic nominee against Finchem in November was still too close to call as of publication time, in a phone call on Tuesday. “I think the implications of a Finchem win would be terrifying for this country.”
To understand why this is so terrifying, you have to understand both Arizona’s significance in the Electoral College, as well as the background of this man. Finchem has lent his support to QAnon; called the COVID vaccine “a crime against humanity”; dismissed the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; as a “Deep State PSYOP”; was part of the mob that rioted outside the Capitol on Jan. 6; and once boasted of being a member of one of the militias that is going on trial for allegedly leading the assault on the Capitol.
Finchem’s profile exploded after his vocal embrace of Donald Trump’s Big Lie after the 2020 election, but now, he is truly one of the most radical members of the Republican Party. A former police officer and firefighter from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Finchem entered Arizona politics in 2014 as a member of the statehouse from the Tucson area. (The New York Times on Monday reported that his personnel file at Kalamazoo’s Department of Public Safety described his previous career this way: “Retired, poor rating, would not rehire.”)
When he was running for office in that first election, he called himself “an Oath Keeper committed to the exercise of limited, constitutional governance” and he later recruited for the Oath Keepers on social media. Eight years later it’s unclear what connections Finchem still has to the Oath Keepers, whose leaders will face trial in September for seditious conspiracy.
[Read: How the Oath Keepers Used the West as a Testing Ground for Extremist Violence]
Finchem himself was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, though he misleadingly claimed he never got within 500 yards of the building itself. Photographic evidence shows him appearing closer than that—specifically, he seems to have hopped a ride on a golf cart from a separate rally to join the mob that invaded the Capitol grounds. As the attack was underway, he tweeted a photo of the mob with the hashtag #stopthesteal and the caption: “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.”
According to the Arizona Mirror’s Jerod MacDonald-Evoy, Finchem’s paranoid conspiracy theorizing on Jan. 6 did not end there:
Later that night, Finchem would tweet complaining that the D.C. Police were preventing a GrubHub driver from delivering food to his hotel, blaming the “commie” Mayor of D.C.
This all occurred while Finchem was a state representative.
Finchem’s role in Jan. 6 and the subsequent sham partisan election audit in Maricopa County—which ultimately found additional votes for Biden in the state, while making false claims of fraud—fueled his meteoric rise within the MAGA movement. He was one of Trump’s earliest endorsements of the 2022 midterm cycle, with Trump announcing in September that he was backing Finchem for his “incredibly powerful stance on the massive Voter Fraud…” This led to Finchem becoming one of the top fundraising secretary of state candidates in the country, raising more than $1.2 million.
If he wins, Finchem of course says he wants to decertify the 2020 election. (He says he would have never joined Arizona’s governor in certifying that election to begin with had he been in the job in 2020.) But his role in future elections is scarier.
In Arizona, the secretary of state, along with the governor, is charged with certifying all 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.
Along those lines, Finchem has sued to end the use of “unsecure black box electronic voting machines” to count the votes in Arizona, joining the Trump-back gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake.* An official audit after the 2020 election found those machines had conducted a near-perfect count (and even the manual recount conducted by the sham partisan audit in Maricopa County ended up verifying that machine count). But if Finchem says that any count conducted by voting machines is de facto fraudulent, he could try to refuse to certify an election on that basis alone.
Backing voter fraud lies was by no means Finchem’s first foray into the world of conspiracy theories. In 2013, he wrote that President Barack Obama was planning to “to install his ideological, totalitarian dictatorship.” Last July, as CNN reported, Finchem said he wouldn’t be taking the COVID-19 vaccine because it was “potentially deadly gene therapy.” In October, Finchem spoke at a QAnon convention in Las Vegas, at which he compared “cancel culture” to “six million Jews [being] exterminated because they were dehumanized” during the Holocaust. (“We have become far too tolerant of those who would try to ‘cancel culture’ us, of those who would tell us to sit down and shut up,” he said, making the comparison.) During another 2021 appearance, this time on a QAnon podcast, Finchem said, “There’s a whole lot of elected officials that are involved” as part of “a pedophile network and the distribution of children.”
Finchem’s views about the existence of congressional pedophile sex rings and the “deadly” COVID-19 vaccine should be alarming enough. But his singular threat to the democratic process through Arizona’s election system presents a five-alarm fire.
In 2020, Arizona was one of the two tightest races in the country, with Biden beating Trump by just 10,457 votes. The state’s 11 Electoral College votes played a key role in his ultimate victory. Finchem would not have had to cause much more chaos in that already chaotic count—which was disrupted at one point by Finchem’s fellow Jan. 6 provocateur, Alex Jones—to have upended the count in that state.
Notably, the secretary of state’s office is also in charge of defending against frivolous fraud lawsuits. What would happen when the secretary of state is the one filing such a lawsuit? “If Mark Finchem is the next Arizona secretary of state, not only Arizona, but our entire country should certainly be afraid of what he could potentially do,” Bolding said.
Finchem will face either Bolding or former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes in November’s general election. Their race has been contentious with the candidates trading accusations of influence peddling and mudslinging. For his part, Bolding told me he would back the eventual nominee even if he didn’t win. “I think it’s going to be important for not only Democrats, but for Republicans and independents to get behind a candidate that wants to follow election law and make sure that voters choose who their elected leaders are and not partisan politicians,” he said. Through his work on the audit, Finchem has already lost the support of the remaining institutionalists in the Arizona Republican Party, so he would likely start the race off as a slight underdog. But in a midterm year with an unpopular Democratic president, it might not take too much for Finchem to overcome the odds. If that happens, it’s not just Arizona that will be in serious trouble.
Correction, Aug. 3, 2022: This post originally misstated that Kari Lake had won the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The race was too early to call, but she was trailing.