PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona lawmaker who embraces election conspiracies and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump won the Republican primary Tuesday for the top elections post in the presidential battleground.
Mark Finchem has beat out three other GOP candidates in the race for secretary of state, according to a projection from the Associated Press. His challengers included another candidate who repeated Trump’s false claims that he lost the 2020 presidential election because of fraud, a longtime state lawmaker and a businessman endorsed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Democrats and election security advocates warned that a victory for Finchem in the November general election will be dangerous for democracy.
Finchem, who attended Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, has said he only intends to ensure that election laws are followed to address concerns by many Republicans about how elections are run. Still, he tried to get the Legislature to overturn the 2020 election results and has spoken about making major changes to election rules that are written by the secretary.
Arizona’s was the most high-profile secretary of state’s race in Tuesday’s primaries. In Kansas, the top state elections official beat back a far-right challenger who promoted conspiracy theories, while in Washington voters were choosing from a mix of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated candidates in that state’s top-two primary.
The GOP primary elections for secretary of state are the latest this year to feature candidates who doubt the security of their states’ elections despite the lack of evidence of any problems widespread enough to change the results. Republican voters elsewhere have split on sending those candidates to the November ballot.
The Democratic candidates in all three states reject the premise of a stolen 2020 presidential election and warn that victories in November by any of those who promote conspiracies would endanger free and fair elections. In all three states, the secretary of state is the top election official.
Finchem tried this year to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to notify Congress that Arizona wanted to decertify Democrat Joe Biden’s election win. He won Trump’s endorsement and said in a recent interview that worries about the effect of his potential victory on free and fair elections are unfounded. He said he will just enforce laws as written.
"I think it’s interesting that there are people, particularly Democrats out there, claiming: ’Oh, he’s going to ruin the system. He’s going to do this, he’s a threat to democracy,’" Finchem said. Still, he contends tens of thousands of fake ballots led to Biden’s win, a claim for which there is no credible evidence.
The other Republican who backed Trump’s claims also is a member of the Arizona House. Rep. Shawnna Bolick introduced a bill last year that would allow a simple majority of the Legislature to overturn presidential election results.
The other Republicans on Arizona’s ballot were state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who acknowledges Biden’s victory but has worked for a decade to tighten election laws, and businessman Beau Lane, who was backed by the governor.
Two Democrats, House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, are seeking their party’s nomination.
State Rep. Mark Finchem (Courtesy: Arizona State Legislature)
Kansas had no significant problems with its 2020 elections and Trump carried the state handily. Yet Secretary of State Scott Schwab found himself on sometimes tricky ground politically because many Republicans have embraced Trump’s baseless claims that massive fraud cost him the race nationally.
Schwab has repeatedly vouched for the safety of Kansas elections and touted new GOP-pushed laws, including ones that restrict the delivery of ballots by third parties. He’s also said he can’t vouch for other states’ elections.
The message worked well for him in his primary against Mike Brown, a construction contractor and former county commissioner in the Kansas City area. Brown embraced election conspiracy theories and promised to rid the state of ballot drop boxes.
In November, Schwab will face Democrat Jenna Repass, who was unopposed in her party’s primary.
Washington state’s top-two primary featured the incumbent, Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, who easily advanced to the general election. He was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee last November and hopes to retain his seat for the remaining two years of former Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s four-year term.
Also on the primary ballot were several Republican and unaffiliated challengers, including Tamborine Borrelli, an "America First" candidate who was fined by the state Supreme Court earlier this summer for making meritless claims alleging widespread voter fraud. Borrelli was lagging far behind other candidates Tuesday night.
There was a tight race for the second slot on the November ballot between Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, running as an independent, and several Republicans.
Under Washington’s primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. Results could take days to tally because it’s an all-mail election.
Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, contributed to this report.