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The Arizona Secretary of State Debate was important but overlooked, says Adrian Fontes

The Secretary of State has a large say in what happens during state elections, but Fontes says people often misunderstand what the position does

The November midterm will include the election of a new Arizona Secretary of State. With current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs running for governor, there is no incumbent candidate in the race. The candidates, Democrat Adrian Fontes and Republican Mark Finchem, went head-to-head in a debate on September 22. 

The Secretary of State is an important but often overlooked position. The role includes responsibilities relating to Arizona businesses, as well as vote confirmations in both national and local elections. Additionally, many politicians who have been in this role have gone on to become Arizona governors.  

The role of the Secretary of State as an election confirmer played a large role in the 2020 election. Arizona was a key swing state – Katie Hobbs’ confirmation of Arizona’s vote being in favor of President Biden played a key factor in his election.

Current Republican candidate Mark Finchem, however, has been a staunch denier of these election results. Supporters of Trump’s claim have pooled support behind Finchem, hoping for his influence in future elections. Finchem is one of many election deniers being nominated around the country.

Supporters of Fontes are aiming to “defend our democracy,” a mission quote found on the candidate’s website. Many democrats fear the repercussions of a Trump-backed candidate entering the office of Secretary of State. 

The debate between the two candidates on Thursday touched on the election scandals both candidates faced. 

Finchem was a witness in the Department of Justice’s case regarding the January 6 insurrection in 2021. When asked about his involvement after the debate, he did not respond to any questioning pertaining to the event.

Fontes, who was the Maricopa County Recorder from 2017-2020, had planned to automatically send ballots to eligible Democratic voters in Maricopa County for the 2020 election before the decision was struck down by a judge. 

Even with the intrigue surrounding both candidates, many Arizonians, especially those in rural areas, do not have name recognition for either nominee. Despite this, the amount of public interest in the position is not minimal. In the 2020 election for Secretary of State, approximately 2.3 million Arizonans voted. For context, there are approximately 4 million registered voters in Arizona as of 2022.

In an interview, Fontes expressed belief that voters are becoming increasingly more aware of the impact this position holds. “I think they’re more and more aware, as the discussion continues over the years,” he said.

He expressed the need for voters to educate themselves and put their vote to use. “This is one of those things where a really good civics lesson would have already put you in the know,” Fontes said. “But we need to make sure that folks are not only paying attention to this, but to all of the offices that have an impact in their lives, at the local, state, and federal level as well.”

The half-hour debate, which aired on PBS, can be streamed on azpbs.org.


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