On Friday night, two additional Democratic candidates for secretary of state defeated Republicans who endorsed former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential contest was stolen, delivering another blow to far-right conspiracy theorists running for top elections posts.
In Arizona, Democrat Adrian Fontes beat his Republican opponent Mark Finchem, a state lawmaker with ties to the Oath Keepers who was at the U.S. Capitol during the deadly January 6 insurrection and who said he would not have certified Biden’s victory in the state.
In Nevada, Democrat Cisco Aguilar won his race against Republican election denier Jim Marchant, who organized a nationwide coalition of voter suppression advocates to campaign for top election oversight roles.
“There’s an emerging blue wave in secretary of state races,” journalist John Nichols wrote on social media.
Fontes said that Finchem “represented a danger to democracy if he had won,” The Associated Press reported. “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,” the AP noted. “He had argued for significant changes to Arizona’s elections after Biden won the state in 2020 and had been endorsed by Trump.”
As the outlet reported:
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.”
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.
More than 210 GOP candidates who spread doubt and lies about Biden’s 2020 victory have won congressional seats and races for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general so far, but the vast majority of them are headed to the U.S. House and Senate.
Election-denying candidates for the top three statewide positions have fared significantly worse across the nation, especially in swing states, where midterm voters have largely rejected the MAGA loyalists who supported overturning Trump’s 2020 loss.
“Without a doubt, election denial is alive and well, and this is a continuing threat,” Joanna Lydgate of States United told AP earlier this week. But Tuesday “was a really good night for democracy.”
That assessment was shared by Arizona State University professor Thom Reilly, who wrote this week that “people by and large rejected election deniers serving as chief election officials.” However, he warned, “more hyperpartisan candidates will likely run for the chief election offices in more states in the future.”
“This kind of partisan control of election administration poses problems at this point in the U.S., as it faces threats to democracy,” wrote Reilly. “It erodes public trust and intensifies partisan gamesmanship, which in turn further erodes public trust.”
The U.S. is the only democracy in the world that elects its election officials, and one of the very few to allow high-ranking party members to lead election administration.
In the past, these down-ballot, statewide offices generated little attention. After all, studies have shown both local Democratic and Republican chief election officials acted in impartial ways.
However, there is growing evidence that trust in this important office—often in charge of running and certifying elections of their local, state, and national leaders—may be eroding.
It is important to keep in mind that a secretary of state or chief election officer can’t single-handedly change election’s results. But they do have a good deal of influence over elections and voting processes before, during, and after an election in a state.
They can refuse to certify the results of an election, triggering a governor or courts to become involved. They influence which issues become ballot measures and how they are described, and they can decertify voting machines.
“This election season raises questions, and exposes flaws, about how senior election officials are selected in the U.S.,” Reilly added. “The platforms of these election deniers who appeared on the 2022 midterm ballot illustrate the risk that this dynamic poses to ongoing voter trust and future election results.”
In yet-to-be-decided Arizona races, far-right gubernatorial candidate Lake is currently losing to Democrat Katie Hobbs by more than 30,000 votes with 83% of ballots tallied. Arizona’s Republican candidate for AG, Abraham Hamadeh, is trailing Democrat Kris Mayes by nearly 20,000 votes with the same percentage of ballots in. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the state’s most populous, is not expected to finish counting until after the weekend.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, Democratic AG candidate Aaron Ford defeatedRepublican Sigal Chattah. However, in a departure from the state’s emerging pattern of rejecting Trump-backed candidates for top statewide positions, Republican Joe Lombardo, a Las Vegas-area sheriff, beat incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Also on Friday night, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona took down GOP challenger Blake Masters, bringing the race for control of Congress’ upper chamber to a dead heat.
At the same time, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada pulled closer to Republican Adam Laxalt. With most of the uncounted mail-in ballots coming from the state’s Democratic-leaning metropolitan regions, Cortez Masto is within striking distance of winning the race. If that happens, her party would retain its razor-thing Senate majority.
The final makeup of the Senate will depend on the outcome of next month’s runoff election in Georgia between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, a right-wing former football star.