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Adrian Fontes is elected Arizona secretary of state, beating election denier Finchem

Adrian Fontes on Sept. 22.
Matt York
Adrian Fontes on Sept. 22.

Democrat Adrian Fontes, who previously ran elections for Arizona's largest county, has been narrowly elected to oversee voting in the entire state as secretary of state, according to a race call by The Associated Press.

Fontes defeated Republican Mark Finchem, a far-right candidate with ties to the extremist group the Oath Keepers, who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Democrats, current and former election officials and democracy experts made it clear leading up to the election that Finchem winning this down-ballot race could lead the state down a dark path.

"Democracy as we know it may not survive in Arizona," former President Barack Obama warned during a pre-election rally for the state's Democratic slate.

The race call, which came late Friday, makes Finchem the latest election denier to be defeated this cycle in a secretary of state race in a competitive state, following losses by Republican candidates in Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Mark Finchem on Sept. 22.
Matt York / AP
Mark Finchem on Sept. 22.

Finchem was part of a coalition of GOP secretary of state candidates across the country who all ran on the false premise that the current election system was corrupt. Finchem, who had the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, had called for an overhaul of Arizona voting that would limit access.

Finchem criticized the state's election administration as counting continued on past Election Day, and alluded to some sort of conspiracy involving Fontes.

But in the end, it was Fontes, the former county recorder for Maricopa County, Ariz., who won.

Now, as the state's top voting official, he'll be faced with how to combat election denialism in one the country's epicenters for it.

Shortly after voting ended in 2020, and during the end of Fontes' term as county recorder, one of the more famous vote-counting conspiracies, dubbed "SharpieGate," bloomed in Maricopa.

Half a year later, the Cyber Ninjas began their widely discredited "audit" of the vote there (which also confirmedthat Biden won).

In an interview with NPR before voting ended, Fontes said he would not be shy in calling out voting disinformation.

"We're going to take off the gloves," Fontes said. "I'm not afraid to call out election denialists for the liars that they are. ... And I'm also not afraid to let folks know that there are no two sides in this conflict. There's one side. There's the American side. The other side is illegitimate."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.