The man charged with administering Arizona’s elections isn’t concerned about the state’s ability to securely hold elections. But he’s going to have to persuade millions of other people to feel the same way.
Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, was elected Arizona’s secretary of state in 2022. A lawyer who previously worked as a prosecutor in Colorado and Arizona, and served as the Maricopa County Recorder before taking office, Fontes must now take on the role of convincing the state’s voters that its elections are legitimate.
Arizona is possibly the market leader in ridiculous election conspiracies and deniers. After former president Donald Trump falsely claimed fraud following the 2020 election, a sham audit to investigate claims of election fraud was conducted by Cyber Ninjas, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Arizona state Senate. Cyber Ninjas falsely claimed that 300 dead people voted; the firm shut down after refusing to release public records to comply with a court order.
In 2022, Arizona election workers faced violent threats, and Trump used technical glitches to stoke fear about the legitimacy of election results. Kari Lake, a prominent election denier who received Trump’s endorsement for governor, refused to concede after losing the election, and made multiple attempts to get the courts to overturn the result. (Lake is now running for Senate.)
Fontes already has his hands full in the lead-up to the 2024 election. In November, two Republican Arizona county officials, Peggy Judd and Terry Crosby, were indicted by the Arizona attorney general on felony charges of conspiracy and interference with an election officer. The charges stemmed from their alleged efforts to delay the certification of votes in the 2022 general election, citing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. (An attorney for Crosby told Reuters there was no crime and that his client will be vindicated. Judd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
In an interview with WIRED, Fontes spoke about his plans to protect election workers in 2024, his thoughts on generative AI and deepfakes, and what he thinks of conservative political activist Charlie Kirk’s knowledge of Arizona’s elections.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
WIRED: What is keeping you up at night?
Fontes: Well, the most critical things that are keeping me up at night don’t have anything to do with the technology. It has to do with a lot of the unknowns out there. Human error being blown up by election denialists, by social media.