A disastrous inquiry, ostensibly described as an “audit” of votes from Maricopa County, Arizona, cast in last year’s presidential election, is reportedly inspiring calls by pro-Trump Republican lawmakers for similar types of investigations to happen in a number of other states.
The weeks-long investigation in Arizona was contracted out to Cyber Ninjas, a firm hired by the Republican-controlled State Senate that had no prior experience managing audits. It was described as an inquiry into allegations of election fraud, despite several actual audits having already concluded that no such fraud exists, following President Joe Biden’s win in the state against former President Donald Trump.
The company itself is owned by an individual who is an avowed supporter of Trump, and who touted QAnon conspiracies on social media after Biden defeated Trump last November in the national contest.
The Arizona “audit” has led to a number of embarrassing and alarming faux pas, including auditors marking ballots with blue pens (which can confuse voting machines), using ultraviolet light to search for watermarks that do not exist (another method that can actually damage ballots), looking into racist and false conspiracy theories alleging ballots made with bamboo were shipped from China to help Biden win, and placing ballots in insecure locations, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice to warn Republican lawmakers that their audit may be violating federal law.
Auditors also recently alleged Maricopa County officials had deleted election-related files prior to handing over data to them. Those claims were walked back, however, after those officials noted that auditors were simply looking in the wrong computer drive when they made those accusations.
In spite of these and other problems with the Maricopa County audit, Republican lawmakers in other U.S. states have called for similar inquiries in their own jurisdictions.
In New Hampshire, for example, an audit of a race for a single state representative seat has led to baseless allegations of widespread fraud from Trump supporters and from Trump himself, despite no evidence of wrongdoing happening in that investigation.
Three GOP lawmakers from Pennsylvania who actually visited the Maricopa County audit site said they would soon call for a similar inquiry of their own, propping up the audit in Arizona as worthy of imitation. “Should an audit happen in Pennsylvania, the Arizona model is the one,” Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano said.
And in Wisconsin, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, also a Republican, has announced that he has initiated his own audit of that state’s 2020 presidential election, which Biden also won. Vos’s audit is somewhat different from Arizona’s, but will likely be presented with questions of legitimacy of its own, as the GOP lawmaker has hired three former police officers to conduct the audit themselves, granting them subpoena power and limited oversight to do so.
At least one of those former officers has extensive ties to the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement, and has previously conducted an audit in Milwaukee but whose findings were tossed out of a courtroom due to his research being deemed unreliable by a federal judge.
Many have expressed deep concerns over a baseless and problem-plagued investigation like the one conducted in Maricopa County being replicated elsewhere. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said Republicans are creating unnecessary and dangerous doubts within the election process.
“They are definitely writing the playbook here in Arizona to bring this type of, I don’t want to call it an audit, but to other states. And it’s dangerous,” Hobbs said.
“We are now more than six months past the 2020 election,” she added. “We know that it was secure and that the results reflected the will of voters accurately.”
Hobbs also said she’s worried that these electoral investigations will result in Trump supporters acting out in violent ways, similar to what happened on January 6, when a mob of Trump loyalists attacked the U.S. Capitol building after the former president insisted the election was “stolen” from him.
There may be cause for such alarm, as many of Trump’s loyalists and former officials in his administration have been amping up their violent rhetoric in recent days.
This past week, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Advisor, whom the former president pardoned after Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, disturbingly suggested that a coup in the United States to remove Biden from office was appropriate, in his mind. Trump has also reportedly been telling people close to him that he expects to be reinstated in the White House as president sometime before August — comments that could embolden his most extremist supporters.