After more than five months and around $6 million (most of it privately raised among Trump supporters), the legendarily ludicrous Arizona audit of the 2020 election results from Maricopa County (home of Phoenix) ended with the filing of an official report late last week. The headlines in most of the mainstream media focused on the most conspicuous finding by Cyber Ninjas, the outfit conducting the audit on behalf of Republican state senators: A hand recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa (which accounted for about two-thirds of the state’s vote) confirmed, and even slightly increased, Joe Biden’s margin of victory there.
But MAGA folk have concluded the rest of the audit and the rest of the report have revealed yet-to-be-resolved anomalies in mail ballots; Trump himself is even claiming it “proved” he won Arizona, which is as mendacious as anything else he’s said about the 2020 elections, but is nonetheless holy writ among his core followers. And the suspicions Cyber Ninjas raised will be used to justify similar “audit” efforts in other states, most notably Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas.
The alleged smoking toy gun can be found in a chart contained in the report’s executive summary that neatly lays out the findings ranked by the “severity” of the impact on the 2020 results from Maricopa. Two at the top are deemed “critical”: “Mail-in Ballots Voted From Prior Address” and “Potential Voters That Voted in Multiple Counties.” Actual election experts, who have been following the Arizona audit like firefighters watching arsonists in action, had this to say about such findings and their dubious factual basis, as reported by the Washington Post:
[T]he report claimed that more than 23,000 mail ballots were submitted by voters who moved before the election — a group Trump described Friday as “phantom voters.”
But the report itself included important caveats about the finding, noting that there are “potential ways” that the ballots were cast that “would not violate the law.” And it found that a third of those ballots were cast by registered Republicans. What’s more, Cyber Ninjas acknowledged that the ballots were identified by comparing voter registration rolls to information maintained by a commercially available address validation tool, adding that “some error is expected.”
The same documentation problems apply to the “multiple counties” allegation, and the idea that such apparent anomalies illustrate partisan shenanigans is undercut by the evidence that Republican ballots were proportionately present in the “suspicious” numbers. And there are entirely innocent explanations for these “anomalies” that the auditors either ignored or were too oblivious to understand, as the Associated Press noted. With respect to the “phantom voters,” for example:
While the review suggests something improper, election officials note that voters such as college students, those who own vacation homes and military members, can move to temporary locations while still legally voting at the address where they are registered.
“A competent reviewer of an election would not make a claim like that,” said Trey Grayson, a former Republican secretary of state in Kentucky.
It’s typical of the MAGA mind-set: In a review of the audit findings, Margot Cleveland of the Federalist suggested that the absence of reliable information on actual voter identity was attributable to Maricopa County’s refusal to turn over its entire voter database to Cyber Ninjas. Where there is no smoke you assert a fire and then everything smells funny.
Similarly, a claim in the report (cited as representing a “high” level of severity in compromising the results) that some voters may have returned multiple ballots misses the fact that under Arizona law voters were allowed to “cure” minor defects in mail ballots, which would have been recorded as “multiple” submissions without actually indicating anything illegal or out of the ordinary.
The bottom line is, aside from Trump’s characteristically unsupported claims that the audit proved he won Arizona, the issues that the auditors raised but could not competently address will be used to justify additional “investigations,” some by Republican pols seeking the favor of the former president and his followers. For example, Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich, who is facing a highly competitive Republican primary for a 2022 U.S. Senate nomination, has announced he “will take all necessary actions that are supported by the evidence and where I have legal authority” in response to the audit “findings.” And just last week Texas governor Greg Abbott, who is running for reelection and then possibly for president, quickly knuckled under when Trump demanded an audit in his state:
Eight and a half hours after former President Donald J. Trump made a public demand for Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to back legislation to create a “forensic audit of the 2020 election,” the Texas secretary of state’s office announced a “comprehensive forensic audit” of the results from four of the state’s largest counties.
That this has nothing to do with legitimate questions about the 2020 results should be made plain by the fact that no one disputes Trump’s 2020 win in Texas. This is “auditing” for the sake of auditing. There is no reason to think it will ever end until Trump has undermined faith in our electoral system enough to suit his purposes.