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Five things to know about Arizona's election audit

Arizona has emerged as the last battleground for the fight over former President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE’s baseless claims of a stolen 2020 election.

For the past week, Republicans in the state Senate have pushed forward with an audit of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County, a massive undertaking that has pleased Trump and his supporters while stirring outrage among Democrats, who have sought to stop the effort.

Here are five things to know about the audit of the 2020 election results:

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Why is this happening?

The audit is the latest effort by Trump loyalists in the state to call the results of the 2020 presidential election into question, even after multiple audits since November determined that vote was tallied accurately.

What’s different this time, however, is that the audit is being carried out by the state Senate itself. Republican state senators used their subpoena power to demand that election officials hand over all of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots, as well as its voting machines and voter registration information.

Despite legal efforts by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to block the subpoenas, a judge declared the demands valid and directed officials to hand over the requested materials. State senators are conducting a hand count of the ballots, as well as an examination of the voting machines and voter data.

The state Senate’s audit is widely viewed as a political exercise, intended to placate Trump’s supporters, many of whom remain convinced that the 2020 election was stolen from the former president. In fact, no evidence has been uncovered that backs up those claims.  

Who’s behind it?

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Arizona state Senate Republicans have hired a little-known Florida-based firm called Cyber Ninjas to run the audit, a decision that critics say is a red flag.

Cyber Ninjas has no experience in elections, and its website describes it as specializing in “all areas of application security, ranging from your traditional web application to mobile or thick client applications.”

Democrats have also raised concerns about past tweets from the company’s chief executive, Doug Logan, spreading conspiracy theories about a stolen election in Arizona. Those tweets were deleted earlier this year.

Cyber Ninjas isn’t the only firm involved in the audit. The state Senate has also hired Wake Technology Services Inc. to conduct the hand count of the ballots. The company previously conducted a hand count of the vote in Fulton County, Pa.

While part of the audit is being financed by taxpayer money, the effort also has some prominent backers. One America News Network, the pro-Trump cable channel that has been livestreaming the audit, has started to fundraise for the effort.

What are Trump and Democrats saying?

The audit has so far proven polarizing.

Trump has repeatedly praised the undertaking as a valiant effort to root out voter fraud and malfeasance, echoing the same baseless claims he has made about the election results for months. In several statements issued through his leadership PAC, Save America, he’s cast the audit as a popular effort while maligning Democrats for fighting it.

“Incredible organization and integrity taking place in Arizona with respect to the Fraudulent 2020 Presidential Election,” Trump said in a recent statement. “These are Great American Patriots, but watch, the Radical Left Democrats ‘demean and destroy campaign’ will start very soon.”

Democrats and elections experts have expressed grave concern about the audit, arguing in particular that the process has so far lacked transparency and warning that partisan elected officials may be sacrificing accuracy and security in favor of speed and political convenience.

Critics have also raised concerns about the audit’s potential effects on voter privacy and the security of their ballots. A group of election security and administration experts sent a letter to the Justice Department on Thursday asking federal officials to dispatch monitors to the audit site.

State Democrats in Arizona, meanwhile, are suing to halt the audit. A judge agreed to do so last week if the plaintiffs posted a $1 million bond, though the Democrats in the lawsuit refused. A new judge took over the case this week after the previous judge recused himself.

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Has the audit found any fraud?

That’s still unclear, but it’s highly unlikely that the audit will uncover the scale of mass voter fraud that Trump and his allies have alleged. Again, previous audits of the vote in Maricopa County determined that the vote was counted accurately and that the voting machines used had not been tampered with.

And while no state legislature has gone as far as Arizona’s in examining Trump’s claims of fraud, several have conducted their own hearings and reviews on the allegations. None, however, have uncovered credible evidence to back up the allegations.

Cyber Ninjas has agreed to release a report of the audit within 60 days.

What are the implications of the audit?

The audit isn’t going to be used to reverse the election results in Arizona. It can’t be, and state senators have said as much.

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The election results were certified by state officials months ago, effectively solidifying Biden’s win in Arizona. What’s more, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate signed off on the Electoral College vote in January, two weeks before Biden took office.

Instead, Republicans in the Arizona state Senate say that the audit is simply a means of restoring voters’ confidence in the elections process and is necessary to help them decide whether to craft changes to the state’s election laws  something that GOP-controlled legislatures in other states have either already done or are working toward in the wake of the 2020 election.

Yet it also comes with the risk of eroding faith in Arizona’s elections.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have warned that the audit has put ballots at risk of being tampered with. What’s more, the catalyst for the audit  Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and malfeasance — have stirred suspicions that Republicans may be trying to discredit unfavorable election results.