Arizona recount creates backlash in state
Simmering tensions between Republicans over the ongoing audit of election results in Arizona’s largest county are bursting into the open.
With the audit nearing its one-month mark and the GOP-controlled state Senate driving the process in an increasingly partisan direction, some Republicans have begun more aggressively pushing back against the effort, arguing that it has only served to further undermine confidence in the county’s elections rather than restore it.
The debate over the audit reached a breaking point Monday when the GOP-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Arizona’s Republican state Senate President Karen Fann demanding an end to the audit, saying that the process had made Arizona a “laughingstock.”
“None of this is inspiring confidence. None of this will cause our citizens to trust elections. In fact, it is having the opposite result,” the board, which is made up of four Republicans and one Democrat, wrote.
In the letter, the Board of Supervisors said that the audit had “become a partisan issue” and defended the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, which former President Trump has falsely claimed was stolen from him.
“It is time to end this,” the board wrote. “For the good of the Senate, for the good of the Country and for the good of the Democratic institutions that define us as Americans.”
The tensions between Maricopa officials and the Arizona state Senate mirror the national fight over the direction of the GOP in the post-Trump political landscape — a fight that was highlighted once against last week, when House Republicans moved to expel Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her leadership position over her criticism of the former president.
The audit began in earnest last month as the latest in a series of efforts by Republicans to placate Trump and his supporters who remain convinced that the 2020 election was rigged against the former president.
Previous audits of the vote in Maricopa County, which accounts for about two-thirds of ballots cast in Arizona, upheld the results of the election and, consequently, President Biden’s victory.
The current audit, however, is significantly more political in nature than the previous reviews.
It’s being carried out by the GOP-controlled state Senate, which has hired a little-known Florida-based firm called CyberNinjas to run the audit. CyberNinjas has no previous elections experience and its chief executive once touted conspiracy theories that Arizona’s voting machines had been rigged.
Critics of the audit have mocked how it has been carried out. In one widely panned effort, for instance, auditors examined ballots for traces of bamboo fibers based on a conspiracy theory that some 40,000 ballots cast for Biden had been flown in from Asia.
At the same time, the far-right One America News has livestreamed the process, all the while helping to raise money to fund the audit.
One longtime Arizona Republican operative said that the audit — and the politics surrounding it — had only served to worsen the GOP’s standing in Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold that has transformed into a battleground, noting how the state delivered Democrats a series of high-profile victories over the past three years.
“The alarm bells should be going off in the party,” the operative said. “The focus should be on stopping the bleeding and then figuring out how to rebuild. Not on relitigating the election because the loser isn’t happy about how it turned out.”
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has long opposed the audit, only turning over control of ballots and elections equipment to the state Senate after a judge ordered them to do so.
But tensions reached a boiling point last week after Fann accused the board in a letter of not complying with subpoenas, all the while implying that the county had deleted critical election data. Trump blasted Fann’s allegations out to his supporters over the weekend, claiming that they amounted to evidence of problems in the election results.
That prompted a scathing rebuttal from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, who called the former president’s claims “unhinged” and flatly rejected Fann’s accusations that the county had deleted data.
“Wow. This is unhinged,” Richer tweeted. “I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now. We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5.”
The audit was originally expected to end on May 14, but officials blew through that estimated deadline. The state Senate was forced to temporarily pause the process this week because the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the audit is being conducted, had been reserved to host high school graduation ceremonies.
It’s unclear just how much longer the audit will last. So far, only about a quarter of the county’s 2.1 million ballots have been processed. What is clear, however, is that the review will not alter the outcome of the presidential election, which was certified by state officials and members of Congress months ago.
Proponents of the audit say that it is a necessary step toward restoring what they say is shattered confidence in the electoral process in the wake of the 2020 election and identifying potential areas for improvement in administering elections.
Speaking at a special meeting on the audit on Tuesday afternoon, Fann said that the review “has nothing to do with overturning” the 2020 election, arguing that the audit is intended to help inform lawmakers as they look to make possible changes to election rules and procedures.
“What this is about, the Arizona Senate, we are in charge of creating, passing laws and ensuring that elections are done properly,” Fann said. “We know that from the very get go, there were many many questions about the security of an audit. Some rightly so, some are not.”
“Our job is to get those questions answered,” she added. “Our job is to make sure voters and constituents, they understand the process, they have full confidence in our election integrity.”
But some Republicans in the state Senate, even those who supported the audit, have tired of the effort.
“It makes us look like idiots,” state Sen. Paul Boyer, who initially supported the audit, told The New York Times this month. “Looking back, I didn’t think it would be this ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to be a state senator at this point.”