PHOENIX — A growing chorus of Arizona Republicans is calling on the GOP-controlled state Senate to end an audit into Maricopa County’s 2020 election results that is increasingly relying on disproven conspiracy theories to challenge President Biden’s victory here.
The audit, ordered by a state Senate majority that has bought into former President Trump’s big lie about the results of the election he lost handily, is on hold until Monday. It has already dragged on well past the estimated time auditors said it would take to recount the county’s ballots.
But some Republicans say they hope it does not continue after embarrassing revelations that supposedly bombshell allegations by auditors who have perpetuated Trump’s lies were in fact errors made by the auditors themselves.
“I think they should maybe just call it quits. I don’t think that it’s going to serve any purpose. It’s not going to change the election,” former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has administered elections when she served as secretary of state, said this week on “The Gaydos and Chad Show.” “The votes have been certified. Biden is the president. It’s not changing. I say move on.”
In the latest salvo, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors urged Senate President Karen Fann (R) to end the recount after what they termed “false” and “defamatory” statements.
The Republican Senate majority last week accused the county of deleting a directory of computer files. Trump cited the accusation twice in statements from his political action committee. The Florida-based firm overseeing the audit, Cyber Ninjas, is led by a businessman who spread Trump’s election lies after November.
Auditors later walked back that accusation after the Board of Supervisors issued a blistering letter illustrating exactly where the files were, and accusing the Senate of “a serious lack of understanding of election law.”
“We express our united view that your ‘audit,’ no matter what your intentions were in the beginning, has become a spectacle that is harming all of us. Our state has become a laughingstock. Worse, this ‘audit’ is encouraging our citizens to distrust elections, which weakens our democratic republic,” the supervisors wrote.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R), who won the job overseeing county elections in November, called the auditor’s false claims “unhinged.”
“We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country,” Richer wrote on Twitter, citing Trump’s statements.
Even one of the Republicans who initially backed the audit has now changed his mind. In an interview Thursday, just blocks from the coliseum where the audit is scheduled to resume Monday, state Sen. Paul Boyer (R) told The Hill he believed the audit had become an albatross for his party.
“Who wouldn’t support an audit? But the way they’re doing it, it’s embarrassing,” Boyer said. “It makes me embarrassed to be a state senator at this point.”
“I feel like we’re in this fantasy land,” Boyer said. “I still have yet to see any evidence [of fraud], and I don’t think it’s coming.”
Fann seemed to distance herself at least marginally from the audit earlier this week, after auditors acknowledged their baseless charge against the Board of Supervisors.
“I have said from the get-go I am relatively sure [we] weren’t going to find anything of any magnitude that would imply that any intentional wrongdoing was going on,” Fann said at a closed-door meeting that excluded Senate Democrats, held earlier this week. “I believe that we were going to find what we’ve known all along and some of the things is we could do a better job.”
Biden won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by a margin of just over 10,000 votes in 2020, the first Democrat to carry the state since former President Clinton in 1996. He won Maricopa County by 45,000 votes, a margin of more than 2 percentage points. Sen. Mark Kelly (D) beat then-Sen. Martha McSally (R) in Maricopa County by nearly 4 points, or 80,000 votes.
At the same time, Republicans won four of five seats on the county Board of Supervisors, the race for assessor, county attorney, county recorder, county school superintendent and county treasurer.
The fight over the audit, and the state Senate’s move earlier this year to hold the county Board of Supervisors in contempt, has become clouded by Republican lies about the election results. Talk radio stations in Phoenix are packed with conservative hosts and callers alleging unspecified coverups without offering evidence.
After Boyer voted against holding board members in contempt, a pro-Trump political opponent doxxed him on Parler and Gab, unleashing a torrent of death threats. Police protected Boyer, his wife and young child for a week afterward.
Trump supporters are circulating petitions to recall Boyer from office. Anthony Kern, who lost his seat in the state legislature in 2020 and who tweeted photos from the Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 insurrection, has filed to challenge Boyer in the 2022 elections.
“That may be motive enough to run again,” Boyer said of Kern’s challenge.
But the fallout from the audit is only beginning to mount. In a letter to Maricopa County supervisors this week, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) said the county may have to purchase hundreds of new voting machines after auditors took control of the machines. Handing over those machines broke a chain of custody, so Hobbs’s and Richer’s offices have no way of knowing if Cyber Ninjas or another auditor tampered with them.
The state Senate subpoena that required Maricopa County to turn over the machines will likely cost taxpayers about $3.3 million in leasing costs, plus additional costs to purchase new machines.
Boyer said he feared the aftermath of the 2020 elections and the continued Republican fealty to Trump could threaten the party’s hold on the legislature, where Republicans hold only the slimmest majorities in both chambers.
“I don’t know how it turns out well for us,” Boyer said. “If I was to think of a way to destroy the Republican Party, it would be this audit.”