Arizona Audit Result No Cause For Celebration

We know the outcome means nothing to Trump and others who are still pushing the narrative that the election was stolen.

What if the audit of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County, Arizona, ordered by the state Senate had not confirmed the certified results? Or go a step further: What if the contractors hired to do the work, Cyber Ninjas, had claimed to discover at least 10,458 missing votes for former President Donald Trump, enough to overcome President Biden’s November victory in the Grand Canyon State?

They did not, instead releasing a report that alleges Trump lost the county by 360 more votes than the official returns show. But let’s try the thought experiment: What if, after hauling around and manhandling more than 2 million ballots for counting by untrained volunteers—likely sympathetic to the cause—at a former NBA arena, the Cyber Ninjas came forward with claims of election fraud massive enough that it could have shifted the state’s 11 electoral votes to Trump?

In terms of making Trump president, of course, it would mean nothing. Leaving aside the fact that Trump would still have lost his re-election even with Arizona in his column, there’s no legal or constitutional means to take back a presidential certification. That would be true even if somehow the kooks and charlatans—Trump chief among them—who claim that massive fraud in Arizona and at least two other states robbed the former president of a second term were proven right. In some bizarre alternate universe where Rudy Giuliani was credible and correct in his claims, Congress could only impeach and remove the sitting president and vice president if they wouldn’t resign. That would make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi president for the next three years. There’s no means by which Congress could just appoint a former president into power like a Roman dictator.

But what if the Cyber Ninjas claimed massive fraud but couldn’t satisfactorily back it up? What if the result by the MAGA volunteers at the former home of the Phoenix Suns wildly disagreed with the official, twice-audited results, but the auditors didn’t have compelling evidence to explain the error? You’d need a solid case to claim the discrepancy ran in their favor instead of the duly elected and appointed officials who counted, recounted, and certified the returns. But what if the Arizona secretary of state and Maricopa County officials answered the charges, but the Cyber Ninjas and their clients in the state Senate stayed stuck on fraud claims?

It wouldn’t make much difference. Even after the private auditors confirmed the official count, state Senate leaders promise more inquests to come. Just as the leaders of the recount effort provided fodder for Trump and his posse with ignorant, baseless claims during the process, they continue to do so with their report. For example, the auditors said there were concerns around the 23,344 Maricopa County residents whose names appear on a commercial database tracking relocations as having moved before ballots were mailed out in October. But they didn’t understand how relocations within the county, students going away to college, and snowbirds heading north could easily account for 1.1 percent of all ballots cast. Similarly, the report recommends that Maricopa County use paper ballot backups for electronic voting and also that voting machines be disconnected from the Internet. The county already uses paper ballots, and neither the voting machines nor the machines used to tabulate the results are connected online.

Whether the audit agreed with the legitimate findings does not make the audit legitimate. Indeed, one might argue that by aligning with the real results, the Cyber Ninjas were bolstering their case for their other, equally spurious claims and demands for interminable, expensive, distracting probes. We certainly know that the similar vote counts don’t mean anything to Trump or his squad so feverishly devoted to undermining confidence in the 2020 election returns. The Ahab of Mar-a-Lago sees white whales in every election return. Despite the final tabulation affirming his defeat, Trump heralded the result at a campaign rally in Georgia on Saturday, telling fans, “We won at the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn't believe.” The effort that led to the January 6 sacking of the Capitol by Trump’s supporters has never been based in any fact, so why would one more audit make any difference?

Nor does it make a difference to Republicans in Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere who are conducting or trying to conduct similar audits of their own.* It would never have mattered what the Arizona audit said to Trump and the cultlike supporters who are most committed to the cause of overturning the legitimate results. Like the goofy lawsuits that Trump’s campaign filed in the immediate aftermath of the election, the point of these audits is to diminish confidence in the process and provide talking points for Trump & Co. The result isn’t what matters; it’s screwing up the process that counts.

Remember what Giuliani said about the effort to overturn the results in the U.S. Senate? “Just try to slow it down,” he said in a voicemail obtained by The Dispatch at the time. Or what about Trump’s phone call badgering Georgia officials to try to steal that state’s electoral votes for him when he told Georgia’s secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes” for him?

Don’t celebrate that the Arizona audit kind of aligns with the real findings. Lament that it took place at all. Lament the ones that will come after it. We are no closer to sanity returning to the GOP than we were before.

*Correction, September 27: This article initially listed Wisconsin twice as a state where the GOP is attempting to conduct a ballot audit.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor for The Dispatch.