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Image: Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin / AP

Arizona's vote-counting circus may be coming to your state next

The problem is not just that the Arizona "audit" is utterly bonkers. The problem is also that this circus may soon spread to other states.


Right off the bat, the fact that Arizona is still recounting 2020 presidential ballots is itself ridiculous. As we've discussed, the official vote tally in the state showed Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump, thanks in part to a strong showing in Arizona's largest county, Maricopa County. When Republicans, committed to the Big Lie, cried foul, Arizona conducted an audit, relying on a federally accredited firm to oversee the process.

Then there was a second audit, ordered by the GOP-led legislature. There was also a hand recount, supervised by both parties. All of this turned up nothing: no fraud, no sham ballots, and no wrongdoing.

And yet, here we are, nearly six months after the election, watching Arizona review Maricopa County's ballots once again, this time by way of an audit led by an obscure company -- called "Cyber Ninjas" -- with dubious credentials and led by a fringe conspiracy theorist.

As the review process began in earnest this week, it's managed to become even more bonkers, with a combination of hidden procedures, security problems, weird inventions with unclear purposes, and rules that appear to have been made up on the fly. NBC News added today, "One America News Network, a right-wing cable channel, has been given special access to cover the audit and reported that audit workers were using ultra-violet light to search for watermarks," which (a) stems from a QAnon conspiracy theory; and (b) extra weird since the ballots don't have watermarks.

There's also some kind of bizarre search for "kinematic artifacts," which is every bit as odd as it sounds.

Part of the problem is the point of this utterly bonkers ordeal: in response to hysterical fraud allegations with no basis in reality, Arizona Republicans appear eager to create a new, alternative truth, in the hopes that Trump's defeat can be made to look like a victory.

But the other part of the problem is that the madness probably won't be limited to the Grand Canyon State. The Washington Post reported yesterday on the degree to which the former president has "seized on" Arizona's nonsense to feed his ridiculous beliefs.

Several advisers said the former president has become fixated on the unorthodox process underway in Phoenix.... Ensconced at his private club in Florida, Trump asks aides for updates about the process multiple times a day, advisers said, expressing particular interest in the use of UV lights to scrutinize Maricopa's ballots — a method that has bewildered election experts.

The article quoted one person who recently visited Mar-a-Lago and listened to Trump discuss the recount for about 45 minutes. The person, referring to the former president, added, "He talks about it constantly."

In other words, as President Joe Biden governs, and Democrats look for ways to advance their policy agenda, the most powerful voice in Republican politics is obsessed on Cyber Ninjas, preposterous watermarks, and an indefensible scheme designed to raise doubts about election results that have already been proven valid.

As for what Trump expects from the process, he told Dan Bongino this week, in reference to Arizona, "I think it's going to be incredible. I think it's going to be eye-opening." He added that he has "no question" that he won Arizona -- a state he lost in reality -- because "we had rallies."

And then what? The point I remain stuck on is what will happen after the circus in Arizona ends.

It's quite likely there will be related efforts in other states, where Republicans can hire Cyber Ninjas of their own. We can say this with some confidence because Trump has been unsubtle on this point, issuing a statement this week that said once the imagined fraud in Arizona is "revealed," the "Great States of Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, New Hampshire, and the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, would be forced to complete the work already started."

In fact, the Cyber Ninjas company was among the entities to start pushing back against election results in Michigan this week.

For Trump and his allies, the madness in Arizona this week is the start, not the end, of a larger effort.