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Why Arizona's election 'audit' matters (even outside of Arizona)

It's tempting to roll one's eyes at the new "audit" of election results in Arizona, but the dangers associated with this nonsensical circus are real.

It's tempting to roll one's eyes at the new "audit" of election results in Arizona. After all, we know what happened in the Grand Canyon State last fall.

An official vote tally showed Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump in the state, thanks in part to a strong showing in Arizona's largest county, Maricopa County. Republicans, committed to the Big Lie, cried foul, so 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.

Maricopa County's board of supervisors, which has a Republican majority, voted unanimously to certify Biden as the winner. That was supposed to be that.

Except, it wasn't. As the Washington Post reported:

An extensive effort to recount ballots from the November election moved forward in Phoenix on Friday as a private vendor hired by Republicans in the Arizona Senate began reviewing nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in the state's largest county. The recount of the ballots from Maricopa County was sought by Senate Republicans to examine unsubstantiated claims that fraud or errors tainted President Biden's win.

The fact that there is no need for yet another review of these ballots is obviously a significant problem, but in this instance, it's merely one of many significant problems.

As Rachel explained on the show, the list of absurdities is not short. Republicans in the Arizona Senate have, for example, turned to a private firm to oversee this latest process despite the apparent fact that it is not known to have experience in this kind of work. There are firms and experts with experience in this field, but GOP legislators instead turned to a business called "Cyber Ninjas."

The company is led by a man who's promoted truly bizarre conspiracy theories about the 2020 election -- which may help explain why Cyber Ninjas got the job, but doesn't instill confidence in the integrity of the process.

Late last week, the Arizona Republic reported that this latest ballot count "got off to a shaky start," with rules and procedures that were finalized on the fly. Journalists have been denied access to the venue in which the process is taking place, but the Arizona Republic's Jen Fifield volunteered to serve as an observer, and it wasn't long before she witnessed security problems that threatened to undermine the review.

The result is a mess featuring lawsuits, court-ordered pauses, procedural changes, widespread confusion, and a general sense that this unnecessary circus is incapable of producing reliable information -- all in response to hysterical fraud allegations with no basis in reality.

It doesn't help that GOP officials are limiting the audit to the election results in which Democrats won: Republican victories in Maricopa County are not part of this latest review. (The idea, evidently, is that there were systemic problems with parts of ballots, not ballots themselves.)

All of which again leads us to the inevitable feeling that this nonsense deserves widespread eye-rolling. Except, it may not be quite that simple.

It's hardly a stretch to think the fix is in: Arizona Republicans will, in the near future, appear before cameras and effectively declare, "Never mind the count, the hand recount, and the independent audits. Our new review, led by our conspiratorial allies, proves that Donald Trump secretly won Arizona."

The idea, obviously, is to create a new truth for Republicans, at which point pro-Trump forces can exploit the lie to justify new voter-suppression efforts and perhaps even related efforts in other states, where Republicans can hire Cyber Ninjas of their own.

Indeed, Trump was unsubtle on this point in a written statement issued on Friday, envisioning Arizona as the first domino of many. The unhinged former president wrote, "The Democrats are desperate for the FRAUD to remain concealed because, when 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."

This will only get uglier in time. The new, Republican-approved version of reality will fuel conspiratorial rage for quite a while, with rank-and-file conservative voters convinced that Americans can't settle disputes at the ballot box because those rascally Democrats have rigged the system.

Arizona's circus is clearly bonkers, but that doesn't mean the nonsense will be inconsequential.