Retired cops hired by a top Wisconsin Republican. A litmus test in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. A fight in rural Michigan over a small town’s election equipment.
Fueled by a shambolic election recount in Arizona, the audit-bug is spreading, and, with it, the fantastical belief that President Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat could still be reversed.
The Arizona exercise — ostensibly labeled an “audit,” though its procedures are questionable at best — was ordered by the state’s Republican Senate. It has been plagued with conspiracy theories, incompetency and dissent from within the state GOP. But it has also given Trump’s supporters hope that validating his false claims of mass fraud just takes a little more digging. In battleground states across the country, MAGA diehards are making increasingly loud demands for another round of review of the 2020 results, though the contest was dubbed by election experts and Trump’s own administration as a historically secure election.
Trump has cheered on the reinvigorated recount effort and lied about what it’s shown so far, including in a statement Monday about an audit in New Hampshire.
“Why aren’t Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans doing anything about what went on in the 2020 Election? How can the Democrats be allowed to get away with this?” Trump said. “It will go down as the Crime of the Century! Other States like Arizona, Georgia (where a Judge just granted a motion to unseal and inspect ballots from the 2020 Election), Michigan, Pennsylvania, and more to follow.”
Egged on by MAGA Media
The Arizona “audit” has attracted national scrutiny and plenty of mockery. The hand count of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots is being led by a cyber consultant who assisted in Trump’s allies’ 2020 reversal crusade.
But tune into the far-right Trump-aligned media sphere, and you see a different story. One America News Network — which is exclusively livestreaming the audit — has floated the expectation that the auditors are about to find mass fraud, while its correspondents have promoted a private fundraising campaign to help foot the bill for the recount.
Arizona Senate President Karan Fann nonetheless defended the cozy relationship her audit has had with the conspiracy theory-loving outlet
“Are you saying that OAN is not a credible news source?” Fann asked CNN, when grilled about the extensive access the platform has received.
But it’s not just OAN: Audit-mania has been a fixation of all corners of MAGA-media, as it has hyped up the possibility that such recounts will soon pop up in other states that Trump lost.
Steve Bannon, who’s hosted some of the activists involved in Arizona’s recount on his podcast, has also questioned Republican candidates for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race about whether they support an audit there.
“We need a full forensic audit in all the states where we had issues,” Jeff Bartos, one of the GOP candidates, told Bannon Friday. “And Pennsylvania certainly had issues.”
His opponent in the Senate primary, Sean Parnell, had brought far fetched lawsuits challenging the 2020 results and also told Bannon this week he supported a Pennsylvania audit.
Far-right outlets have also distorted the expectations of a legitimate review underway of a state legislative race in a small New Hampshire town, where discrepancies arose between the initial tabulation and a recount. The presidential race isn’t even being examined in the New Hampshire audit. The auditors have rejected claims of mass fraud, and instead are leaning towards a theory that the tabulation issue arose because of folds in the paper that created creases specifically over the part of the ballot with the state legislative race.
So of course, Gateway Pundit, another audit-obsessed fringe-right outlet, is now claiming that the auditors — all nationally known election experts — cannot be trusted.
Election Officials Who Can Never Get A Break
The 2020 election was already subjected to unprecedented review and litigation as Trump’s tried to overturn it. But election officials have had only mixed success in fending off this latest round of frivolous and error-prone recounts.
A Republican judge dismissed last week a lawsuit, touted by the Trump, seeking an audit of Antrim County, Michigan’s results. But a court in Georgia on Friday suggested it would be willing to give a local conspiracy theorist, Garland Favorito, and other voters some limited access to the ballots of Fulton County, home to Atlanta. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) — who is currently facing a primary challenge aimed directly at his refusal to meddle with Georgia’s results — opposed handing over the physical ballots to the amateur audit-seekers, but now supports letting them inspect copies of the ballots.
Another dispute has popped up in Cheboygan, Michigan, a largely rural county of about 25,000 people where Trump won by 30 percentage points over President Biden. A group of activists — parroting the claims about voting equipment that were rejected in the Antrim case — want to get their hands on the county’s election machines there for an audit.
“The election deniers, in many cases, have taken on a strategy where they’ve tried to go after individual counties, thinking that those counties might have fewer resources and be less inclined inclined to oppose some of these fake, so-called audits,” David Becker, a former Justice Department official who know heads the Center for Election Innovation & Research, told reporters on a press call Thursday.
He said a “sickness is spreading” with the push for amateur audits in various states.
The Cheboygan audit-seekers face the opposition of state election officials.
“Interest in granting access to unqualified third parties to conduct a ‘forensic audit’ may stem from misplaced reliance on ongoing misinformation, which has been repeatedly, comprehensively, and definitively debunked,” Michigan State Election Director Jonathan Brater said in a letter to the county clerk, according to the Washington Post.
Yet the words of caution and concern among election experts have inspired creativity, not reticence, among some of the Republicans who are embracing the audit frenzy.
Wisconsin’s top legislative Republican, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, is planning on taking a route that’s unconventional, even by the terms of zany recount fantasies elsewhere in the country.
He’s hiring three former cops to investigate the 2020 election, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday, in a gambit Vos acknowledges won’t actually change who is currently occupying the White House.
“The election’s already over,” Vos told the newspaper. “My job is to be frustrated with the result, which I am, especially with what’s going on in Washington, D.C. … My job is to say where are the laws being followed, where are they not? If they’re not being followed, how can I fix it?”
Matt Shuham contributed reporting.