All Is Not Well That Ends Well in Arizona

Just because the new count of votes in Maricopa County confirms Biden as the victor doesn’t mean the debacle was legitimate.

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted in a black-and-white photo of a sports arena.
Matt York / AP

The so-called audit of votes in Maricopa County, Arizona, will confirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election there, and all it took was five months, millions of taxpayer dollars to replace voting machines tainted by the audit, and a full-frontal assault on faith in elections, the foundation of American democracy. The review didn’t merely confirm that Biden won Maricopa County—it reportedly found 99 more votes for Biden and 261 fewer votes for Donald Trump than the original count.

The report is expected to be released by the state Senate today (though many earlier deadlines have passed unmet), but multiple news organizations obtained a draft version of the report, and Randy Pullen, a spokesperson for the audit, confirmed to the local radio station KJZZ that the final report would be similar.

“Was there massive fraud or anything? It doesn’t look like it,” he said.

The new, higher vote tally for Biden is darkly comic, in that the Republican state senators who commissioned the review, the head of the company that conducted the process, and the private donors who provided most of the funding for it all clearly hoped that it would cast doubt on the election results. But those who might like the new number shouldn’t take it seriously, any more than they would have had the review reached the incendiary conclusion that Trump had been cheated out of votes. The process employed in the review was sloppy, inconsistent, and lacked transparency, and there’s no reason to trust it, as I wrote in May. This has not changed.

Though many may experience a short burst of schadenfreude at the Republicans’ failure here, the result isn’t really funny. All is not well that ends well. Faith in elections is essential to a functioning democracy, and Trump and his allies have sought to undercut the belief that the election system is accurate. The consequences of their efforts include the violent attempted coup on January 6, voting laws around the country that seek to rig elections, and campaigns for office by candidates who have rejected legitimate election results.

While confirming the basic results of the vote, the report, according to early news coverage of the draft, raises a few hand-wavy objections about the election’s administration, including complaining that some election-related files were missing from computers and suggesting that some ballots might have been improperly accepted for counting. But it does not make solid conclusions about these questions. Here, again, the critiques shouldn’t be taken seriously. Throughout the process—which was originally expected to conclude in May—Cyber Ninjas, the firm leading the review, made erroneous and misleading claims about election procedures in Arizona and about the information handed to it by Maricopa County. The county replied in detailed rebuttals.

“The Ninjas don’t understand Arizona’s voting laws,” Benny White, a Republican election expert and audit critic in Tucson, told the Arizona Republic. “They don’t understand the structure of voting systems.”

But actually understanding the way voting works never seems to have been part of the plan. If it had been, the state Senate wouldn’t have chosen a firm with no demonstrated experience in election audits, led by a skeptic of the election results.

The goal was to substantiate a new consensus Republican belief that Democrats cannot win elections legitimately, and that any victory they notch must be somehow tainted. It is not a coincidence that the places where audits have focused are those, like Maricopa County, or Harris County, Texas, or Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, with high levels of minority voters, who can be disparaged—mostly implicitly, but occasionally more directly—as illegitimate participants in the polity. Trump has been the foremost proponent of the theory, but he’s been joined by eager sycophants, demagogues, and conspiracists.

Whether the Arizona Senate Republicans sincerely believed that the review would change the results is unknowable; their leaders helped cast doubt on the results, then said the audit was needed because voters had doubts, a neat bit of circular logic. But whether they meant it or were simply acting out of loyalty to Trump or fear of his vengeance—like what he’s visited on Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican who affirmed the results—is beside the point.

What matters is the result. Backers of the Arizona audit insisted that it would instill greater faith in elections by assuring voters that the results were accurate. As I reported in June, little evidence existed to back this claim up, and we’ll soon find out whether it was true. Initial indications are not encouraging. “The Fake News is lying about the Arizona audit report!” Trump said in a statement this morning.