The Slatest

GOP Ballot Audits Aren’t About Overturning the Last Election. They’re About Overturning the Next One.

A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas opens a box of Arizona ballots cast in the 2020 election.
A contractor working for Cyber Ninjas opens a box of Arizona ballots cast in the 2020 election. Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

If you needed any further evidence of the corrosive effect of Republicans’ performative election “audit” in Arizona, Pennsylvania Republicans now say they want one too. A group of Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers steeped in the election conspiracy claims of former President Donald Trump made a pilgrimage to Maricopa County on Wednesday to see for themselves how the partisan review of the 2020 results was going. The aim of the visit is exporting the Arizona model back to their home state, which President Joe Biden won by a point.

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The team of state legislators—Sens. Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush, and Rep. Rob Kauffman—met with Arizona officials before being briefed by the election conspiracy–spewing head of Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm with no prior election experience that’s leading the audit. Cyber Ninjas has been given access to Maricopa County’s ballots and employed a team of contractors to scour for bamboo-laced “China ballots” that Trump supporters believe with all their hearts were imported ahead of Election Day to swing the vote to Joe Biden. The members of the Pennsylvania delegation in Arizona this week were among the 64 GOP legislators in the state that signed a letter asking the state’s congressional delegation to object to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes going to Biden, the made-up procedural move that Trump supporters were demanding as they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. One of the Pennsylvania trio, Mastriano, was in Washington to protest the election result that day, but says he left before the Capitol was stormed.

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After their visit, the group largely bypassed traditional media outlets, focusing instead on right-wing outlets. When asked in passing by an Associated Press reporter if they’d like to replicate Arizona’s process in Pennsylvania, Dush said, “Without question. Absolutely.” Speaking with a local radio host from WEEO-FM about the trip, Mastriano said, “we’ll bring the information back to the Senate leadership, we’ll back-brief them on the way ahead and then hopefully we can come up with an approach here to make sure every person in Pennsylvania can rest assured they have one vote and it counts.”

The trio offered assurances that this wasn’t about altering the 2020 election results. “I’m not about overturning anything,” Mastriano explained to the Wall Street Journal. “I’m just trying to find out what went right, what went wrong? And how do we have better elections in the future?” But did something go wrong? Other than their guy lost? “Forty-seven percent of the people in this country don’t have faith in the electoral—electoral integrity right now,” Dush told the Journal. “And my constituents are very much up in arms, with the lack of any movement on trying to find out what happened.”

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Just finding out what happened is the cover, as it has been in Arizona, because who doesn’t want to find out what happened, after all? There’s no harm in being hypervigilant, unless you have something to hide, right? But the self-fulfilling logic of intentionally and erroneously sowing doubt about an election and then using that doubt to justify dissecting it to the point of abstraction allows you to draw whatever conclusions you want from the data. So expect vague, ominous conclusions that never quite stand up in the light of day, but the Republican thinking is—it won’t really matter. The damage will already be done, the suspicion will be real, even if the problem isn’t.

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Looking at the states that Republicans are targeting in their postelection audits, what’s noticeable is that they are the swingiest of swing states, the ones that Biden was able to turn to secure victory. Each of the closest states in 2020—Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—has a Republican-controlled state legislature, and they are all bent on engaging in some form of audit. What’s clear from this selection of states is that the push for audits is a setup for next time, or another election in the future, undermining the process, and, coupled with new voter restriction laws, will make it easier to contest unfavorable results. This is where the Republicans in these states, and nationally, are headed. That’s the blueprint. It’s not about overturning the last election; it’s about overturning the next one.

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