Arizona recount results raise stakes for GOP-backed ballot reviews in other states
By Amy Gardner,
Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post
A GOP-commissioned report that did not find evidence fraud tainted Arizona’s 2020 election has intensified the fight over similar partisan ballot reviews in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, with former president Donald Trump pressing for such examinations and Democrats stepping up their efforts to block them.
The outcome of the GOP-backed recount in Maricopa County, Ariz., which concluded that President Biden won the state’s largest county by even more votes than the certified results, raises the stakes for the Republican leaders who have gone along with Trump’s demands for “forensic audits” in other states.
While no evidence of widespread fraud has emerged, they have pushed forward at a potential cost of millions in taxpayer dollars — and the risk of further eroding public confidence in U.S. elections, particularly among their own voters.
“Eventually, you have to find fraud, and they haven’t,” said Rohn Bishop, the county GOP chairman in Fond du Lac, Wis., and a frequent critic of Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “Are we going to be a serious political party that tries to win an election, or are we going to keep talking about these kooky, fringe audits?”
The Arizona audit, ordered by the GOP-controlled state Senate, has not chastened Trump, who falsely claimed on Friday that the report “conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over.”
A day earlier, Trump demanded that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) launch a similar audit in Texas, even though the former president easily won the state and its top elections official declared in March that 2020 voting “was smooth and secure.”
Abbott, a potential 2024 presidential contender, responded hours later with an announcement from the secretary of state’s office that a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” would take place — and that it was already underway in four large counties, three of which voted for Biden.
That was news to Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, who said none of the four counties — Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin — have received word from state officials.
“I don’t believe at this moment that an audit has started in any of these counties,” said Jenkins (D). “What I believe is that once again our weak governor has caved to our former disgraced president. It’s sad to see someone being led around by a puppeteer.”
A spokeswoman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment.
Nam Y. Huh
Election officials read documents before a hand recount of ballots on Nov. 20 in Milwaukee.
In Wisconsin this summer, Republican House Speaker Robin Vos — whom Trump has publicly lambasted for not pursuing a 2020 audit aggressively enough — named a retired state Supreme Court justice to lead a review of the state’s elections last year.
The retired justice, Michael Gableman, has come under fire for using an unsecure private email account to send instructions to county clerks about preserving evidence related to the 2020 election. He also caused a furor when he suggested in a video posted on YouTube that the burden fell to county clerks to prove that the election was not tainted.
“The responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness, inclusivity and accountability is on the government and on the private, for-profit interests that did work for the government,” Gableman said in the video. “The burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly.”
Some Wisconsin clerks have balked at the effort — and have sought help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to resist any demands that they hand over voter information or election machinery that could compromise national security, according to Scott McDonell (D), the Dane County clerk. A DHS spokeswoman declined to comment on the query.
“I was like, ‘Wow, they’re copying the Arizona audit right down to the bozos who are running it,’” said McDonell, adding that several colleagues in other counties didn’t even see the email because it went straight to their spam folders. His own county’s technology director urged him not to send any sensitive information to the private Gmail account that Gableman used.
Neither Gableman nor other Republicans who have launched the audits in the three states responded to requests for comment from The Washington Post.
Democrats are fighting an ongoing 2020 investigation in Pennsylvania, where a state Senate committee voted last week to issue subpoenas for a wide range of data and personal information on voters.
The state’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro (D) filed a lawsuit in state court claiming the subpoena violates Pennsylvania’s privacy laws and also threatens election security.
“I never in a million years would have thought that the party that’s supposed to be about limited government and personal privacy would try to compromise the personal, private data of 9 million Pennsylvanians to further the ‘big lie’ — and to do so on the taxpayer’s dime,” Shapiro said in an interview Friday, referring to a term used to describe Trump’s false claim that the election was rigged.
Several critics of the partisan audits said they are optimistic that the Arizona results will take some wind out of the sails of the reviews that were underway elsewhere.
“There was more scrutiny than perhaps the Cyber Ninjas anticipated,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), referring to the company that led the Arizona review. “Because of that, it wasn’t possible for them to reach any conclusion that wasn’t rooted in evidence. They couldn’t make any fake claims.”
Pro-Trump signs hang from a shrub at the Pennsylvania Capitol during a rally on Jan. 5.
Others fretted that the audits will be used to justify still more strict voting laws that target communities that tend to vote for Democrats in states such as Texas, which recently passed new voting restrictions.
“This is not going to be a good-faith effort,” said Jenkins. “This is part of a broader plan to make it harder for people to vote, so that as America becomes younger and more diverse, the people who are currently in power can stay in power longer.”
Bishop, the Republican from Wisconsin, has earned many critics from within his own party for opposing Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 result. But he voted for Trump, liked his policies — and still wants his party to win office. He said he worries that the audits in Wisconsin and elsewhere will make that harder.
First, telling Republicans that the elections are rigged doesn’t encourage them to vote, Bishop said. And secondly, those Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump — and there were many, judging from all the Republicans down the ballot who got more votes last year than the president — aren’t going to come back to the party in droves if Trump continues to spew his false claims, he added.
“It’s bat-poop crazy,” he said. “And 2022 should be a very good year for us. Basically, this election is ours to lose — if we’re not stupid about it.”
Bishop’s hope is that Republicans who have not remained in lockstep with Trump can win a few upcoming elections, in turn emboldening others to put the 2020 election behind them.
But he acknowledged the tall order. In Wisconsin, his is one of only five county GOP committees that did not pass a resolution calling for a forensic audit of the 2020 results.
“Trump is still very influential,” he conceded. “If Trump comes in and makes an endorsement in a primary, it’s a big deal. We’re kind of in a conundrum right now, where you can’t win with him and you can’t win without him.”