- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The election audit playing out in Maricopa County will hit the pause button this week when the probe is forced to clear out of Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix to make way for high school graduation ceremonies.

It’s the latest wrinkle in a process that has not gone as smoothly as Republicans had hoped.

The recount has generated a slew of colorful headlines about election-rigging conspiracy theories, including bamboo ballots, death threats, ultraviolet rays and spy planes, raising questions about whether the effort is driving away Republican voters who believe Joseph R. Biden defeated President Trump fair and square.

“When Arizona’s chattering class gets together, that is topic No. 1,” said Stan Barnes, a former Arizona state lawmaker and Republican Party consultant. “Forget the merits of the audit. What is the fallout in the public square with real people?

“There is no clear answer for that yet,” he said.

Six months after the presidential election, the audit is a firm reminder that Mr. Trump and his supporters have not let their “stolen election” claims die.

Mr. Trump insists that he won in states such as Arizona, where Mr. Biden had a narrow margin of victory.

Mike Noble, chief of research and managing partner at OH Predictive Insights, an Arizona-based polling firm, said there are warning signs for the Republican Parrty.

The number of registered Republican voters in the state has fallen by nearly 22,000 — including 15,000 in Maricopa, the state’s most populous county — since January, according to the latest voter registration numbers.

“I get why they are doing it, but looking at the polling numbers, you keep pushing this audit that is run quite unprofessionally, you are just pushing folks away when normally this time of year it should be dead for political news,” Mr. Noble said.

“Every day it goes by, it’s just pushing those moderate voters away from the GOP, which brings them to having a brand problem,” he said.

Still, both major parties are confident that they stand to gain from the process playing out in Maricopa County.

Republicans say they are connected with their constituents and know this is what they want.

Democrats say the effort will maintain the focus on Mr. Trump’s stranglehold on the party and keep their base energized.

The audit started last month and was expected to run through May 14, but it will take longer. About 250,000 of the county’s 2.1 million ballots have been processed in the hand count portion of the review.

Now the auditors have to take a break for graduation ceremonies.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is cheering on the effort.

“The people of Arizona are very angry, as are the people of our Country,” Mr. Trump said in a statement last month. “If we can’t have free and fair elections, we don’t have a Country.”

Mr. Biden became the first Democrat to win Arizona in a presidential race since President Clinton carried the state in 1996.

Democrat Mark Kelly defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSally, flipping a crucial seat in the 50-50 Senate and paving the way for Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tiebreaking vote in the upper chamber.

Mr. Biden’s margin of victory was 10,500 votes.

Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, certified the results in late November.

“We do elections well here in Arizona,” Mr. Ducey said at the time. “The system is strong, and that is why I bragged about it so much.”

Congress certified the results after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate, however, wasn’t finished and hired a private company, Cyber Ninjas, to conduct an independent forensic audit of the results in Maricopa County.

The founder of the group, Doug Logan, has faced criticism for promoting the claims of a stolen election.

Mr. Barnes said the audit has not been as simple as Republicans envisioned.

“The story behind the story is this is a very complicated undertaking, and that complication ends up sometimes reflecting negatively in the public square,” he said. “I’m not sure Republicans were ready for that; nonetheless, I think they are unbowed about it and confident they are doing the right thing and voters understand.”

Democrats say the audit is an assault on democracy and unnecessary because the ballots have been counted, validated in a partial hand count and certified by the Republican governor.

Questions also remain unanswered about who is picking up the tab for the effort. The state Senate set aside $150,000, but the final price tag is expected to cost far more.

“We don’t know who is bankrolling it,” Mr. Noble said. “Frankly, China could be bankrolling it. We have no idea because of the lack of transparency when it comes to the funding sources.”

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods said the election was “fair and accurate” and a “really a model election.”

“They lost, and they can’t get over it,” Mr. Woods, a Democrat, said in a recent conference call. “They don’t want to get over it because they want to continue to sow doubt about the election, not just in Arizona but across the United States.”

Mr. Trump has stuck with his claims. He recently blasted out statements claiming voter fraud in Michigan and New Hampshire and describing the outcome as the “most tainted and corrupt Election in American history.”

“Arizona is the first domino that will fall, and then other states will look into irregularities, abnormalities, mistakes and potentially outright fraud that happened in their states as well,” Kelli Ward, the Arizona Republican Party chair, said in a recent interview with Newsmax.

The audit also has caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which said the audit may be out of compliance with federal law.

“This is a true black swan event in Arizona politics, a rare, one-of-a-kind one-off from everything normal in Arizona politics, which itself is really not normal,” Mr. Barnes said.

“We are proud of our colorful stories,” he said. “This one is in a true category of its own.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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