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Phony Audits = Real Threats to the Vote

Partisan election reviews of the presidential election results are beginning to spread to more states.

July 13, 2021
AP Photo/Matt York

For two months, Repub­lic­ans, conspir­acy theor­ists, and “Stop the Steal” activ­ists have been conduct­ing an “audit” of Arizon­a’s pres­id­en­tial elec­tion results. Crit­ics call it the “fraudit.”

It devolved into a national joke as fevered partis­ans looked for evid­ence of bamboo fibers to prove that China had prin­ted the ballots to give the state to Joe Biden. The spec­tacle is reportedly back­fir­ing, as Arizon­a’s inde­pend­ent voters recoil.

But it’s no joke. It shows how deeply Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 elec­tion was stolen has seeped into Amer­ican polit­ics. And now similar partisan elec­tion reviews are begin­ning to spread across the coun­try.  

In Pennsylvania last week, a state senator asked three counties, includ­ing Phil­adelphia, for access to elec­tion equip­ment and mater­i­als. The legis­lator, a leader in the state’s “Stop the Steal” move­ment, said he’s copy­ing the method of elec­tion deniers in Mari­copa County, Arizona, where this nonsense began.

In response, Phil­adelphi­a’s Repub­lican City Commis­sioner Al Schmidt, who is respons­ible for the city’s elec­tions, retor­ted: “I would encour­age our legis­lat­ors to educate them­selves to know that our elec­tion was certi­fied and that it was audited, not once — but twice — and there was no doubt about the outcome. It was safe, it was secure, and it wasn’t even close.” In other words: Trump lost, Biden won.

These sham “audits,” however, are anything but object­ive and secure. In a joint report with R Street Insti­tute and Protect Demo­cracy, we examined proposed and ongo­ing reviews of elec­tion results in five states — Arizona, Geor­gia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wiscon­sin. 

In each state, the partisan reviews “fail to meet the basic stand­ards you’d expect of cred­ible elec­tion audit,” tweeted my colleague and coau­thor of the report, Gowri Ramachandran. Every one viol­ates at least some of the follow­ing five stand­ards: trans­par­ency, objectiv­ity, prewrit­ten and compre­hens­ive proced­ures, compet­ence, and secur­ity. They also waste taxpayer money: the fraudit in Mari­copa County alone has cost taxpay­ers an estim­ated $2.4 million.

It’s hard to not see these partisan reviews as anything but part of a coordin­ated attack on our demo­cracy. The results are deeply disturb­ing. Elec­tion offi­cials threatened and afraid to do their jobs. Nearly 400 bills intro­duced in 48 state houses to make it harder to vote. At least 28 new laws passed in 17 states to restrict access to the vote. And with redis­trict­ing about to start, state legis­latures and commis­sions will begin draw­ing legis­lat­ive and congres­sional maps that could purposely dilute the voting power of communit­ies of color as well as young and poor voters.

Put this all together, and there’s a blink­ing red warn­ing sign hover­ing over our nation’s abil­ity to conduct free and fair elec­tions. We ignore it at our peril.