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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

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.