The Arizona Senate’s conspiracy-theory-driven “audit” of 2.1 million presidential ballots in Maricopa County ended in an anti-climax Friday, with an official report declaring that Joe Biden received more ballots than Donald Trump.
But while the much-hyped investigation failed to uncover evidence of fraud, Republican lawmakers nonetheless doubled down on unsubstantiated claims that its recount had uncovered voting irregularities, as Republican lawmakers across the country back restrictive new voting laws.
“What you have not seen and not heard is about the statutes that were broken,” said Arizona Sen. President Karen Fann (R), after conceding that the audit found no significant difference between official counts of the ballots and the one ordered by the state Senate.
Despite the audit’s failure to produce smoking-gun evidence of voter fraud, the Arizona investigation seems poised to inspire Republican ballot recounts in other states. On Thursday, just hours after being publicly pressured by Trump, Texas’ secretary of state announced plans for a recount of the state’s own in four populous, Democratic-leaning counties.
The report’s conclusion—first revealed in leaked copies of the report on Thursday night—actually widened the gap between Trump and Biden, concluding that Biden won by 360 more votes than reported in the first count. It’s not clear how reliable the Cyber Ninjas’ count is, however, since the group changed its counting practices during the audit and faced criticism over allegedly unreliable techniques.
The audit, which was nearly entirely funded by private donations, many of them anonymous, had drawn criticism for its focus on chasing unfounded pro-Trump conspiracy theories. Some counters even hunted for “bamboo fibers” meant to prove the ballots were manufactured in Asia.
The auditors stuck by that reputation, opening with Shiva Ayyadurai, a failed Senate candidate and one-time promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory who has claimed that Vitamin C can be used as a coronavirus therapy, as their lead witness.
The audit report itself made its own outlandish claims, alleging that it had found reasons to suspect tens of thousands of ballots were ineligible. On Twitter, Maricopa County, where officials had long opposed the audit, shot down the allegations. A claim in the audit report that more than 10,000 voters voted in multiple counties was, according to Maricopa officials, caused by Cyber Ninjas mixing up multiple voters with the same name.
“Unfortunately, AZ Senators gave unvetted, unqualified, private companies with known biases a platform to share misguided theories and faulty assumptions about Maricopa County elections,” county officials wrote on Twitter.
The audit’s most prominent backers had been tamping down expectations for weeks, effectively telling their fans not to believe that the audit would sweep Trump back into office. On Friday, pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood posted on social media app Telegram that he saw the day of the audit report “as more of a beginning than an end.” Other Trump allies like Michael Flynn had circulated an anonymous demand from “We The People” asking the Arizona Senate to look beyond the Cyber Ninjas report and consider even less reliable ballot investigations produced by amateur sleuths. Trump praised the audit’s report, falsely claiming in a statement that it had revealed “undeniable evidence of FRAUD!"
Other Republicans called for even more ballot investigations.
“Unfortunately, the AZ audit was never going to give us definitive conclusions, and that's what we're seeing today,” tweeted Phillip Kline, a conservative lawyer involved in a number of challenges to the 2020 election results. “The auditors flagged some serious anomalies, but the only way to find out the full truth is through a formal investigation.”