The Arizona state senate’s haphazard, controversial audit of 2020 ballots has become a popular destination for Republican lawmakers looking to undermine the results in battleground states that Joe Biden won. And now, audit-mania has spread even to the states that Biden lost.
In the wake of the Arizona audit’s success at grabbing publicity across right-wing media, Republican lawmakers in states that Trump won are demanding Arizona-style audits or other election inspections of their own.
The Republican hunt for voter-fraud evidence even in states that voted for Trump reveals how far inside the party the idea has spread that the election was stolen.
Focusing on fraud claims allows Republican officials to raise money and attention from devoted Trump supporters, according to former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye. It also helps lawmakers align themselves with Trump’s claims of widespread fraud, ingratiating themselves with the energized Trump grassroots as they try to claim more power in the party.
“This is about two things, and these are symbiotic,” Heye said. “The continued fealty for all things Trump, and placating the base or the portion of the base that still can’t accept a clear loss.”
Donald Trump won conservative Utah by more than 20 percent. But Utah state Rep. Steve Christiansen (R) traveled to Phoenix to see the Arizona audit in person anyway, telling The Daily Beast he’d like to see a similar audit of 2020 ballots implemented in his own state. Christiansen has asked a legislative committee in Utah to consider conducting its own audit of the state’s ballots.
“I wanted to make sure I got to Arizona while the audit was being conducted,” Christiansen told The Daily Beast.
The prospect of audits that could somehow dispute Biden’s electoral college win have become articles of faith for Trump supporters unable to get over the former president’s defeat, as Republican-held legislatures across the country use a sense that the election was stolen to push voting restrictions across the country. Some Republican voters have also become fixated on a “domino theory” about the election, which holds that if Arizona’s audit finds fraud in their election, other states that voted for Biden will fall like dominos.
Still, that doesn’t explain why Republicans in states that voted for Trump are now calling for audits of their own. Asked why he wants an audit in a state that Trump handily won, Christiansen claimed he was concerned after seeing proven evidence of voter fraud across the country.
Asked for proof of voter fraud, Christiansen referred The Daily Beast to a much-disputed document produced by former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro. The Washington Post dubbed the 30-page dossier as perhaps “the most embarrassing document created by a White House staffer.”
“For me, it’s all about making sure we have free and fair elections,” Christiansen said.
Republicans outside of Arizona have seized on that state’s audit, even though the process—carried out by a little-known firm whose founder has flirted with QAnon conspiracy theories—has reportedly been riddled with mistakes and procedural changes. At one point, ballot inspectors were even hunting for “bamboo fibers” meant to prove the ballots were made in Asia and fictitious “watermarks” that some Trump supporters wrongly believe were included in ballots to catch fraud.
And yet, Trumpist stalwarts are undeterred. One America News host Christina Bobb has started suggesting to politicians visiting the Phoenix audit that their own states should have similar investigations, even ones that voted for Trump.
Jackson Lahmeyer, a 29-year-old Oklahoma pastor who’s attempting to primary Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) from the right, told Bobb in Phoenix that he had been “blown away” by the Arizona audit, describing it as a “logistical masterpiece.”
After Lahmeyer called for similar audits in other battleground states that voted for Biden, Bobb asked Lahmeyer whether Oklahoma should have an audit of its own.
“I would go so far as to say, it would be important in Oklahoma as well, even though Oklahoma wasn’t necessarily one of the contested states,” said Bobb, who has fundraised to pay for the Arizona audit, while claiming to report on it as a journalist.
Lahmeyer quickly agreed, calling the 2020 presidential race a “stolen election.”
On Monday, Lahmeyer clarified his views to The Daily Beast, saying he thinks Oklahoma either doesn’t need “as thorough an audit” or doesn’t need an audit at all.
Trump won North Carolina by more than one percentage point. But in that state, members of the state legislature’s conservative Freedom Caucus are demanding an inspection of the voting machines used in 2020 to see whether they could have somehow been subverted to commit election fraud.
In a statement, the Freedom Caucus said its members want to inspect voting machines to see if they have modems that could connect to the internet. In a statement posted to Facebook, state Rep. Keith Kidwell (R) said he wants the voting machines inspected by outside technicians, promising to put “the hard question to these guys about what is going on with the machines.”
North Carolina’s State Board of Elections told The Daily Beast it’s working on a response to the legislators. Kidwell and state Rep. Jeff McNeely (R), who has also called for an inspection of the machines, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Conspiracy theories already appear to have filtered into the North Carolina Freedom Caucus’s push for a voter fraud investigation. In an interview with The Gateway Pundit, an influential right-wing blog that frequently promotes hoaxes and has embraced the idea of a North Carolina audit, McNeely said he was familiar with the issue of what the blog described as “strange food trucks at polling places.”
The larger significance of the food trucks in terms of voting was left unexplained.