The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Arizona audit is getting crazier. But we should pay close attention anyway.

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. (Matt York/AP)

In the multifaceted history of Trump-era lunacy, few enterprises have displayed the unalloyed stupidity of the Arizona “audit,” in which conspiracy-minded nincompoops assembled in the desert to hold ballots under UV lights in search of the Watermark of the Beast (or something) and sniff around for bamboo fibers revealing the hidden Asian hand behind President Biden’s victory.

Conducted by a firm with no election experience but the confidence-inspiring name Cyber Ninjas, the audit’s results have been eagerly awaited by Trump dead-enders everywhere (including the Dead-Ender in Chief), but they’re going to have to wait a little longer.

And you could not have asked for a more fitting reason:

The report detailing the conclusions of a GOP-backed review of ballots cast last year in Arizona has been delayed after the chief executive of the private company conducting the widely pilloried audit and two other members of his team tested positive for the coronavirus.
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R) announced the delay Monday, saying that Doug Logan, chief executive of the Florida firm Cyber Ninjas, and two other members of the audit team had been infected and were “quite sick.”
She did not indicate whether Logan and the others had been vaccinated. An audit spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

We wish them a speedy recovery, of course. Now we need an investigation into whether they were purposely infected by agents of the Illuminati, working at the behest of George Soros. In fact, how do we know that Cyber Ninjas itself is not an arm of the global organization of demonic sex-trafficking cannibal liberals, sent to discredit Donald Trump’s 2020 election win? The harder you squint, the deeper the conspiracy goes.

Is it cruel to mock these people — the Arizona Republicans who started this farce, the Keystone Kops carrying it out, and all those who hoped it would prove the election stolen? No, it is not. This kind of thing deserves mockery. It should be a source of shame to all Republicans, because even those who do not directly support it have found innumerable ways to pander to those who do.

The “reasonable” Republicans these days are the ones who dodge the question when asked who won the 2020 election, then support all manner of voter suppression laws in the name of fighting nonexistent “fraud” and maintaining “election integrity.” They should be forced to justify what happened in Arizona, because their party might run similar audits after 2022 and 2024, to create a rationale for throwing out any election result that doesn’t show Republicans winning.

The groundwork is already being laid. While the efforts to reproduce the Arizona audit in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have yet to come to fruition, smarter Republicans are trying to put in place more well-planned and professionally run efforts to change election results, or at least put themselves in a position to place a thumb on the scale if necessary. Republican state legislators have passed a wave of laws to intimidate local election officials, strip powers from offices held by Democrats, and allow them to seize control of election administration.

For instance, utilizing the voter suppression law they recently passed, Republicans in the Georgia state legislature have begun moving against the election apparatus in Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta. The first step in what voting rights groups call a “hostile takeover” is an investigation into problems in Fulton County; it will be conducted by a performance review board (dominated by Republicans), appointed by the State Election Board (also dominated by Republicans), which is overseen by the state legislature (controlled by Republicans).

While the process has to run through multiple stages, it could enable the legislature to appoint its own representative to oversee Fulton County elections. What might that person do to make it more likely that Republicans win in the future? There’s no way to know, but we do know that the closer those machinations are watched, the harder it will be to tilt election results in the GOP’s favor.

Which is an important principle that should guide our approach to the ongoing struggle over who gets to vote and who runs elections: Transparency is a force that constrains misconduct and misdeeds. The more attention the media, activists and citizens pay to the process, the harder it is to steal an election.

The last election offered a demonstration: There may never have been an election before 2020 in which we spent as much time talking about how people voted, what rules would limit their right to vote, and how the votes were counted. While it was hardly free of problems, the result was an extremely secure election with accurate results — to the point that the only way Republicans could challenge the outcome was with a clown show like the Arizona audit.

So we should all keep its memory alive, even as we keep a clear eye on what the less buffoonish Republicans are up to. Mocking them doesn’t mean not taking them seriously; it can be a way of keeping attention on what they’re up to. Which could make it harder for them to do in 2024 what they couldn’t do in 2020.