The news that the sham Arizona “audit” has “confirmed” President Biden’s victory is being widely cast as a huge setback for purveyors of former president Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election. In one sense this is true, but this insta-conclusion misses a crucial part of the story.

If anything, the audit’s conclusion only confirms the very worst suspicions that have arisen about the true significance of Trump’s continuing insistence that the election was stolen from him, the response of many Republicans to that mythologizing, and the broader continuing threat all this poses.

That’s because it’s already clear that some Republicans will not use the audit news to affirm that confidence in our election system has been restored. Instead, they’ll use it to continue undermining that confidence, for the express purpose of justifying further anti-democratic tactics.

As of now, the audit’s findings are known only from a draft that’s floating around. As The Post reports, it appears to confirm Biden’s victory in the state’s most populous county:

After nearly six months and almost $6 million — most of it given by groups that cast doubt on the election results — the draft report shows that the review concluded that 45,469 more ballots were cast for Biden in Maricopa County than for Trump, widening Biden’s margin by 360 more votes than certified results.

A spokesman for the audit, Randy Pullen, told an Arizona news outlet that it found there wasn’t “massive fraud.”

That’s reassuring, right? Well, no, it isn’t.

That’s because the audit also magically did purport to “find” serious problems with the vote counting. As The Post notes, it “undercut” its own conclusion about the validity of the outcome by suggesting that some ballots might have been “improperly accepted and counted.”

The New York Times adds this:

Among other alleged discrepancies, the reports claimed that some ballots were cast by people who had moved before the election, that election-related computer files were missing and that some computer images of ballots were missing.

As Arizona elections experts from both parties told the Times, these findings are nonsense. The paper concluded that the report’s methodology and data are “faulty.”

On top of all that, the report declares that its own confirmation of Biden’s win was “inconclusive.” Why? Because, it says, the county’s election’s officials didn’t “cooperate,” thus “actively interfering” with the audit and preventing it from being “complete.”

It gets worse. The report also recommends reforms, some of which would make easier to purge voters from the rolls and less likely that people are sent mail ballots. The Times also reports that Arizona Republicans may seize on those recommendations to call for more voting restrictions.

So we can see what’s really happening here. Yes, the audit isn’t declaring outright that the election’s outcome was indeed fraudulent. But it is declaring there are still many reasons to doubt that outcome, that elections officials who actually operated in good faith are covering this up, and that the right response is more voting restrictions.

A mea culpa: Like many others, I expected that this audit would flagrantly manufacture evidence that the election was stolen from Trump. I was wrong about that. However, this outcome does confirm many of our worst suspicions, as the draft itself shows that the audit’s function was, and is, to continue sowing doubts about our election system.

Which blows up another GOP big lie: the notion that such audits are merely about “restoring confidence” in our elections and in “election integrity.”

Oozing with unctuously phony piety, Republicans told us again and again and again that this audit was merely about allaying the doubts of voters who have lost confidence in our elections, a specter that Republicans have widely used to justify voting restrictions everywhere.

But, now that this audit “confirmed” Biden’s win, it is still telling us that we should doubt our electoral outcomes, and that more voting restrictions are necessary to allay those doubts. Why, it’s almost as if that was the real point all along!

There’s a danger in downplaying this part of the story. Many headlines about this audit say in one way or another that it “confirmed” Biden won. But we don’t need this audit to confirm that, and it isn’t actually confirming that voters should have confidence in that outcome.

Treating this audit as if it somehow “confirmed” this suggests it was about empirical verification of the results, and as such, risks normalizing such practices. But it wasn’t about that, and it absolutely cannot be normalized. It has always been about undercutting the legitimacy of a Democratic electoral victory, and about justifying escalated anti-democratic tactics in response.

The conclusion to this ugly saga did backfire, in that it blew up efforts to sustain the big lie about 2020. But the real story here is that it blows up the big lie that Republicans investigating “election fraud” are merely trying to restore confidence in our elections, when in fact they continue to try to undermine it. And that story isn’t going away.