The conspiracy-theory-addled farce of an election “audit” in Arizona has come up empty. Or rather, after rummaging through 2.1 million ballots cast last year in the state, the Republican-led effort confirmed that President Biden won Maricopa County, the state’s largest, and came up with a victory margin for him there that was even greater than the official tally.

All of this came after six months in which Republican leaders of the Arizona state Senate commissioned an obscure Florida firm called Cyber Ninjas to do a hand recount of ballots, analyze voter registration rolls and inspect county tabulating machines. Their bizarre techniques included examining the paper on which ballots were printed for signs of bamboo fibers that might lend substance to a groundless theory that fake ballots had been flown in from South Korea. Most of Cyber Ninjas’ $5.7 million project was funded by private organizations that have perpetuated the myth of rampant voter fraud.

Were we living in a more rational time, this confirmation that Arizona’s official results were on the up and up would help put to rest the toxic lie that the 2020 election was stolen from former president Donald Trump. That falsehood has become an article of faith with a GOP base that remains in his thrall; in a recent CNN poll, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that “believing that Donald Trump won the 2020 election” was very or somewhat important to them.

Evidence produced by Trump’s own allies that the electoral system is sound would not come as good news to these people. Nor are the findings in Arizona likely to deter similar “audits” in other states that Trump lost — among them, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

What is being billed as a “comprehensive forensic audit” is even being launched in Texas, a state Trump won by more than five percentage points. The move came only hours after Trump demanded one, writing in an open letter Thursday to Gov. Greg Abbott (R): “Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties.”

But “comprehensive” it will not be. The Texas secretary of state’s office said it will examine ballots in Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin counties. Biden won three of those counties, where some of the state’s largest cities are located, and Biden came closer than expected to beating Trump in the fourth, fast-growing suburban Collin County in the northeast part of the state, where there was a surge in Democratic turnout. In none of them has there been any credible evidence of fraud.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that rooting out actual misconduct is not the point of any of this. The real goal is to sow and normalize mistrust in the electoral system that is the foundation of democracy in this country.

This Republican strategy achieves two cynical purposes: First, it lays a premise for declaring any election that Republicans lose to be illegitimate. And, second, their supposed concern for “election security” provides a rationale for state laws intended to suppress turnout and make it harder for people to vote.

There, too, Texas — which already had the most restrictive voting laws in the country — stands in the vanguard. Earlier this month, Abbott signed legislation that would, among other things, constrain the ability of local officials to expand voting options. It banned turnout-boosting initiatives — such as overnight and drive-through voting — that had been offered last year in diverse Harris County, the state’s most populous, where Houston is located.

But Texas is far from alone in its fixation on the chimera of voter fraud, which in the real world is virtually nonexistent. At least 18 states this year have enacted laws restricting access to voting, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. They include measures that make voting by mail and early voting more difficult, impose stricter voter ID requirements and make faulty purges of the rolls more likely.

There is an old saying that politics is the art of addition. Today’s Republicans are trying to turn that formula upside down. They seem to have little interest in expanding the reach of their ideas and the appeal of their candidates, and instead are betting their survival on the dubious proposition of excluding voters rather than attracting them.

This is not a formula for long-term success, to put it mildly. But by cultivating the seeds of mistrust that Trump has planted, his party stands a very good chance of doing permanent damage to democracy. And that, ultimately, could stand as the most enduring legacy of his presidency.