In late December, Republican officials had a bit of a problem. President Donald Trump was telling their voters that rampant fraud had occurred in the November election, an entirely baseless claim. They needed to respond, somehow, though they still needed to keep one foot in reality. So they came up with a compromise position: The problem was that states such as Pennsylvania changed voting rules in ways they shouldn’t have. They could say that the election was “stolen” in broad strokes, agreeing that there were ongoing questions about the results — questions fomented by dishonesty from Trump. They could nod along with the crowd while whispering some caveat like in the sense that voting expansions were questionable.

This sort of compromise has taken on a life of its own. In state after state, legislators are seizing on the people are asking questions rationale to launch reviews of the 2020 election that they often assiduously insist have nothing to do with overturning the results. But the shouting base knows what’s up. Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists — apparently including Trump — think that states will, at long last, prove that something so bad and so extensive occurred that it shows that Trump should be reinstated as president. Somehow. And Republican legislators, either trying to manifest those conspiracy theories surreptitiously or trying to get attaboys from that thundering base, are demanding or launching sweeping efforts to raise suspicions about how the election unfolded.

It’s the Second Lost Cause: a defeated confederacy of voters seeking to convince themselves and the world that they are right about what occurred in November. In multiple states, legislators have initiated formal processes to aid the effort.

Arizona. Won by President Biden by 10,457 votes, 0.3 percent of the total.

The flagship review of election results was authorized by the Republican-led Arizona state Senate, looking at voting in Maricopa County. This effort has become semi-legendary for its sloppiness, bizarreness and obviously biased motivation. It’s also seemingly interminable. Meant to wrap up in a few weeks, it has now dragged on for months, costs covered by outside donors eager to prove that Trump was robbed. A promised report on the review’s findings was delayed when several members of the team conducting it — including the conspiracy theorist who’s in charge — contracted the coronavirus.

At some point, the report will come out, almost uncertainly including dubious claims about suspicious activity surrounding the election. Given that the report will be the fruit of a tree poisoned by ineptitude and confirmation bias, it’s unclear what happens from that point forward. That is, except one important thing: It won’t actually change the results of the election.

Pennsylvania. Won by Biden by 82,166 votes, 1.2 percent of the total.

This week, Republicans in the Keystone State approved subpoenas that would vacuum up enormous amounts of information about voters in the state, including birth dates and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Why? Because people are out there implying without any evidence that the election was tainted by fraud.

“We are not responding to proven allegations,” state Sen. Cris Dush (R) said. “We are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual.”

This probably makes sense to Dush as a rationalization. But one doesn’t have to shift that excuse much for it to catch a different light: Republicans hope to spend enormous amounts of money to scoop up troves of information because their base (and, presumably, some of them) is in an echo chamber where the word “fraud” keeps bouncing around.

Think of it this way: If the state could obtain and review video of every living room in Pennsylvania for a period of a month, it’s pretty likely that some wrongdoing would be found. But saying “there might be wrongdoing” is not a robust predicate for obtaining that video, and the odds are low that they’d uncover a criminal conspiracy. Partial Social Security numbers and birth dates are a far less intrusive line, of course, but the idea is the same: the state casting a wide net to appease a partisan demand.

Wisconsin. Won by Biden by 20,682 votes, 0.6 percent of the total.

A Republican member of the state Assembly earlier this month subpoenaed clerks in two counties, including Milwaukee, to have them turn over election equipment, ballots and voter information. This is on top of an outside investigation initiated by Republicans in May. That effort is being led by a judge who served in Trump’s administration, attended MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell’s dud of an election fraud conference in South Dakota and has reportedly consulted with a noted conspiracy theorist who has made baseless convoluted claims about having mathematically proved fraud.

The inclusion of Milwaukee in the recent request is worth highlighting. Its vote has been a focal point of allegations because the county reported all of its results at once. That meant a large shift in the results on election night, a shift that despite its obvious cause has endlessly been identified as evidence of improper behavior. It’s a reminder that not only are the rationales for these reviews often contrived, they’re also often based on rumors that have already been repeatedly explained.

Georgia. Won by Biden by 11,779 votes, 0.2 percent of the total.

The Republican-led legislature in Georgia passed a new law tightening voting rules in the state and allowing it to intervene directly in county-level election administration. That’s allowed the state to begin the process of assuming control of elections in Fulton County, which by itself allowed Biden to win the state.

That law also made it possible for the public to review absentee ballots. The availability of those images led to a flurry of new fraud claims when they were released earlier this year, including that ballots were double-counted. There’s no indication that votes were included more than once in final vote totals, and the results in Georgia have been audited multiple times, including rescanning ballots.

It’s a decent encapsulation of the fraud allegations broadly: Something new is seized upon as definitive evidence of fraud before it is debunked and forgotten — but the smell of the allegation lingers like burned toast.

Elsewhere

There are several other states in which the results were close, including Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Alaska.

In Michigan, an early focus on purported fraud in Antrim County was quickly debunked as a technical error that didn’t affect results. That hasn’t stopped the county from becoming something of a rallying point for fraud allegations, despite claims of fraud being rejected out-of-hand by a Republican-led panel and a federal judge in the state slapping down lawyers who’d promoted conspiracy theories.

In Nevada, the Republican Party has applauded Arizona’s review, but an effort in one county to conduct a similar effort was squashed by the state.

In New Hampshire, there was a bit of excitement, elevated by Trump, after a small town discovered following a recount that a number of votes in a local race had been missed. Trump claimed in an impromptu speech during an event at Mar-a-Lago that “they found a lot of votes up in New Hampshire just now.” His supporters seized on the incident as a potential tipping point. And, in fact, officials did find a lot of votes — just not for Trump. After a concerted review of what occurred, the culprit was identified: not fraud, but problems with how ballots were folded.

Then there is Alaska, where the vote margin was significantly narrower than Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, where only 1.4 percentage points separated Trump and Biden, half the margin as seen in Michigan. But both of those states voted for Trump, so there has been no significant effort to cast doubt on what happened.