(PHOENIX) — The so-called “audit” in Arizona of Maricopa County’s 2020 general election ballots started as a court battle between the state Senate and the county board of supervisors. Since then, it has transformed into a full-fledged symbol of the GOP’s stance on the election results.
Officials claim that the point of the “audit,” which was mandated through subpoenas issued by the Republican-controlled state Senate, is simply to put worries about a stolen election at bay. But rhetoric is dominated by calls to decertify the election — which is impossible — and renewed conspiratorial claims that the election was stolen.
Over the past few weeks, Phoenix has become a political destination for Republicans, including sitting lawmakers and candidates from across the country. Lawmakers or candidates from at least 10 states have paid a visit to the “audit,” according to the Arizona Republic.
“I have a feeling when these results come out, the left is going to attack,” former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is now running for Senate, said. “Every step of this process is videotaped. Every single ballot is put on what’s essentially a lazy susan and it goes around. And the three people who separately count the ballot, they look at it with their own eyes, they don’t touch it, they look at it with their own eyes, they don’t talk to each other, those ballots go around, and then they all check to make sure that they have the exact same count.”
“I’ll tell you something also that I was really inspired by, it reminds me when you see young people coming into the military and you get that feeling like they’re willing to put their lives on the line,” Greitens said of the volunteers on the floor.
Greitens, who stepped down from office amid allegations of blackmail and sexual misconduct that he denied, did not attend his home state’s yearly convention in order to visit the so-called audit. But after his tour, Greitens began fundraising off of his visit.
“If fraud is found in #ArizonaAudit, they must decertify. If they don’t have the ballots, they DON’T have the victory DONATE,” Greitens tweeted, along with a link to contribute to his campaign. His campaign did not respond to request for comment.
He also called on leaders from every state to visit, and he specifically singled out battlegrounds when listing states that should have “audits” of their own.
“It needs to be done in Georgia, it needs to be done in Pennsylvania, it needs to be done in Michigan, it needs to be done in Wisconsin…You should have leaders from all 50 states. And if you’re a MAGA patriot, we need to have leaders come down here and learn what is happening here in the state of Arizona,” he added.
Despite the claims of transparency pushed by officials on the ground, it is unclear how most of the visits to Phoenix were paid for. Most lawmakers contacted by ABC News did not respond to requests for comment.
Members of the Wisconsin state legislature told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Voices and Votes, a group headed by right-wing media outlet One America News’ Christina Bobb, paid for their visit. Bobb created the group to help fundraise for the “audit,” but it is unclear how many visits they covered. Voices and Votes did not respond to request for comment.
It is also still unclear how the entire process is being funded, aside from the $150,000 the Arizona state Senate set aside to pay for it.
Many supporters believe that the results of the process, which election experts say cannot be trusted, will make Arizona the “first domino to fall.” Experts told ABC News they worry about the impact processes like the one in Maricopa County will have on future elections and on the health of American democracy.
What’s the reason behind visiting the audit?
“I think it’s to show that they are on the side of those that are looking to discredit the 2020 election. And whether intended or not, they’re also showing themselves to be on the side of being against the democratic system,” Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said as to why the audit has attracted so many visitors.
The interest from out-of-state candidates is a way to shore up support among those who believe the conspiracy that the election was stolen, experts said, despite the fact that such voters are likely already motivated to make it back to the polls in the midterms.
“I think, unfortunately, it’s become a litmus test for some in the Republican Party, whether or not you support it,” Norden said.
Dr. Dan Lee, a professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who specializes in American politics and political parties, told ABC News that the partisan audit serves as a springboard for lies about the election made by members of the GOP.
“It’s kind of a little something for every single person,” Lee said. “So you got some types that are pushing for the audit because they want to have audits in their state, or you have people pushing for the audit because then they want to find some evidence of fraud to push electoral reforms in their own state.”
“I think that’s why (Trump) likes the audit going on, and people pushing this narrative that the election was stolen is that he can still paint himself as a winner,” he added. “So if he wants to run in 2024, he can still say, ‘Yeah I have the best chance of winning because I won in 2020, it was just stolen from us."”
Wyoming state Rep. Chuck Gray, who jumped into a primary challenge against Congresswoman Liz Cheney after her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, visited the audit this week. He told ABC News he believes the November election was stolen and said he’d like to see similar processes in all 50 states.
“It’s very important for us to support this, and as a member of the state legislature, I thought it was important to support this and to tour the audit and to show how thorough it is,” he said. “I think we’ve got to have a thorough process in every state.”
Visiting political figures say they are calling for the audit in order to increase transparency and ensure that voters are confident in the integrity of the election process. But in every jurisdiction in the country, some degree of post-election auditing is required. In Maricopa, Arizona’s largest county, a hand-recount and two independent audits were already performed. In addition, the more than 60 lawsuits nationwide seeking to overturn the election were largely unsuccessful, even in courtrooms led by Trump-appointed judges.
Lee said the nature of politics at this time, such as Trump’s refusal to admit that he lost the election and his subsequent impeachment, may have motivated people who hadn’t considered running for office to jump into primaries, leading to a crowded field.
“It could just be people coming out of the woodwork who are from the extreme right … not so much that they are moderate Republicans who are going out of their way to appeal to some super extreme base,” he said.
Jackson Lahmeyer, a GOP Senate candidate, also visited Phoenix to tour the so-called audit. Lahmeyer is mounting a primary challenge against Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford and said he was motivated to run because Lankford decided not to oppose certification to the election results on Jan. 6 after Congress reconvened following the insurrection at the Capitol.
Lahmeyer told ABC News that he believes the “audit” in Arizona will lead to similar processes in other battleground states, which will eventually prove that there was fraud to the tune of the 7 million votes President Joe Biden had over Trump. He said he’d like to see Trump reinstated as a result, although that is not constitutionally possible after an election has been certified.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if he believed Trump would be reinstated. “If Joe Biden didn’t win, then he’s not the president of the United States. If he didn’t win, and you prove fraud, then he’s not the president of the United States.”
Norden said there needs to be an end to every election.
“We already had the court battles,” he said. “And in the case of the presidential election, when the totals are certified in Congress it is over. And there is no constitutional route to reverse that.”
“It’s troubling to see political leaders from other states potentially buy into this, and the pressure for them to replicate something that’s, I think, extremely damaging,” he added.
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