So Much Cope: How Arizona Republicans Are Handling the Audit's Finding That Biden Won

The "Liberty Revolution" rally
The "Liberty Revolution" rally Katya Schwenk
Roughly five months and hundreds of thousands of spent taxpayer dollars later, the so-called Arizona election "audit" has found, as local officials did last November, that President Joe Biden won Maricopa County in the November 2020 presidential election.

Trump loyalists are splintering in the wake of the results. On social media, elected officials who had hyped up the release of the audit's findings in advance are ignoring the results of the recount and have instead shifted their talking points to question the validity of the actual ballots that were cast in the election. Other supporters of the audit are turning on those same officials for failing to deliver the outcome they wanted.

According to a draft version of the final audit report that circulated among the media Thursday night, Cyber Ninjas, the company that the Arizona Senate hired to run the audit, found that there were "no substantial differences between the hand count of the ballots provided and the official canvass results for the County" after conducting its hand recount of the 2.1 million ballots that were cast in Maricopa County during the 2020 general election. The report also claims that Biden even increased his winning margin of around 10,000 votes by 99 votes. Randy Pullen, the audit's spokesperson, told KJZZ on Thursday, "Was there massive fraud or anything? It doesn’t look like it."

During Friday afternoon's hearing on the audit's finding in the chambers of the Arizona Senate, Doug Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO who has promoted election conspiracy theories throughout the audit process, confirmed the finding.

"We can say that the ballots that were provided for us to count in the coliseum very accurately correlate with the official canvas numbers that came through," Logan said.

Senate President Karen Fann — who instigated the election audit despite disclosing in private exchanges that she believes that Biden won the election fair and square — said at the hearing that the draft report's assertion is a "true statement."

Logan and others involved in the audit claimed that they did find so-called "discrepancies" in the election results, such as issues with signatures on ballot envelopes and allegations about duplicate ballots getting counted, though even those alleged issues would not have impacted the overall result. Their findings were quickly held up by supporters of the audit as evidence of wrongdoing. Maricopa County election officials conducted a thorough and fiery fact-check of the claims on social media in real-time, debunking those assertions.

Kelli Ward, the chair of the Arizona GOP and an ardent audit proponent, also tried to cast doubt on the underlying ballots.

"Remember: 'all votes' is not the same as 'all LEGAL votes,'" she wrote in one tweet; in another tweet, she characterized mail-in voting as "ripe for fraud."

State Senator Wendy Rogers, who had previously asserted on the far-right social media platform Gab that the audit hearing would "render findings of great consequence," didn't post at at all about the fact that the recount found that Biden won. Instead, she wrote on Twitter during the hearing, "There is so much fraud I can't keep up with it all," and called for the election results to be decertified in other posts.

Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem, who has been heavily involved in promoting the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, called for another election audit in Pima County and demanded that people who were "involved in tampering with election systems" be arrested. He has yet to acknowledge the recount's finding that Biden won.

Conspiracy theorists have taken a similar approach. Ron Watkins, a famous conspiracy theory peddler and former administrator of the fringe website 8chan, posted on his Telegram account on Friday afternoon that the leaked audit report was a "trap set and sprung," adding, "DECERTIFY NOW." Praying Medic, a prominent figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory community — his real name is David Hayes and he lives in Gilbert, according to The Atlantic — also dismissed Fann's confirmation that the audit report confirmed Biden's victory by writing, "That is not the whole story."

Trump himself also walked a similar line. In a statement issued on Friday, the former president said that the audit "uncovered significant and undeniable evidence of FRAUD," according to the New York Times.

But the news that the audit recount confirmed Biden's victory also caused some people who seemingly supported the audit to question the whole affair. In a Telegram chat dubbed "Patriots of Arizona," one user expressed confusion at the fact that a local Christian radio station, Arizona Shine, was reporting that the audit found that Biden won in Maricopa County: "Wonder what's up with that?" Another user wrote, "This is bullshit." A different individual commented on a post from Senator Rogers on Gab, "This stuff is dragging on forever. No high hopes here."

One person was more scathing in a comment responding to a post from Representative Finchem in which he reiterated his demand for the Pima County election results to be audited.

"GOOD LUCK with that! Even hardcore Trumpers didn't see anything resembling fraud. You all failed," the user wrote. "TY for stringing us out for 5 Months! Really appreciate it!"
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety