Republicans' Arizona fiasco was a frontal assault on democracy — and it must be stopped
US President Donald Trump photo (AFP / Nicholas Kamm) and screen capture of Arizona audit count

The Cyber Ninjas' sham review of Maricopa County's presidential election has drawn to a close. The self-styled investigators found no evidence of fraud and their hand recount was within spitting distance of the official result. Still, the grift rolls on: Arizona Republicans announced a busy schedule of hearings and investigations to rehash the report's non-findings. Unchastened by utter failure, Republicans are keen to replicate the Arizona debacle in other states, and similar efforts are already underway in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas.

"This is a situation of states' rights," said Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers as she unveiled a manifesto signed by dozens of Republican state legislators calling for audits in all 50 states. "No matter what the left says, we will keep this in the narrative."

It's gotta be about the narrative. It's not about the facts. Rogers and her allies went straight from fundraising on dire predictions of what the review would find to fundraising off lies that the "audit" proved everything they wanted to hear. Anything to keep the Big Lie of voter fraud alive.

Biden's win had already been upheld by two certified auditors and several courts of law when the Republicans in the Arizona State Senate hired Republican cranks to prove that Republicans won. What followed was not an audit but a fiasco.

The Arizona State Senate subpoenaed the 2.1 million ballots and handed them over to Cyber Ninjas, an obscure firm run by an avowed conspiracy theorist with no experience in auditing or elections. Even their name was a tell: Ninjas are assassins who forgo honor to fight for the highest bidder. They rejected the samurai code of benevolence, sincerity and loyalty – the very virtues needed to walk the Path of the Audit.

The ballot review cost at least $6.7 million, the vast majority of which came from far-right groups linked to the January 6 insurgency.

The Cyber Ninjas used worthless methods in a desperate bid to validate florid conspiracy theories. They scanned ballots for bamboo fibers and bombarded them with UV light in search of phantom watermarks.

Arizona has strict laws for transporting, storing and counting ballots, and the Ninjas blew off the few election laws they knew of. The count was marred by lax security, including unattended metal detectors and lapses in the chain of custody. The Ninjas' UV lights, which had no valid forensic purpose, may have damaged the ballots. Professional election auditors were shocked to learn that Cyber Ninjas mounted the ballots on merry-go-rounds so that they could whiz past the judges, a bizarre system that seemed designed to magnify errors.

The Ninjas wanted to go door-to-door, harassing voters under the guise of "canvassing," but that plan was shelved after the feds flagged the plan as possible voter intimidation. But failed Republican state lege candidate Liz Harris launched a "private canvass," which did the same thing. The Cyber Ninjas' draft report even claimed that Harris's canvassers were part of the official audit, a claim that was mysteriously absent from the final version.

And they're not just harassing voters. The Big Lie is also used to incite harassment of experienced, competent election officials in the hopes that they will quit and make way for GOP flunkies. Even if your audit fails to uncover evidence of fraud, you can still use it to undermine public confidence in the electoral system. And to be fair, any system that lets itself be inspected by the Cyber Ninjas has problems. Many experts are concerned that unethical and unaccountable Republican-allied contractors are casing election systems in search of weaknesses they can exploit.

These sham audits are intimately coordinated with Trump and his national Republican allies. Trump's "Stop the Steal" movement weaponized false allegations of voter fraud in swing states to recruit shock troops to intimidate legislators on January 6.

The Republican campaign to rifle through the people's ballots to sustain the Big Lie is a frontal assault on democracy, we cannot afford to let it spread any further.