Former President Donald Trump has only one thing on his mind of late: The ongoing recount of 2020 presidential ballots in Arizona’s Maricopa County.
“Incredible organization and integrity taking place in Arizona with respect to the Fraudulent 2020 Presidential Election,” said Trump in a statement Monday afternoon. “These are Great American Patriots, but watch, the Radical Left Democrats ‘demean and destroy campaign’ will start very soon.”
He issued another statement in which he attacked Republican Gov. Doug Ducey as “one of the worst Governors in America, and the second worst Republican Governor in America.” (Presumably Trump believes Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who he has repeatedly savaged for not being willing to overturn the election results, is the worst governor in the country.)
So what’s really going on here? And does the Arizona recount have a chance at, well, changing anything? I reached out to Jen Fifield, a reporter covering the recount at the Arizona Republic, for answers to those questions and more.
Our conversation – conducted via email and lightly edited for flow – is below.
Cillizza: What’s the genesis of this recount? Didn’t Arizona already recount the entire state?
Fifield: When the general election results came in showing that Arizona elected Joe Biden as president, the results were immediately challenged by the Trump campaign, which claimed widespread fraud. The campaign and the Arizona Republican Party filed numerous lawsuits, but the courts dismissed them.
Maricopa County performed multiple audits of its election as required under state law, including a hand count of a statistically significant number of ballots and two logic and accuracy tests of voting machines. That wasn’t enough for several Arizona Republican senators who had questions about the election results, including Senate President Karen Fann. So the county hired two independent auditors to thoroughly examine its voting machines, including to see whether they were hacked into or tampered with. All of the county’s audits came back clean, showing that votes were counted accurately, but that still wasn’t enough for many senators, including Fann.
Senate Republicans first filed subpoenas in December demanding all of the county’s 2.1 million ballots, voting machines and voter information, in order to perform an audit of their own. After a lengthy court battle with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, a Republican-controlled board that was worried the integrity of the ballots and voter information would be compromised if it was handed over to the Senate, a judge ruled that the county had to provide the materials.
Cillizza: Why Maricopa County in particular? And why not the whole state?
Fifield: Maricopa County is the largest county in Arizona and has as very mixed electorate. It is one of the largest swing counties in the nation. That made it a target for the Trump campaign, which challenged election results in several swing states where [Joe] Biden won on narrow margins. That focus on the county from the start, in particular, led to this audit being considered only here and not across the state.
Cillizza: Who is overseeing this recount? Are state election officials involved?
Fifield: The county judge granted the Arizona Senate access to the ballots, voting machines and voter data, so this is technically the Senate’s audit. But the Senate has relinquished control of the audit to private contractors.
The Senate is paying Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm, $150,000 to conduct the audit and hire its own contractors. The Arizona Republic found that the CEO of the firm, Doug Logan, had touted conspiracy theories about the election on social media and had participated in a previous attempt to overturn Michigan election results. Logan told reporters at a news conference last week that the audit is costing more than $150,000, but he would not say how much or who is paying his company. He also will not give information about everyone involved. Nonpartisan election auditing experts have indicated this audit will cost millions.
By handing the operations over to Cyber Ninjas, the Senate has reduced the transparency of the audit. The contractors are unwilling to share all of the parties they have hired, how much in total it will cost and who is paying them, and public records requests have so far gone unanswered. One America News Network announced they were fundraising for the effort, along with Sidney Powell.
Cillizza: What is the goal here? What could a partial recount of the state’s ballots tell us?
Fifield: Senate President Karen Fann says the goal of the audit is to identify whether fraudulent votes were cast in the election and identify there are any problems with the county’s voting process. Fann said any irregularities identified could be used as the Arizona Senate crafts new laws to change Arizona’s voting process.
Critics say that the audit is a late attempt to overturn the state’s election results, nearly six months after the election.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Legislature is considering numerous bills that would change voting in Arizona, including those would limit or perhaps eliminate early voting, the process that most Arizonans use to cast ballots. Those bills may be on hold while the Republicans wait for the results of this audit.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The effect of this latest recount on Arizona’s politics will be _________.” Now, explain.
Fifield: “The effect of this latest recount on Arizona’s politics will be either huge or miniscule, depending on how it all plays out.”
Several nonpartisan election experts across the country have called into question the legitimacy of the audit because of the lack of clear procedures, and the lack of proper funding and time to do it right. The concerns are growing as the transparency of the audit shrinks, and after I volunteered as an observer and saw that the auditors were not following some Arizona election procedures for audits. The auditors will not allow press into the building, other than if they serve as volunteer observers, and volunteer observers must follow certain rules, such as no note-taking and recording on the audit floor.
If the results are believed to be accurate and fair by Senate Republicans, and the results say that there was fraud or misconduct in the election, the legislature may attempt to dramatically change how voting happens in our state.
The audit results could be used by state lawmakers not just here, but across the country, in attempts to push through numerous changes to how we vote.