Why the Republican Probes into the 2020 Election Just Won't End

Arizona's chaotic review is spreading to other swing states, sowing doubt about 2024

Since April, Arizona Republicans have been undertaking a partisan "forensic audit" of the state's 2020 presidential election results. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Arizona. Some of the backers of the review have claimed that the results can be used to overturn the election; however, there is no actual way for that to happen. 

Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann put Cyber Ninjas in charge, a company with no experience in reviewing election results. The review has dragged on. Initially, it was supposed to take 30 days. Then, the final report was expected to be sent to the Republican-held Senate on August 23. In late August, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan, and two other election contractors reportedly contracted COVID-19, delaying the report further. In a hearing on August 31, the Arizona Republican Senate's lawyer said that it would be "at least two weeks" before the report would be produced and one of the volumes hadn't been written yet. (Neither Cyber Ninjas nor State Sen. Fann responded to requests for comment on when the report might be out.)

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers started what they call a "forensic investigation" of the 2020 election results. However, they have said little about what they're reviewing or when they might be done. A similar partisan review has been ordered by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin. For Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, these efforts are funded by taxpayers. In Arizona, the review has been funded by $5.7 million from dark money groups, along with at least $425,000 in taxpayer money.

These ongoing reviews perpetuate the conspiracy theories surrounding the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Arizona's ongoing review has spurred easily debunked Trump claims about "magically appearing ballots" and wild allegations that ballots were filled out by machines or were Asian counterfeits with bamboo fibers

An unfinished report draws more attention psychologically than a finished one. The Zeigarnik effect occurs when an activity that isn't completed is more easily recalled than a completed activity. For example, the job opportunity that you haven't heard back from takes up more mental space than the job opportunity that you did hear back from. Analogously, the election audit that hasn't released its report takes up more mental space than the one with completed results. 

The release of the report has been heavily hyped by some Republicans in Arizona. State Sen. Wendy Rogers, who advises other Republicans on how to audit their state's results, tweeted on September 5, “The audit is coming guys, I promise you. I get a lot of comments asking and people think I can speed it up but I can’t speed it up. ... Also - other information is coming out I can’t disclose. Just know that it is all going to happen and this is real. Keep the faith.”

Rogers then said it had reached a conclusion anyway. "Do we need any more evidence to finally recall the electors and decertify the election?" she tweeted on September 8. Republican State Rep. Mark Finchem, who is running to head Arizona's elections as secretary of state, also declared it over. "I am calling it," he tweeted, "There is already enough evidence to show clear and convincing fraud. We have a duty to act."

The big lie that Trump's 2020 election was stolen has enthralled Republicans. A poll from Yahoo! News/YouGov in August showed that 66 percent of Republicans believed the election was stolen. The number has remained relatively steady since the November election. 

Republican state legislatures have been moving ahead with enacting voting laws that could make Trump's unsuccessful efforts in 2020 to overturn the election much easier. According to the States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan group formed to protect election norms, 216 bills have been introduced in 41 states giving legislatures more power over election results. 24 bills have become law, such as Georgia's SB 202, which dramatically increases the Republican-controlled legislature's power to replace local election officials. In some of the most extreme bills, a partisan state legislature could effectively overturn the results of an election it did not like.  In 2015, many people -- myself included -- dismissed Trump's candidacy as a stunt. The stunt election reviews of 2021 could turn into the serious challenges of 2024, potentially overturning the results of a democratic election on account of spurious claims of fraud.

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