Members of the party are making political pilgrimages to the state. This week, a small group of Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers visited Arizona’s auditors and the state senators who commissioned the review of the 2.1 million ballots cast in last year’s election in Maricopa County.
The attention on Arizona underscores the high expectations in Trump world that the audit — being conducted by a Florida-based company with no experience auditing elections, through what experts have repeatedly pointed out is a deeply flawed process — will finally produce evidence to support the former President’s lies.
Pro-Trump Republicans’ focus on continuing to examine the election results in search of fraud has divided the party in several key swing states. In Arizona, GOP Maricopa County officials have harshly criticized the state Senate’s audit. In Pennsylvania, as some Republican lawmakers were touring the Arizona audit site, another key lawmaker took to Twitter to insist such an audit would not be pursued there.
In states where Trump supporters continue to seek audits, Republican and Democratic state and local elections officials have repeatedly said there is no evidence to support their claims of fraud.
Several former advisers and allies still close to the 45th President said he is under mounting pressure to concentrate on promoting GOP policy priorities and defining his successor rather than relitigating his failed reelection campaign.
Trump’s preoccupation with the election is expected to take center stage on Saturday, when he kicks off his first post-presidential summer with an address to the North Carolina Republican Party.
Al Schmidt, a Republican Philadelphia city commissioner who has been critical of Trump’s lies about election fraud, said on CNN that Trump’s expectation he’ll be reinstated in office is “very disturbing and lacks any grasp of reality at all.”
He said Arizona’s effort is “not an audit” but rather an attempt “to reach a partisan political conclusion.”
“It’s incredibly reckless, and I hope every county across the commonwealth is watching this closely and what some of our legislators are trying to bring our way,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know why you would want to repeat what’s going on in Arizona anyplace across the country.”
GOP split over audit in Pennsylvania
After the visit, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano told a pool reporter there that he wants his state to conduct a similar audit.
Still, he acknowledged that a review could not overturn the election results, but said that some of the state’s voters have concerns about the integrity of the 2020 contest.
“Let’s pick a few counties and put people’s minds at rest,” Mastriano said. “If there’s nothing to hide, great.”
“My constituents are very much up in arms with the lack of any movement on trying to find out what happened,” Pennsylvania state Sen. Cris Dush, who also visited Arizona, told the pool reporter.
Much like Arizona, where the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has lambasted the GOP-led state Senate’s audit, the question of an audit more than six months after the election results were finalized and more than four months after President Joe Biden took office has fractured the GOP.
Pennsylvania Republican state Rep. Seth Grove, who chairs the House State Government Committee, responded to Mastriano and other lawmakers’ trip to Arizona on Thursday by tweeting that the House “will not be authorizing any further audits on any previous election.”
He said that the House is “focused on fixing our broken election law to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
All three Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers’ comments, though, ignore fundamental realities: Republicans are pushing legislation across the country that would make it harder to vote, even though there is no evidence of widespread cheating anywhere in the United States. And voters concerned about election integrity are largely supporters of Trump, who has for months lied that the election was stolen from him, even though there is no evidence to support his claims and both Democratic and Republican state and local elections officials have said so repeatedly.
Nationwide push for voting restrictions
Republicans this year are making a sweeping, nationwide push for restrictive new voting laws. Already, 14 states have enacted 22 new laws that limit voting access, and another 61 restrictive bills have advanced in 18 state legislatures, according to the Brennan Center, which is tracking the measures.
In Michigan this week, the Republican-controlled state Senate advanced measures that would increase identification requirements for mail-in and in-person voting — part of a bid to scale back a 2018 constitutional amendment, backed by voters by a 2-to-1 margin, to guarantee that everyone in the state the right to vote by mail.
Florida, Georgia and Iowa have already enacted new laws with voting restrictions. Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Texas, New Hampshire and a slew of other states are also pushing restrictive voting bills this year.
“What concerns me is the fact that it seems to be happening in a very partisan way. You know, people need to have confidence in the election process, and … typically, what would give them confidence is to see a state legislature working in a bipartisan fashion to make any changes they feel that are necessary,” Boehner said.
“And so the appearance of these partisan changes, in my view, really undermines the confidence that people should have in the election process,” he said.
‘I think this whole thing is a joke’
There’s also the reality that the Arizona audit has so far been a bizarre process that non-partisan observers have noted does not follow standard election auditing procedures. Even the audit’s origin is unusual: Two audits of Maricopa County’s election equipment and software, commissioned by the board of supervisors earlier this year and performed by two companies certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, found that ballots were counted accurately. But the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, pursued yet another audit — this one a partisan exercise led by an inexperienced company, Cyber Ninjas, whose founder Doug Logan had promoted Trump’s baseless election fraud conspiracy theories on social media.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office has published a summary of incidents that have taken place during the audit. Among them: non-partisan observers from her office are required to wear pink shirts, and those observers say they’re being referred to as “pinkos” — implying that they are communists.
In one note published by Hobbs’ office, an observer reports that audit co-chair Randy Pullen told an observer that the pink shirt made him “look like a transgender.”
Asked if that was supposed to be a joke, Hobbs told CNN, “I think this whole thing is a joke.”
As the Arizona audit progresses, its scope — and the number of companies involved — is growing.
Earlier this week, Arizona Senate audit liaison Ken Bennett told reporters the Senate plans to hire another company to see if Maricopa County ballot envelopes are missing signatures — and that if a significant number are unsigned, the Senate will subpoena the envelopes.
That follows the decision to hire another company to count digital images of ballots being taken during the ongoing audit.
“We’ve been told that at some point that got so far behind in the checking the signatures that they basically let everything go through, including blank signature boxes,” Bennett said, without providing evidence to support his claim.
The reviews of the 2020 election continue elsewhere as well.
In Georgia, a judge agreed last month to unseal more than 145,000 ballots in Fulton County, the home of Atlanta, as part of a lawsuit brought by nine individuals, even though three audits of the results in Georgia have found no evidence of fraud.
And in New Hampshire, a discrepancy of several hundred votes in state legislative races in the town of Windham led to another audit. The audit there is smaller in scale, but Trump and his allies have seized on it to argue that the entire state’s results need to be re-examined.
CNN’s Stephanie Becker, Ethan Cohen, Dianne Gallagher, Kyung Lah, Dana Bash, Gabby Orr, Michael Warren and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.