This post originally appeared at Common Dreams on January 31, 2022:
Former President Donald J. Trump and his Republican allies are using three tactics in a nationwide, state-by-state strategy to control the outcome of future elections. All are on display in Arizona.
Tactic #1: Keep voters from voting
Arizona’s latest voter restriction law will remove an estimated 100,000 eligible voters from its early voting mailing list. It won’t begin deleting voters from the list until after the 2024 election. But Republicans have proposed new restrictions that could have a profound impact sooner, including new voter-ID requirements, severe limitations on the use of drive-up voting and ballot drop boxes, and requiring all voting to be in person on Election Day.
“We need to get back to 1958-style voting,” Arizona State Rep. John Fillmore said, defending his proposals in a committee hearing on Jan. 26, 2022.
Ah, the good ol’ days of 1958, when Arizona with its large Native American population imposed literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting, and about half of the Navajo voting-age population couldn’t pass them.
Tactic #2: If the opposing candidate wins the popular vote, disregard It
Trump recently told the Pennsylvania GOP, “Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate… We have to get tougher and smarter.”
He’s putting those words into action.
In 2020, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs – a Democrat – was Arizona’s top “vote counter.” Now that she is running for governor, Trump has endorsed state Rep. Mark Finchem to replace her. Finchem addressed Trump’s crowd at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., on January 5, 2021, and attended the January 6 insurrection.
Gov. Doug Ducey, who is term-limited, signed the state’s official certification of Biden’s victory. To replace him, Trump has endorsed former Fox news anchor Kari Lake. She claims falsely that Trump won the election, advocates the imprisonment of Hobbs for unspecified election crimes, and demands that Arizona “decertify” Biden’s electoral victory, which is impossible.
Republicans in Arizona are also working on a backup plan. They have proposed a law that would empower the state’s legislature to “accept or reject the election results.” If rejected, any voter could sue to request a new election.
Tactic #3: Bogus audits and investigations
After Trump lost in Arizona, his allies focused on Maricopa County, which accounted for 60 percent of the state’s total. To its credit, the Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors withstood the pressure and certified Biden’s 45,000 vote victory.
Nevertheless, in March 2021, the state senate’s Republican president hired Cyber Ninjas to lead an outside audit of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots. The inexperienced firm’s owner had touted Trump’s election conspiracy theories and provided the ominous voiceover in “The Deep Rig” – a movie claiming that Trump had won the election.
The state promised to pay Cyber Ninjas $150,000. Millions more poured in from outside sources, including pro-Trump fundraising groups led by his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s election conspiracy-peddling lawyer Sidney Powell, and correspondents for the One America News Network.
The “audit” became a farce.
”It’s clearer by the day: The people hired by the Senate are in way over their heads,” said the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in May. “This is not funny; this is dangerous.” In June, another Arizona GOP election official blasted the audit as “insane from a competence standpoint.”
When Cyber Ninjas’ final report made false, misleading, and inaccurate claims about the county’s election process, Trump amplified them. He ignored the firm’s conclusion: Biden’s victory margin in the state had increased by 360 votes.
The mere existence of the bogus “audit” became fodder for Trump’s talking points and spawned Republican demands for equally specious copycat audits across the country. By November 2021, a Monmouth University poll found that “among Republicans, 32% say the so-called audit found evidence of fraud and 30% say it probably did.”
GOP State Sen. Wendy Rogers, a vocal supporter of Trump’s Big Lie, seeks to operationalize the false claims. In December, she introduced a bill that would create a new bureau in the governor’s office to investigate election fraud allegations. It would have the power to subpoena witnesses, conduct hearings, seek a court order impounding election equipment, and make prosecutorial referrals.
Moral: Even when Trump loses, he wins
In early January 2022, Maricopa County issued a detailed analysis demonstrating that Cyber Ninjas’ report about its voting process made 22 misleading claims, 41 inaccurate claims, and 13 claims that were false.
“An empty piñata is a pretty accurate description of the ‘audit’ as a whole,” the county tweeted.
On January 7, 2022, Cyber Ninjas shut down for good after a judge fined the company $50,000 a day for failing to turn over public records in accordance with a court’s ruling in August.
But it was too little, too late. Trump still pretends that Cyber Ninjas somehow corroborated his Big Lie.
“If you look at the numbers, if you look at the findings in Arizona…,” Trump told NPR’s Steve Inskeep during a phone interview on January 11, 2022. “This was a corrupt election… the findings are devastating for Arizona.”
When Inskeep asked Trump whether GOP candidates must embrace the Big Lie to get his endorsement, he launched into praise for Kari Lake.
“She’s very big on this issue…,” Trump said.
Without answering Inskeep’s question, Trump continued his monolog of false claims and then hung up.
Four days later, Lake and Mark Finchem appeared with Trump and spoke to thousands of his supporters in Florence, Arizona. Their theme:
The Big Lie.