Lauer tours Arizona election audit

Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, has joined a growing list of GOP lawmakers across the country visiting the site of a partisan audit that is reviewing the results of 2020 election contests that Republicans lost in Arizona’s most populous county.

Lauer toured the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on Friday, where volunteers — mainly Republicans — have been hand-counting 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County and testing conspiracy theories about the election in what has become a rallying cry for supporters of former President Donald Trump who have refused to accept his loss in Arizona and other states.

The audit comes after these same ballots were counted by Maricopa County election officials in November, validated in a partial hand recount and certified by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, The Associated Press reported. Two extra audits of the election results confirmed no issues.

The Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has repeatedly said the election was fair and free of any problems.

The GOP-led state Senate used its subpoena power earlier this year to take possession of the ballots, the machines that counted them and other materials and turned them over to Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based consultancy with no election experience run by a man who has shared unfounded claims that President Joe Biden’s victory was not legitimate, according to wire reports.

The audit is recounting only the presidential race and the U.S. Senate contest, both won by Democrats, according to wire reports. Down-ballot races, where Republicans fared better, are not being reviewed.

Biden won Arizona by nearly 10,500 votes and won Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, by just over 45,000 votes.

The effort will not change Biden’s victory, but some Trump supporters believe it will turn up evidence to support the former president’s narrative of fraud, according to wire reports.

A report with the audit’s results is expected to be released at some point after the recount’s conclusion.

Lauer said he reached out to officials overseeing the audit after “a number of constituents” expressed interest in the recount and because he was going to be in the Phoenix area anyway to visit family.

Lauer said he was impressed by what he saw during his tour and characterized the recount effort as “quite an operation.”

“I think election integrity is very important, and it is a bipartisan thing,” Lauer said. “It was an honor to be out there. …What I saw was very methodical, very organized, high security, 24/7 video and stations where you had bipartisan (volunteers).”

The audit, however, has stoked controversy and raised concerns among election experts and Arizona’s secretary of state, who say the recount isn’t following standard procedures to transparently and accurately count votes, according to the AP.

Auditors also have been testing unfounded conspiracy theories about the election, examining folds and taking close-up photos looking for machine-marked ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper, according to wire reports. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a plane from South Korea delivered counterfeit ballots to the Phoenix airport shortly after the election.

When the recount started, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to check for watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon followers is that Trump secretly watermarked mail ballots to catch cheating.

There are no watermarks on ballots in Maricopa County. The effort has since been abandoned, according to wire reports.

Anthony Kern, a former Republican state lawmaker who was photographed in restricted areas outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, has been spotted several times tallying the votes, according to the AP.

When asked if he believes whether there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, Lauer said: “That’s a question for the newspapers.”

“I’m just very supportive of being open and transparent, and I think it’s a bipartisan exercise to audit elections to make sure that everything is on the up and up,” Lauer said. “I’m just very supportive of that and very supportive of a transparent system. That’s what our democracy requires. So I believe it should be a bipartisan effort to make sure that the public has confidence in our election results. It seems like people in Maricopa County really want to take a second look and that’s within their right.”

“We have a system, and the Electoral College voted for Biden and so he’s our president,” Lauer added later in the interview. “But I think it’s very important to look very closely. That should be a bipartisan effort and we should all support that.”

Currently, it’s entirely unclear who is paying for the audit and how much it’s costing, according to wire reports. Taxpayers, through the state Senate’s operating budget, chipped in $150,000, but the CEO of Cyber Ninjas has acknowledged that won’t cover costs.

Fundraisers, one from the conservative One America News Network and another tied to Patrick Byrne, a former CEO who promoted election conspiracies, are raising hundreds of thousands more, according to wire reports.

Critics call the undisclosed private funding a huge red flag — the audit could be funded by foreign governments or people with a stake in the outcome including ardent Trump supporters, according to the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.