PHOENIX — After months of delays and blistering criticism, a review of the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county, ordered up and financed by Republicans, has failed to show that former President Donald J. Trump was cheated of victory.
Instead, the report from the company Cyber Ninjas said it found just the opposite: It tallied 99 additional votes for President Biden and 261 fewer votes for Mr. Trump in Maricopa County, the fast-growing region that includes Phoenix.
“Truth is truth and numbers are numbers,” Karen Fann, the Republican Senate president who commissioned the vote review, said as the findings were presented to the State Senate on Friday.
Mr. Biden won Arizona by roughly 10,500 votes, making his victory of about 45,000 votes in Maricopa County crucial to his win. Under intense pressure from Trump loyalists, the Republican majority in the State Senate had ordered an autopsy of the county’s votes for president and the U.S. Senate seat won by Mark Kelly, a Democrat.
Review officials implicitly acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory, noting that there were no substantial differences between the new tally of votes and the official count by Maricopa County election officials. But they also claimed that other factors — most if not all contested by reputable election experts — left the results “very close to the margin of error for the election.”
Yet in the hourslong presentation before the State Senate the review officials did not focus on the numbers showing Mr. Biden’s victory but instead presented a blizzard of hypotheticals, none verified, most hinting darkly at a tainted election. They came prepared with slides, ballot scans and discussions of arcane election rules.
Officials with the review claimed that duplicate ballots might have been counted, that signatures on ballot envelopes were suspect, that 23,344 mail-in ballots might have come from wrong addresses and that 10,342 voters might have voted in multiple counties. They said thousands of voters might have moved out of the county or the state, that mail ballots never sent to voters might have been counted and that 282 voters might have been dead.
At the presentation’s end, Ms. Fann called for Arizona’s attorney general, a Republican, to investigate the claims of irregularities. None of the claims held up, according to experts on election administration who monitored the proceedings.
Maricopa County officials devoted their Twitter feed to debunking allegations as they were made on the floor. Experts who had already pored over a draft of the findings variously dismissed its claims as made-up, misinformed, unsupported by facts and, usually, just flatly wrong. One analysis rebutted the report’s allegations in detail, point by point.
“I think it has zero credibility and very little utility,” said Benny White, a Republican expert on election administration in Tucson, who wrote that rebuttal with two retired officials of an election consulting firm in Boston. “There is a series of complaints about voter registration and election administration, most all of which could have been easily resolved with an actual conversation with an election official. But we’re six or seven million dollars down the road from that.”
A presentation on voter signature verification by one member of the review team, Shiva Ayyadurai, embodied the odd mix of solemnity and implausibility of the day’s proceedings. Appearing remotely, Mr. Ayyadurai used a series of slides to question the validity of some signatures on mail ballot envelopes and criticized the county’s verification process.
Mr. Ayyadurai, a favorite in right-wing circles, has spread baseless conspiracy theories about both Mr. Trump’s loss and his own defeat in a Republican primary race for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. Among them is a suggestion that 4.2 percent of Mr. Trump’s votes were siphoned away by fans of the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which the number 42 figures prominently.
Maricopa County’s Twitter response was blistering. Citing court proceedings “where you can’t lie willy nilly,” county officials noted that the accuracy of their verification process had been upheld in a suit filed by Mr. Trump’s backers. A flurry of subsequent tweets detailed how signatures were handled.
Still, by focusing attention on Mr. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and setting off a furious battle over its credibility, the presentation and the report succeeded at something else: amplifying Mr. Trump’s baseless claims, inflaming his supporters and undermining support for democratic elections by setting a precedent of privately funded, partisan reviews of long-settled election results.
In a statement, Mr. Trump on Friday said the review had “uncovered significant and undeniable evidence of FRAUD! Until we know how and why this happened, our Elections will never be secure.”
“I have no doubt now: That election was rigged,” said Lezley Shepherd, 56, one of hundreds of Arizona voters who flocked to the State Capitol on Friday
The Arizona inquiry, financed largely by $6.7 million in donations from far-right groups and Mr. Trump’s defenders, has struggled with credibility problems almost since it was announced in December. The review team assembled by Senate Republicans proved to be run by Trump supporters and election conspiracy theorists; the chief executive of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan, had spread baseless claims that rigged voting machines had caused Mr. Trump’s loss in Arizona.
Election experts condemned the inquiry’s ballot review as haphazard and ignorant of approved auditing procedures. A hand recount of all 2.1 million votes moved so swiftly that volunteers fell behind the parade of ballots rushing by them. Experts cited lapses in the chain of custody that should ensure that ballots and voting equipment were not tampered with.
Critics said the results of the review would raise the bar for Republican politicians in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who, under pressure from Mr. Trump and his supporters, have mounted their own Arizona-style investigations. Under similar pressure, the Texas secretary of state’s office on Thursday announced a “comprehensive forensic audit” of the results from four of the state’s largest counties.
“If Trump and his supporters can’t prove it here, with a process they designed, they can’t prove it anywhere,” David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said about Arizona on Thursday.
Trump’s Bid to Subvert the Election
In fact, the Republican inquiry may not be completely over. Senate investigators still want to examine Maricopa County computer servers for evidence of tampering, even though county officials insist they have had no connection to election machinery.
While the top-line results are far from what many conservatives had hoped for, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature could in the next session seize on a host of recommendations in the report — based on the same faulty data and methodology — as both justification and a road map to enact more laws that restrict voting.
The report suggests, for instance, that the Legislature should consider whether a change of address would suspend a voter’s enrollment on the widely popular Permanent Early Voting List, which automatically sends ballots to some people who vote by mail. Roughly 75 percent of all voters in Arizona are on the list.
That suggestion follows a law passed in May that removed voters from the list if they do not cast a ballot at least once every four years.
During the most recent legislative session, Republicans in Arizona had been prolific in drafting bills that would affect elections in the state, introducing 57 total bills, 32 of which would have added new restrictions to voting or shifted the balance of power in election administration, according to the Voting Rights Lab, a liberal-leaning voting rights group. Seven of those bills became law.
The report makes further legislative suggestions that would add more restrictions to voting. They include multiple ways to further purge voters from registration rolls, including if entries are not a “direct match” with government-issued identification.
Election experts pointed to the corrosive effect of the decision to stage partisan reviews of the election results.
“Those people stormed the Capitol because they believed the election was fraudulent when it was not,” said Matt A. Barreto, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and faculty director of the Voting Rights Project. “And had we had leaders who just accepted the results and encouraged their team to try harder next time, we could have avoided that very ugly fiasco.”
The Republican who is now Maricopa County’s chief election officer, Stephen Richer, published a 38-page broadside last month in which he rebutted fraud claims and excoriated Republican politicians who have remained silent in the face of efforts to undermine the November results.
“More than any moral code, philosophical agenda, interest group, or even team red vs. team blue, many politicians will simply do whatever it takes to stay in office,” he wrote. “Right now, a lot of Republican politicians have their fingers in the wind and think that conforming to Stop the Steal, or at least staying quiet about it, is necessary for re-election in their ruby red districts or a statewide Republican primary. So that’s what they’ll do.”
“It’s disgusting,” he added.