PHOENIX – Three Pennsylvania lawmakers were in Arizona on Wednesday to check out the state Senate GOP’s partisan audit of the 2020 election.
They’re the latest Republicans to make a pilgrimage to Phoenix, ground zero in the “stop the steal” movement's push to find support for conspiracy theories suggesting the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz cheered the audit at a rally just outside Phoenix last month. The next day, several prominent Trump supporters and conspiracy promoters were advertised as speakers at a Phoenix megachurch. Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, recently posted a short video of himself at the Arizona Capitol.
Political pilgrimages are nothing new to Arizona, where Republican politicians have long enjoyed photo ops in front of the Mexico border wall. But now, the draw is the Arizona State Fairgrounds, site of a former basketball arena where a Trump supporter who has promoted election conspiracies is overseeing a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County.
The latest visitors are Pennsylvania Sens. Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush, and Rep. Rob Kauffman. They met with Arizona legislators at the Capitol before traveling to the audit site to get a briefing from the auditors.
“We’ll bring the information back to the Senate leadership, we’ll back-brief them on the way ahead and then hopefully we can come up with an approach here to make sure every person in Pennsylvania can rest assured they have one vote and it counts,” Mastriano told a radio host from WEEO-FM.
The Pennsylvania lawmakers and others in their delegation spent about 20 minutes on the arena floor, where volunteers counted and photographed ballots. Doug Logan, the head of Cyber Ninjas, the firm leading the audit, led them around.
Afterward, Mastriano spoke to conservative media outlets but ignored journalists from the Associated Press and other mainstream news sources.
Asked by a reporter if he wants to see the Arizona audit replicated in Pennsylvania, Dush said, “Without question. Absolutely.”
As Trump and his allies claimed without evidence last year that his Arizona loss was marred by fraud, the Arizona Senate GOP used its subpoena power to get access to all ballots, counting machines and hard drives full of election data in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 60% of Arizona's voters.
They handed all of it over to a team led by Cyber Ninjas, a small consulting firm with no prior election experience for a hand recount and analysis of vote-counting machines and data.
The effort will not change President Joe Biden's victory, and election experts have pointed to major flaws in the process. But it's become a model for Republicans in other states hoping to turn up evidence supporting conspiracy theories.
“It’s my belief that Arizona will be the launch pad for elections audits and election integrity efforts all over this great country,” Gaetz said. He listed the swing states where Trump lost in 2020.
Greene said the audit was the reason she and Gaetz chose Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, for the second stop on their tour of America First rallies.
“Matt said, ‘You been following that Arizona audit?’” Greene said. “I said, ‘Yeah I’ve been following it.’ He said, ‘Lets go to Arizona.’ I said, ‘Count me in.’”
Mastriano has become a one-man force in conservative politics in Pennsylvania, leading anti-mask protests last year, pushing to overturn Trump’s reelection loss and showing up outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.
In November, Mastriano organized a hearing in Gettysburg that featured Rudy Giuliani and a phone call appearance by Trump in which the president claimed the election was rigged and urged state lawmakers to overturn the result.
All three visiting Pennsylvania lawmakers were among the 64 Republican legislators who signed a letter asking the state's congressional delegation to object to Pennsylvania's electoral college votes being cast for Biden.
Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed.