Arizona Republicans order new 2020 election recount despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud

The Republican-led state Senate in Arizona is leading a new recount of more than 2 million ballots cast in its most populous county in the 2020 election, despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Democrats flipped the state blue for the presidency and one Senate seat last November. CBSN Washington reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns joined "CBSN AM" with the latest.

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: The Justice Department is raising concerns that a Republican-backed recount in Arizona of ballots from the presidential election-- of the presidential election. Well, that recount may not be legal. After securing a subpoena, the GOP-controlled state Senate is using a firm from Florida to review more than two million ballots in Arizona's most populous county.

The county's ballots have already been audited several times, and no problems were found. So Caitlin Huey Burns has been following this story for us, and she joins us now. I think a lot of people would be surprised that there's still another recount going from the presidential election in November. Caitlin, just bring us up to speed.

What is happening in Arizona? Who's paying for this recount? Because we know they're pretty expensive. And ultimately, what do state Republicans really want to get out of this?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: That's exactly right, Anne-Marie. We're talking in May. The election was in November. That means six months have passed since the election, and they're still talking about the election.

And this has been fueled by the former president raising baseless conspiracy theories about the election, and it's having direct consequences. So, basically, what happened is, as you mentioned, Arizona already did several different kinds of audits. They did audits on the machines, they did audits on ballots. Everything turned out 100% accurate.

But what happened was the state Senate, which is run by Republicans, subpoenaed the board of supervisors in Maricopa County, which is the largest County in Arizona, to get about two million ballots and nearly 400 tabulating machines to do their own audit. And the court sided with them, and so they had to turn everything-- the board had to turn everything over to the Senate. So this now is a separate audit, not done by election officials.

No election officials are involved in this. The board of Maricopa County is actually run mostly by Republicans. Even they objected to this.

And basically, what is happening here is the state Senate gave all of these ballots and machines over to a third-party group, this cybersecurity firm called Cyber Ninjas, which has no experience in election audits or elections. There are lots of questions about the lack of transparency from this group.

Originally, reporters weren't allowed in to see this recount. There have been a whole host of issues raised by secretaries of state from both parties, election officials from both parties across the country who say that they're really concerned about what's going on in Arizona because the state legislature or political people can kind of take over this system and try to undermine the election. What kind of impact will that have? And as you mentioned, even the Justice Department is involved. There's a concern.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Yeah. And I guess that was going to be my question. Because we know that there have been-- the Trump campaign raised all sorts of questions about voter fraud shortly during-- while the ballots were being counted, even before the ballots were cast, in many cases. There were legal challenges. None of them panned out, as you pointed out. In Arizona, there were recounts already.

There's no proof of widespread voter fraud. We're now several months into the Biden campaign. I guess, my question is, why don't we just sort of-- why are we giving this oxygen? Why are we even talking about this? Or maybe we should because if we don't know, if you don't shine a spotlight out on it, who knows what could happen?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yeah. It's a really good question, Anne-Marie. And I think it really speaks to the consequences of the former president's rhetoric, and actions, and behavior, and the ways in which his claims about the election, which are false, are actually having an impact, and people are actually acting on them. And so what's happening in Arizona is something that's actually kind of connected to the broader conversation that we've been having this week in terms of Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. Remember, Liz Cheney is essentially being ousted from her leadership position in the house Republican conference because she has denounced the former president's claims about the election.

And the person, Elise Stefanik, who is the front runner to replace her in that role, actually has been supporting some of these claims. She said the audit in Arizona should go forward. She argued that it's transparent when there are lots of other things to prove otherwise.

So what's happening there is a real direct consequence of Trump's baseless claims and also shows kind of how the base of the Republican Party is still very much attached to this message. As much as they want to focus on policy in Washington, as much as they want to focus on going against the Biden administration and trying to gain seats back in the house, a lot of their base, and we've reported this, too, that activists are seeing a lot of enthusiasm around this idea of the November election.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: And here's the thing, that you mentioned Congressman Elise Stefanik who's in favor of it. We, as reporters, we're going to ask other Republican lawmakers what's their take on this, and then they're going to be put on the spot. And even though we know that this is sort of a waste of time endeavor because we haven't seen any evidence of widespread fraud, is this going to sort of put Republican lawmakers on the spot that if they're critical of it, then it sounds like they're coming out against the former president and that may be detrimental to their political future?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yeah. That's a really great question, and that's something that we're going to be watching as well. And that's why it was significant that Stefanik, when she was asked about it, came out and supported it. Kind of the MO for Republicans has been kind of we just want to move on and not really totally engage. But if they're asked about it, that is revealing.

And I think what's really important to note about this audit that's going on in Arizona is that this is going to have no bearing whatsoever on the election outcome there. The reason that there have been so many protests among Republicans in Arizona is because Joe Biden was the first Democrat to win the state in about 30 years. And he won Maricopa County, the County that they're focusing on, which has been long a Republican stronghold.

The results have been certified by the board of supervisors, they've been certified by the Republican governor. Of course, Congress has certified the results of the election already, so this has no bearing on the results. This is a separate audit, and it really speaks to kind of the politics going on right now.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So true. Caitlin, thanks for joining us.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Thank you.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So you can read more of Caitlin's reporting on this story conducted alongside our colleague, Adam Brewster, online. Just head to cbsnews.com.