The Audit That Wasn’t

In one of my past lives as a university president (I served at two), I recall attending a basketball game. At most home games at this university, there was a certain booster who insisted on yelling obscenities at the referees. In his mind, our team couldn’t possibly lose a single game unless the referees had been paid off by the opposing team. The fact that our team might have lost a given game because they were outplayed by their opponents never occurred to this man.

Fortunately, the NCAA had rules designed to keep such rabid fans in check. So, on one particular evening when a referee drifted within hearing range of this man’s angry tirade, the referee politely asked our coach to silence the man or risk the team’s being charged with a technical foul or even having to forfeit the game. The coach relayed that request to his boss, the director of athletics, who was sitting nearby.

Being an extremely tactful person, the athletic director was forced to explain to the booster—who supported the university’s athletic budget with frequent contributions—that it might be better for the booster to move to a seat farther away from the court. I confess to being somewhat surprised and relieved when the booster complied. I was also relieved when our team won the game.

My dad taught me at an early age that it was immature to blame referees and umpires if our team lost. “If your team had done a better job achieving a wider lead, then that one penalty wouldn’t have mattered so much. Losers blame other people for their failures. Winners keep their eyes on maximizing the quality of their own performance.”

Those Arizona Republicans who demanded an audit of the 2020 presidential election results remind me of that college booster. They can’t believe it’s possible for a Democratic candidate to outpoll a Republican without help from the referee—i. e., the citizens employed by the State to count votes and who, for the most part, seek nothing other than the performance of their civic duty using the highest levels of personal integrity. Unwilling or unable to accept the shortcomings of their candidate, Arizona’s Republicans decided to scream and point at the referee—in this case, the honest citizens we have always trusted to handle the counting of our votes.

The team of “Cyber Ninjas” hired by the Republicans spent five months and several millions of taxpayer dollars, only to discover that Joe Biden not only beat Donald Trump by the original margin determined by Arizona election officials, he actually won by a margin that was 360 votes greater than originally announced (99 more votes for Joe Biden and 261 votes less for Donald Trump.)

There’s a problem, though, for Spirited Reasoners: After so much vitriol—so much screaming and pointing at honest election officials—what honest citizens will want the job of counting votes in the future?

Donald Trump and his supporters have seriously undermined trust in our nation’s democracy for at least a generation. It will take some courageous Americans—in the form of vote counters willing to endure mindless partisan screaming—to guide us back to a place where we can once again accept the accuracy and honesty of our fellow citizens, many of whom are our neighbors and friends.