SOUTH BEND – Arizona’s long-running recount of ballots, searching for bamboo, special watermarks and other signs that fantasies of conspiracy are real, brings understandable laughter. Really, though, it’s no laughing matter.
 
Jokes abound about the failed search of ballots for traces of bamboo. Why the bamboo probe? If you don’t know, you’re not up on conspiracy theories of how the election was stolen from Donald Trump. One theory of why he lost Arizona is about a plane from South Korea delivering thousands of fraudulent ballots marked for Joe Biden. If they came from Asia, maybe in a Chinese plot to oust Trump, traces of bamboo fibers would be found. Alas, no bamboo fibers were found.
     
Maybe they should have checked for traces of Russian vodka. No! No way. This recount seeks only conspiracies against Trump, not whether Putin could have done anything to help him.
     
What’s with watermarks? Inspection of some ballots under ultraviolet light was to check on a conspiracy theory from QAnon, the cult believing the nation is controlled by pedophiles who cannibalize kids. The Q claim is that Trump, guarding against Democratic pedophiles out to steal the election, secretly affixed special watermarks on legitimate ballots. Counters finding no watermark would know the ballot was fraudulent. Alas, no watermarks were found. Does that mean all the Arizona ballots, for or against Trump, are fraudulent?
     
This late and ludicrous Arizona recount is moving so slowly that it could drag on through most of summer. One of the Republican state senators who launched it concedes now that they “look like idiots.” There will be more jokes. Really, though, it’s no laughing matter.
     
Unravelling ridiculous conspiracy theories actually means that more folks out there will hear of the theories and believe them. That can bring serious consequences. Think of the QAnon tale about Hillary Clinton and others in the “deep state” pedophile cabal holding kids captive in the basement of a Washington pizzeria. A believer drove from North Caroline to save the kids, storming the pizzeria, firing a military-style assault rifle. No laughing matter.
     
Republicans controlling the Arizona Senate ordered this very unusual and very late audit of 2.1 million votes cast in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix and where two thirds of the state’s presidential votes were cast in Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump by 10,457 votes in Arizona.This recount, too late to change any results, came after totals had been checked and rechecked by state election officials and certified as accurate.
     
So, why are they still recounting? It’s to appease Trump and avid Trump supporters of the type that stormed the Capitol to “stop the steal.” The Arizona senators, knowing the results are valid and can’t be changed, still want to find some irregularities to show need for tighter voting laws and to keep the Trump base angry and active.
     
For the recount, they hired a Florida firm with no experience in elections and a chief executive who had spread conspiracy theories about a stolen election in Arizona. No transparency. Real reporters were blocked. Only the pro-Trump cable channel One America News was allowed total access, livestreaming what it chose.
     
The sheriff and the U.S. Justice Department are concerned about law violations and mishandling of ballots. But the Arizona Senate president still predicts that “we’ll find irregularities.” Of course. They won’t pay that firm if it doesn’t find some irregularities, real or manufactured.
     
Perpetuation of the lie that the election was stolen convinces many Americans, too many, that there is no real democracy and election totals don’t have to be accepted if results aren’t what they want. As Liz Cheney warned before she was dumped from leadership for disputing Trump’s denial of losing: “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.”
     
It’s no laughing matter. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.