Nothing ‘secret’ about Arizona voting machine testing shown on video, officials say
CLAIM: Newly released video shows election officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County illegally conducting “secret” voting equipment tests ahead of last November’s contested midterms.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The video comes from the county’s live broadcast of the election process last fall and isn’t new footage. Election officials say it shows the installation and testing of new memory cards on ballot counting machines just days prior to the November election.
THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing what they claim is new evidence of ballot rigging in the contested November election in the county, which covers the Phoenix area.
The video shows a small group of election staffers working on vote tabulation machines in a large warehouse-like space.
“New *video evidence* of Maricopa election officials illegally breaking into sealed election machines after they were tested, reprogramming memory cards,” wrote one Twitter user in a post that’s been liked or shared more than 47,000 times as of Wednesday. “They’ve been CAUGHT.”
“This is the story of a sabotage,” the campaign of Kari Lake, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Arizona governor and filed a lawsuit challenging the election, wrote Sunday in a widely shared tweet that also included the video.
But there’s nothing new about the clip and it doesn’t show anything clandestine, say election officials and experts.
Matt Roberts, a spokesperson for Maricopa County Election Department, said the video clips are from the county’s own livestream of its ballot tabulation center on Oct. 14, 17 and 18.
He said workers in the video are installing new memory cards into the machines and then running test ballots to make sure the system is operating properly, a process that happens before every election.
“These memory cards had previously been certified through the statutorily required logic and accuracy testing,” Roberts explained in an email. “After the running of test ballots, tabulators are zeroed to ensure no votes were stored on the memory cards. The tabulators are subsequently affixed with tamper-evident seals and prepared for delivery to each Vote Center, where poll workers perform a verification to ensure that there are no ballots recorded on the tabulator and that all results equal zero.”
The county government also responded to the claims on Twitter, noting the idea that voting machines were secretly tested prior to the election came up in Lake’s legal challenge, and that the judge did found it “unconvincing.”
“If it was a secret, why did we livestream it? That’s the opposite of secret,” the office tweeted. “Bottom line: The video shows the installation of new memory cards which happens in each election.”
Lake’s campaign argued in a legal filing earlier this month that 260 of the 446 vote center tabulators registered errors during this purportedly secret testing process, foreshadowing problems that would occur on Election Day, leading her to lose the governor’s office by some 17,000 votes.
“They know they’re in hot water, the county’s own system logs tell the true story,” the campaign wrote in an email to The Associated Press, referencing the argument.
But the county, in a response filed in the court case, argued that Lake was misinterpreting the machine logs, assuming every instance when they noted a “ballot misread” or “paper jam” error represented a serious malfunction.
The county said a range of situations could lead to the error messages, such as a ballot that’s inserted slightly askew. “These entries do not indicate failure; rather, they are a normal part of both testing tabulators and voting on them,” the county wrote in its filing, which it also shared in part on Twitter.
Weeks later, Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed Lake’s suit and affirmed the election of Democrat Katie Hobbs as governor, writing that “the evidence presented falls far below what is needed to establish a basis for fraud.”
Meanwhile Paul Smith-Leonard, a spokesperson for the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections statewide, confirmed that the county’s description of its pre-election preparations was accurate.
“The process described falls within statutorily mandated procedures,” he wrote in an email. “The exact process may vary depending on the county.”
Tammy Patrick, CEO of programs at the National Association of Election Officials and a former officer in the Maricopa County Elections Department, agreed, stressing there’s nothing secret about the ballot counting process.
“The live feed starts with the initial logic and accuracy testing and remains up until equipment is tested post-election,” Patrick explained in an email. “It is live for weeks in advance, 24X7, has been that way for every election, for YEARS.”
John Fortier, an elections expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., similarly concurred.
“It is pretty clear that whatever is being done here is not in secret,” he wrote in an email. “Whatever the election workers were doing, which I cannot independently confirm, they knew it was on video.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.