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Arizona county didn’t say it moved election data to ‘hide it’

October 8, 2021 GMT


CLAIM: “Maricopa County admits they DELETED and moved the election data to hide it from auditors AFTER they got a subpoena.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. Arizona’s largest county did not admit deleting and moving election data to hide it from auditors. The county has explained it was necessary to archive and move the data because there was not space for it to be stored on the server indefinitely.

THE FACTS: Weeks after a cybersecurity firm presented flawed findings in a Republican-backed review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing on the controversial election review on Thursday led to a new array of false claims online.

Twitter users shared one clip of Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona questioning Republican Maricopa County Supervisors Bill Gates and Jack Sellers, along with baseless claims that the county made a shocking admission.

“Maricopa County admits they DELETED and moved the election data to hide it from auditors AFTER they got a subpoena,” read one tweet shared over 4,000 times. “This is a total cover up, and they admit it!”

However, Gates and Sellers made no such admission. Asked by Biggs if it was standard practice to delete files off a server after an election, Gates said “it is appropriate to maintain files, and that’s exactly what we did.” Asked by Biggs if he felt obligated to turn the archived files over to election reviewers, Gates explained that the county responded to the subpoena, which had not listed those files. In the nearly four-minute clip, Gates and Sellers did not mention anything about trying to hide data from auditors.

The misleading claim follows related misinformation that emerged when the cybersecurity firm initially presented its findings in September. The firm’s report claimed Maricopa County officials deleted election data off a server before an audit was scheduled to take place.

Maricopa County officials refuted that false claim, explaining that they made copies of the data and archived it before removing it from the election management system to prepare for a county-commissioned audit in February.

The county explained on Twitter that data had to be moved from one server because of storage limits, but was saved elsewhere first.

The county tweeted on Sept. 24, “We have backups for all Nov. data & those archives were never subpoenaed.”

Biggs asked Gates and Sellers on Thursday why, if it was standard practice to move election data from the server before the next election, there was still data from previous elections on the server. Neither knew, but told Biggs they would get him the answer.

“It is the Elections Department’s standard practice to ensure there is sufficient capacity on the server to conduct an upcoming election,” Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for Maricopa County Elections Department wrote to The Associated Press in an email after the hearing. “As part of this standard process, we create a backup of the election and archive the related files. Some data from previous elections could have remained on the server through that process.”

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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.