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Election data in Arizona’s largest county was not ‘purged’

September 25, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Arizona’s Maricopa County purged the machine records from the 2020 election the day before an outside review of the vote started.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Maricopa County election officials confirmed they archived and retained all data from the November election. County election officials moved November 2020 election data off a server and onto backup drives as part of its preparation for an official audit the county commissioned in February 2021.

THE FACTS: During a Friday hearing, a group hired by the Arizona Senate presented the findings of a six-month election review that experts said was riddled with errors, bias and flawed methodology.

Among the misleading claims was the accusation that Maricopa County election officials had deleted election data in February from the election management system database, known as EMS, right before a county commissioned audit was set to begin.

The claim from the hearing echoed online, where it slightly morphed. “Maricopa County purged the machine records the day before the audit started,” reads one popular tweet.

Some social media users appear to have understood the claim’s mention of an “audit” to refer to the partisan review conducted by private firms hired by the Republican-led Arizona Senate -- when in fact the original allegation made in the hearing was that data had been deleted ahead of a different, official audit the county had commissioned in February.

But regardless of the timeline of the allegation, in fact, no data is missing.

“Everything that happened in the November election is backed up and archived,” Maricopa County Elections Department spokesperson Megan Gilbertson told The Associated Press.

In a statement on Twitter, Maricopa County pointed out the data in question was moved and archived because there is not space for it to be stored on the server indefinitely.

“Servers have space limitations,” reads a tweet from the county. “Files are not deleted; they are archived. The Senate never subpoenaed our EMS archives.”

The county hired a federally-certified auditing firm to perform an independent audit of the tabulation equipment in early February.

Gilbertson told the AP the data on the server was moved and archived ahead of that review because “that is when the server needed to be ready so the certifiers could test for accuracy.”

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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.