People who say they were AZ election review volunteers recycle false claims
Debunked claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona’s largest county have continued to swirl online in the week following the completion of a cybersecurity group’s flawed review.
A video released Wednesday and shared widely on social media on Friday featured individuals who said they were volunteer observers for the Republican-backed review. Most did not identify themselves by name.
Some of their claims were misleading and left out critical context for viewers unfamiliar with the way elections work in Arizona.For example, one speaker claimed that it was “startling” that a “soiled” ballot would go through an adjudication process, claiming it means election officials have “effectively voted” in a voter’s place. But in Maricopa County, and under state law, any ballot that is stained or can’t be read by the machine goes through adjudication and is reviewed by a bipartisan board to ensure they honor a voter’s intent.
Other claims in the video were outright false. Here’s a closer look at those claims.
CLAIM: Maricopa County officials “failed to do their job, to make sure that, 22 months, all of these documents were saved. They got rid of them. Why did they do that? Well they did that because it overrode the log files.”
THE FACTS: Maricopa County didn’t “get rid” of any election data. The county made copies of the data and archived all of it before removing it from the election management system to prepare for a county-commissioned audit in February.
Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for the county elections department, said that the county preserves this data even though it is not mandatory under a federal law that requires federal election records, such as ballots and ballot images, to be saved for 22 months after an election.
Another speaker in the video claimed that Maricopa County “admitted” on Twitter that it had deleted files. Instead, the county explained 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.”
CLAIM: “What they didn’t tell you is behind the scenes, there were 17,000+ duplicate mail-in ballots.”
THE FACTS: No, that’s not true. That claim from last week’s audit presentation is based on scanned images of ballot envelopes, not ballots, and it misunderstands the county’s election process.
Duplicate ballot envelope images are common, county election officials say, because after a voter submits an envelope with a blank or mismatched signature and then the issue is resolved, officials re-scan the image of the ballot envelope. For example, when the county contacts the voter and he or she signs a formerly blank envelope, a new image is captured. Even when duplicate envelope images are captured, the ballot inside only gets counted once.
CLAIM: “The audit has revealed that possibly well over 60,000 of these counted ballots are illegal ballots.”
THE FACTS: False. This may refer to the total ballots, more than 57,000, that an early draft of the audit report claimed were potentially affected by one of its purported findings. But as the AP has reported, that total number is compiled relying on flawed claims.
For example, contributing to that 57,000 is the claimthat 23,344 mail-in ballots were cast by people who moved out of the county before ballots were sent out. But that number, based on a commercial database unrelated to elections, doesn’t mean something improper happened. Election officials have said many voters move to temporary locations while still legally voting using their registered address.
Another claim rolled into the total is that 9,041 voters were recorded as receiving one mail-in ballot, but returning two. However, Maricopa County said on Twitter that this occurs when a voter returns a ballot with a signature discrepancy — such as a blank or mismatched signature — and election officials contact the voter to resolve the issue. A second record is then created in the system. In those cases, of course, only one ballot is counted per voter.
The total also factors in 10,342 ballots for voters who allegedly voted in multiple counties. But that claim was based on a tally of people who share the same full names and birth years. Experts say such overlap is common in a county where more than two million people cast ballots. And county officials offered an example on Twitter: “If you search for Maria Garcia born in 1980, you’ll get 7 active voters in Maricopa County and 12 statewide. And that’s just one name.”
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.