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School bus in Arizona held surplus office equipment, not voting machines

December 7, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Photos show an abandoned school bus full of voting machines discovered in Buckeye, Arizona.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The bus was full of office equipment purchased at a surplus sale, not voting machines, according to an investigation by the Buckeye Police Department and the Arizona attorney general’s office. It was not abandoned; the driver of the bus was in the vehicle, according to an employee at the gas station where the photos were taken.

THE FACTS: It was the morning of Dec. 3 when an employee at a gas station off State Route 85 in the Phoenix suburb of Buckeye decided to call the police on a suspicious-looking school bus full of large machinery parked on the property.

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The Buckeye Police Department arrived within 15 minutes, quickly determining that the bus contained printers bought at a surplus sale.

“The guy was legitimate,” an employee at the gas station confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press. “It was just printers and blank paper.”

However, a passerby who came across officials investigating the bus didn’t get that memo.

Instead, he took pictures of the bus and the equipment inside, posting the images on social media with false claims the bus was abandoned and harboring voting equipment.

“This morning I stopped at the shell market on Buckeye road just east of hwy 85 for coffee!” the post read. “The place was crawling with police and investigators! Turns out the bus broke down in the early hours of the morning. No driver around but the police were called for suspicious vehicle. Turns out to have 2006 nevada plates. They opened the back doors and the bus is completely packed with voter machines! WTF!!!”

His post and several others containing the same photos quickly gained traction on Facebook, together amassing more than 10,000 shares over the weekend. Some social media users went even further with their claims, saying the bus held “missing AZ voter machines” and suggesting the photos be shared with President Donald Trump’s legal team.

The spread of misinformation prompted the Buckeye Police Department to publish a statement confirming the facts of the investigation.

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“Both the Buckeye Police Department and an investigator from the Attorney General’s office responded to this ‘suspicious bus,’ the statement read. “It was determined the bus was full of office equipment purchased at a surplus sale, complete with invoices and receipts. The information in the original post is inaccurate. Thank you, as always, for your support.”

A spokesperson with the department told the AP that the equipment was purchased at a surplus sale out of Yuma County, Arizona. In response to inquiries about some of the bus windows being “blacked out,” the spokesperson said that covering windows is “not uncommon for people who buy old school buses and convert them for other uses.”

One of the photos of the bus spreading online shows a piece of equipment inside the vehicle with a yellow label reading “Election Systems & Software.”

Katina Granger, public relations manager for the election software company ES&S, confirmed the photo showed a printer, not a voting machine.

“The item seen in the photo is not a voting machine or a tabulation machine,” she told the AP in an email. “The label you see in the photo is affixed to a printer.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536