Maricopa County ballots are secured in a vault, not shredded in trash
CLAIM: Concerned Arizonans looked through a dumpster outside of the Maricopa County Elections Department on Saturday and found shredded ballots from the 2020 presidential election.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Election officials say only garbage was put in the dumpster — not valid ballots from the Nov. 3 election, since those are securely stored in a vault. In a statement, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said he has not seen the materials in question, but his office shreds non-classified documents, as well as ballots from deceased voters that could not be legally counted.
THE FACTS: President Joe Biden won Arizona in the Nov. 3 election. Despite multiple legal challenges that sought to decertify the results, courts dismissed those suits and no evidence of widespread irregularities or fraud has emerged in Arizona’s election.
The five-member Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the state’s largest county, released the results of two audits that showed no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet, according to reporting by The Associated Press. Previous reviews and a hand recount of a sample of ballots also found no issues.
The state’s Republican-controlled Senate has been engaged in a legal battle with the Republican-dominated board of supervisors over whether the Senate can access the county’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment to directly audit the election results. Last month, a judge ruled the Senate’s subpoena to access the ballots was valid. After winning the ruling, lawyers for the Senate asked that the ballots remain in the county’s possession sincethe Senate did not have a space for them.
On Saturday, an Arizona woman named Staci Burk, who had previously filed an unsuccessful legal challenge to the election, posted photos of a man searching through a dumpster and a yellow plastic bag stuffed with shredded paper inside the dumpster. She also posted photos that showed the materials at a residence, and the shredded papers lined up together and appeared to show a ballot with candidate names.
“Ballots shredded and in dumpsters behind the Maricopa County Ballot tabulation center. Physical evidence collected,” Burk posted on Facebook. Burk did not return a request for comment.
The right-wing site Gateway Pundit picked up the claim, suggesting that county election officials had attempted to shred ballots before the Senate could examine them.
“BALLOTS IN ARIZONA COUNTY FOUND SHREDDED IN DUMPSTER, DAYS BEFORE SENATE AUDIT,” says one popular Facebook post that uses one of the same photos from Burk’s original post.
But county election officials say ballots from the election are securely preserved.
Megan Gilbertson, the communications director for Maricopa County Elections Department, told The Associated Press that her office readied 2.1 million ballots to transfer to Senate custody and those ballots are still sealed and stored in the county’s vault that is monitored by a surveillance camera around the clock.
“Maricopa County has not, and would never destroy voted ballots until legally authorized to do so after the 24-month retention period,” Gilbertson told the AP in a statement. “None of the ballots or other General election materials from the vault were in the garbage, and as a matter of business, the county can and does throw out trash.”
Both Gilbertson and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, said that security footage shows that the individuals who were looking in Maricopa County dumpsters also attempted to break into the warehouse entrance of the Elections Department on Saturday.
“I do not know what was in the yellow bags that have appeared in photos online because I have not seen the contents of these bags,” Richter wrote in a statement.
“I can say with 100% certainty that the 2.1 million legally voted ballots from the November General Election are safe and accounted for in the Elections Department vault, under 24/7 surveillance,” reads the statement.
Richter said that his office shreds a variety of non-classified documents, as well as “deceased voter ballots since they could never be legally tabulated.”
Richer’s office told the AP those ballots were turned in by the relatives of people who died. Such ballots are shredded if the voter died before they could sign the ballot envelope.
Gilbertson confirmed to the AP that the Election Department preserves all ballots that were part of the canvass, the official accounting of ballots in which the board of supervisors certifies the election. That included all counted ballots, as well as those that were disqualified, such as mailed ballots without signatures or ineligible provisional ballots.
Eric Spencer, an attorney and former elections director for the Arizona Secretary of State’s office who has represented the Arizona Republican Party in election litigation, said there is no evidence the county made any missteps.
“I think they have done everything they were supposed to do before, during and after the election — including in response to this story,” Spencer told the AP.
Spencer noted that if someone were to find a bag of trash they suspected included shredded ballots, the safest and most credible first step would be to preserve the evidence and alert police or the attorney general’s office to investigate — not take the bag home.
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