Fact check: Arizona early votes falsely cited as evidence of voter fraud

·6 min read

The claim: More than 70,000 mail-in ballots counted in Maricopa County, Arizona, were never sent

More than eight months after Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, false claims of widespread voter fraud affecting the results continue to appear on social media.

The latest narrative targets an ongoing election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, home of Phoenix. The subject: mail-in ballots.

"STUNNING in a race decided by 10,457 votes ... 74,243 mail-in ballots w/ NO evidence of ever being sent," reads the text in a July 15 Facebook post.

The post, which has more than 700 shares, comes from Jovan Hutton Pulitzer – an inventor, popular among Donald Trump supporters, who has previously cast doubt on the integrity of election results. Similar posts on Facebook and Instagram have received tens of thousands of interactions, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.

Pulitzer's technology, which he claims can detect fraudulent votes, has been used in the Arizona audit. But Pulitzer told USA TODAY in an email that he hasn't released "any information regarding our particular findings on mail-in ballots."

Since it began in April, the state Senate-backed audit has been plagued by false claims of fraud – despite the fact that officials have already audited the state's election results and found no malfeasance. Biden beat Trump in the state by more than 10,000 votes.

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This recent claim is the latest outgrowth of that misinformation.

While the origin of the 74,243 figure is unclear, Maricopa County says the claimed disparity between ballots cast and ballots sent by mail has to do with how it counts early votes. It is not proof of widespread voter fraud, of which there is no evidence in Arizona.

In Maricopa County, there were nearly 450,000 fewer mail-in votes than ballots sent out.

Claim misconstrues early voting numbers

The Facebook post makes it seem like any disparity between the number of mail-in ballots sent and the number of votes cast is evidence of voter fraud. But Maricopa County officials say that's not the case.

The claim in the post traces back to a July 15 tweet from Liz Harrington, a Trump spokesperson. The numbers in the post, including the 74,243 figure, stem from an Arizona Senate briefing held the same day.

"We have 74,243 mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent," Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, said during the briefing.

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (from left), Arizona Senate's liaison for the Maricopa County election audit Ken Bennett, and CyFIR founder Ben Cotton are seen at the Arizona State Senate in Phoenix on July 15, 2021.
Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (from left), Arizona Senate's liaison for the Maricopa County election audit Ken Bennett, and CyFIR founder Ben Cotton are seen at the Arizona State Senate in Phoenix on July 15, 2021.

The Republican-dominated Arizona Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based technology company, to lead the election audit even though the company has no experience with such audits. Logan has previously promoted election fraud conspiracy theories on social media.

The exact origin of Logan's 74,243 figure is unclear.

"Without knowing exactly what data the Senate contractors are using and how they're interpreting it, we can't know for sure where they came up with 74,000," Jason Berry, a communications manager for Maricopa County, told USA TODAY in an email.

However, Logan – as well as the social media posts parroting his claims – appear to have erroneously conflated mail-in ballots with all early votes, which in Maricopa County include ballots cast by mail and in person. Of course, early votes cast in person wouldn't involve anything being mailed.

In response to Logan's remarks during the briefing, Maricopa County published a Twitter thread addressing his claim about mail-in ballots.

"In Maricopa County, we allow people to vote early in two ways: 1) by mail and 2) in-person at Vote Centers. These are all considered early votes," the county wrote. "The people who vote in-person use ballots provided at a Vote Center. This is not a new practice, so it's not unusual that we would have more early votes than mail-in ballots sent."

Maricopa County also said the types of files Logan cited during the briefing aren't the correct documents for determining how many early ballots were sent and received. In a follow-up tweet, the county wrote that, of 2,364,426 requests for mail-in ballots, 1,918,024 were returned.

In a statement published July 15, the Republican chair of the county's Board of Supervisors also rebuked Logan's claims.

The audit of the Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election continues on July 14, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.
The audit of the Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election continues on July 14, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.

"At today’s briefing, the Senate’s uncertified contractors asked a lot of open-ended questions, portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections," Jack Sellers said in the statement. "In some cases, they dropped bombshell numbers that are simply not accurate."

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USA TODAY has previously rated false claims that the Arizona audit has found evidence of widespread voter fraud affecting its election results. Other independent fact-checking organizations have reached similar conclusions.

Several hand counts, as well as a forensic audit of ballot tabulation equipment, have confirmed Maricopa County's election results. The Associated Press reported July 16 that elections officials in Arizona have found fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 3 million ballots cast in the state.

USA TODAY reached out to Harrington and Logan for comment.

Our rating: False

We rate FALSE the claim that more than 70,000 mail-in ballots counted in Maricopa County were never sent. The claim erroneously conflates all early votes, including in-person votes, with mail-in ballots. Maricopa County officials have said there were fewer mail-in ballots returned than requested. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud affecting Arizona's 2020 election results.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Arizona early votes don't prove claims of voter fraud

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