CLAIM: Videos of election workers in Arizona’s Maricopa County photographing ballots and using a USB flash drive in a secure area, and a photograph of destroyed election equipment, show election workers committing potential legal violations.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Video footage from different dates and different locations was spliced together to make it falsely appear that an election worker was wrongfully photographing ballots, according to a county official. The footage involving the flash drive showed a routine data retrieval process, while the photograph of an exposed hard drive was from a professional forensic audit. The videos and images show activity in the elections department in 2021, and had no impact on the 2020 election.
THE FACTS: Social media posts and conservative blogs this week are pushing the misleading claim that photos and images reveal potential legal violations by election workers in Arizona’s largest county.
The conservative political action committee We the People AZ Alliance tweeted the footage with misleading captions on Wednesday. The conservative blog The Gateway Pundit, which has previously spread numerous false claims about elections in Arizona, amplified the claims.
“Maricopa County Elections Footage Released – Shows Elections Workers Committing Numerous Violations — More Potential Legal Violations,” read the headline of The Gateway Pundit’s story, which went on to claim that the footage showed “worst in class IT practices” used to “steal the 2020 Presidential Election from President Trump.”
One of the video clips opened with a shot of a sign in a room that read, “STAFF BREAK ROOM ELECTRONIC DEVICES ALLOWED IN THIS AREA ONLY,” before cutting to footage of a man holding a cellphone and a woman photographing ballots in a box.
But the framing of the clip pushes a false narrative, according to Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department. The footage and the image, which were obtained from video live streams that the department makes available to the public, were misleadingly edited.
Social media users and bloggers are “taking publicly available footage out of context to spread disinformation about how we administer elections,” Gilbertson said. “This type of disinformation leads to threats against election workers and undermines trust in a system that has been proven over and over to produce free, fair, and accurate elections.”
The video of the man with a phone was from March 2021, and showed a staff member in the ballot tabulation center, Gilbertson explained. Staff members are authorized to have phones in all areas of the building, while temporary employees and observers are not, she said. The other footage in the segment showed a staffer “capturing images to create training materials for election operations” in October 2021, Gilbertson said.
It’s not against the law for the county’s elections department to capture images of ballots for training purposes. The process helps the department understand how to train workers better for the future, Gilbertson said.
“The elections department does not share these photos,” Gilbertson said. “They are not public record. They are for our own internal training purposes.”
Similarly, the footage of a worker handling a flash drive was from October 2021. The drive was being used to retrieve election data from an election management system Gilbertson said. A flash drive is the only way to retrieve voting data because the department’s election equipment is not connected to the internet.
Election workers are required by law to use a new flash drive whenever they need to retrieve data, so the video shows the employees were “doing their job,” Gilbertson said.
The photo of a disassembled election tabulator was captured in February 2021, during a forensic audit of equipment by a federally certified contractor, Voting System Test Laboratories, Gilbertson said.
A reverse-image search also showed that the image of the disassembled tabulator was shot during February’s audit. Photographer David Wallace, who captured the image for the Arizona Republic newspaper, confirmed to the AP that it was his photo.
For the contractors to be able to complete an in-depth audit, Gilbertson said, “they needed to access the internal hard drives of the equipment to forensically clone the devices.”
The audit found no problems with Arizona election equipment, AP reported at the time.
Two additional videos posted by the We the People USA Alliance political action committee showed staff recycling mock election materials used for demonstration purposes only, Gilbertson said.
President Joe Biden won Maricopa County by about 45,000 votes, key to his 10,500-vote win of Arizona.
We the People AZ Alliance and The Gateway Pundit did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
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.