Fact check: Arizona audit hasn't found 275,000 fraudulent votes

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The claim: The Arizona election audit has found 275,000 potentially fraudulent votes in one county

After three months, an audit of Arizona's 2020 election results has surfaced no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters say otherwise.

Since the audit began in late April, misinformation about its findings has spread on social media. Trump and his allies have falsely claimed an entire election database was deleted, that more than 70,000 mail-in ballots counted in Maricopa County – home of Phoenix – were never sent, and that the audit found 250,000 fraudulent ballots.

Now the number has ticked up to 275,000.

"Already the Arizona Audit has found 275,000 potential fraudulent ballots – in just ONE county!" reads the caption of a July 26 video with more than 4,600 likes on Instagram.

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The video shows Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington speaking with host Bret Baier on Fox News. During the clip, which Harrington tweeted July 26, she spells out how she arrived at 275,000.

"That includes 168,000 (ballots) that were printed on thin paper outside of the regulations of Maricopa County," she said. "You have 75,000 ballots that were supposed to be mailed out but they have no record of them ever being sent. You also have 18,000 voters who were purged from the voter rolls, who voted in the election but were purged after the election."

Harington also said 3,981 people voted in Maricopa County despite registering after the deadline, meaning the county "certified false results." Trump himself made similar claims in a couple of mid-July statements.

But those numbers – and the claims of voter fraud – don't add up.

"This was not a stolen election," Stephen Richer, the Republican recorder of Maricopa County, told Baier after Harrington's appearance on Fox News.

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USA TODAY reached out to Harrington and the Instagram user who shared the video for comment.

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.

Number of 'fraudulent ballots' doesn't add up

In her Fox News appearance, Harrington cited the findings of an ongoing audit in Maricopa County. But those findings don't support her claim about 275,000 potentially fraudulent ballots.

In March, the Republican-dominated Arizona Senate hired Florida-based firm Cyber Ninjas to lead the audit. Cyber Ninjas has no prior experience with election audits, and its CEO, Doug Logan, has previously promoted election fraud conspiracy theories on social media.

The numbers Harrington cited refer to statements Logan made during a recent Arizona Senate briefing. However, Logan never said auditors had found 275,000 potentially fraudulent ballots.

Maricopa County officials and independent fact-checking organizations have also disputed the figures.

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"My best guess for the 275,000 number is that she's adding up all the various Cyber Ninja claims ... to arrive at a total number of ballots she considers suspect," Jason Berry, a spokesperson for Maricopa County, told USA TODAY in an email. "This is not based in fact."

Let's take a closer look at each number in Harrington's claim.

'You have 75,000 ballots that were supposed to be mailed out but they have no record of them ever being sent​​​​​'

This isn't accurate – USA TODAY rated a similar claim false.

During the July 15 briefing, Logan said auditors had found "74,243 mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent."

Maricopa County officials previously told USA TODAY it's unclear where exactly that figure came from. But in a Twitter thread, the county wrote that it appeared the auditors were conflating mail-in ballots with all early votes, which include votes cast in person. In-person early votes wouldn't involve anything being mailed.

In a follow-up tweet, the county wrote that, of 2,364,426 requests for mail-in ballots, 1,918,024 were returned.

The audit of Maricopa County's ballots from the 2020 general election continues on July 24, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Ariz.
The audit of Maricopa County's ballots from the 2020 general election continues on July 24, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Ariz.

168,000 ballots 'were printed on thin paper outside of the regulations of Maricopa County'

County officials and fact-checkers have debunked this claim.

During the Senate briefing, Logan raised concerns about ballots where the printing was slightly offset between the front and back, which he said could cause ink to bleed through and change selections. Logan said auditors saw the issues in about 168,000 ballots printed at voting centers.

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That claim echoes the debunked "SharpieGate" conspiracy theory, which falsely said ballots filled out with permanent markers bled through and were invalidated. Maricopa County has said bleed-throughs don't affect ballot counting, and Sharpies were actually preferred at voting centers.

During his Fox News appearance, Richer said there's nothing untoward about slight differences in the thickness of ballots.

"Some of our ballots are printed at the precinct-based polls or at the voting centers, and others are mailed out by the central place here in Arizona where they are printed," he said. "So yes, some of them might be a little bit different, but (it's) absolutely false that they are somehow fraudulent."

Audit spokesperson Randy Pullen (center) looks through paperwork, July 19, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, Phoenix.
Audit spokesperson Randy Pullen (center) looks through paperwork, July 19, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, Phoenix.

'You also have 18,000 voters who were purged from the voter rolls'

This claim is off the mark. And it's not evidence of voter fraud, as Harrington makes it seem.

"We have roughly 20,000, I think it was actually about closer to 18,000, (people) who voted in the election and then showed as being removed from the voter rolls soon after the election," Logan said during the Senate briefing.

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Logan noted there "could be a good, logical explanation for that." Turns out, there is.

On its website, the Maricopa County Elections Department says there were 13,320 voters who were removed from the rolls between Nov. 3 and Jan. 2. The majority of the removals were because voters died or moved out of the county. Other removals were the product of felony convictions and voter requests.

"Maricopa County has over 2.6 million registered voters and it is not unusual for there to be tens of thousands of changes to the voter rolls each month," the department wrote.

The audit of the Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election continues, July 19, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, Phoenix.
The audit of the Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election continues, July 19, 2021, in the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, Phoenix.

'3,981 people voted despite registering after the Oct. 15 court-ordered deadline'

This is wrong, according to Maricopa County officials.

"Based on the registration information that we found in the voter rolls, we have 3,981 individuals who show as having voted in this election ... however, they were registered after Oct. 15," Logan told the Arizona Senate.

The Maricopa County Elections Department debunked that claim on its website, saying its analysis "found no evidence of any ballot counted from a voter registered after the voter registration deadline" of Oct. 15. Elections officials finished processing voter registration forms around Oct. 23.

About 6,200 voters cast provisional ballots, which Maricopa County elections officials say they had the legal right to do.

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"Somebody might have filled out the paperwork by Oct. 15, but that person might have had to vote a provisional ballot because that paperwork wouldn't have been processed until later," Richer said on Fox News. "But as long as they filled it out before Oct. 15, then it's still a valid voter and that vote should count."

No evidence of fraud in Arizona

There is no evidence of widespread fraud affecting the election outcome in Arizona, where Joe Biden beat Trump by more than 10,000 votes.

Multiple hand counts, as well as a forensic audit of voting machines, have confirmed Maricopa County's election results. Of the more than 3 million ballots cast in Arizona, elections officials have found fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud, the Associated Press reported.

"Maricopa County stands by the results reported by its elections professionals, confirmed by hand counts, two independent audits, and several court challenges, and certified by the Secretary of State, Governor, and Congress," Berry told USA TODAY.

USA TODAY reached out to Logan and Ken Bennett, the Senate's liaison to the audit, for comment.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the Arizona election audit has found 275,000 potential fraudulent votes in one county. The audit has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud affecting the state's election outcome. The 275,000 figure relies on a mix of misinterpreted data, conspiratorial claims about paper ballots, and misconceptions about Arizona's election administration. Maricopa County officials – including some Republicans – have pushed back against claims that the audit has uncovered fraudulent votes.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Arizona audit has not found 275,000 fraudulent votes