Fact check: Trump makes false claims about Arizona audit
Phoenix — Former President Donald Trump issued three statements in two days falsely claiming that voting fraud and irregularities cost him Arizona's electoral votes.
Trump relied on comments made Thursday by contractors hired by state Senate Republicans to oversee a partisan review of the 2020 vote count in Maricopa County, which includes metro Phoenix.
The “forensic audit,” as Senate GOP leaders are calling their review, is overseen by Cyber Ninjas, a small computer security firm with no election experience before Trump began questioning the 2020 results. Its CEO, Doug Logan, spread false conspiracy theories about the election before he was hired to lead the Arizona review.
Logan and Ben Cotton, a digital forensics analyst working on the audit, described issues they say need further review. Trump has parroted them as evidence the election results are tainted.
County officials and elections experts say the claims are false and based on a misunderstanding of election materials, which they say creates an appearance of irregularities where none exists.
Trump laid out his claims most specifically in a statement Friday night. A look at the irregularities he alleges in that statement:
TRUMP: “168,000 fraudulent ballots printed on illegal paper (unofficial ballots)”
THE FACTS: All of that is false. The ballots were not unofficial or printed on illegal paper, and even Logan never alleged they were fraudulent.
Logan pointed to ballots with the printing slightly offset between the front and back. He claimed this could cause votes to be counted for the wrong candidate if ink from one side bleeds through to another. He said the alignment issues were mostly from polling-place ballots, which are printed onsite, and said about 168,000 ballots were cast that way. The overwhelming majority of Arizona voters cast ballots by mail.
“We are seeing a lot of very thin paper stock being used especially on Election Day,” Logan added.
The allegation harkens back to the debunked “Sharpiegate” conspiracy theory that arose in the days after the election. Election experts say bleed-through doesn’t affect the vote count because bubbles on one side of a ballot don’t align with those on the other. Ballots that can't be read are flagged and duplicated by a bipartisan team.
Arizona’s election procedures manual says only that ballots “must be printed with black ink on white paper of sufficient thickness to prevent the printing from being discernible on the reverse side the ballot.” Maricopa County uses 80 pound Votesecur paper from Rolland, which is among the papers approved by Dominion Voting Systems, which makes the county's tabulation equipment, said Fields Moseley, a county spokesman.
Logan did not provide any evidence that alignment problems affected the vote count and said the issue needs more analysis.
TRUMP, citing “74,000 mail in ballots received that were never mailed (magically appearing ballots)."
THE FACTS: No, there were no magically appearing ballots. He is alleging that the number of filled-out ballots received in the mail by election officials exceeded the number of people who had asked earlier for mail-in ballots, by 74,000. But that's not at all what happened.
The claim mischaracterizes reports created for political parties to track who has voted early so they can target their get-out-the-vote efforts.
One report tracks all requests that voters make for early ballots, either by mail or in person, up to 11 days before the election. The other report tracks all ballots received through the day before the election. That leaves a 10-day window during which people who vote in-person but don't request a mail ballot would appear on one report but not the other.
TRUMP, claiming “11,000 voters were added to the voter rolls AFTER the election and still voted."
THE FACTS: There's nothing untoward about voters rolls growing after Election Day. The rolls are simply updated to reflect people whose provisional ballots are added to the tally after election officials verify that they were eligible to vote.
The allegation that the updated tally was the result of electoral wrongdoing first came from Logan this past week, when he told state lawmakers of “11,326 people that did not show up on the Nov. 7 version of the voter rolls, after votes were cast, but then appeared on the Dec. 4 voter rolls.”
Maricopa County officials said Logan is probably referring to provisional ballots, which are cast by people who do not appear on the voter rolls or don't have the proper identification on Election Day. They're only counted if the voter later shows he or she was eligible to vote. To be eligible, such voters must have registered before the deadline.
“These go through a rigorous verification process to make sure that the provisional ballots cast are only counted if the voter is eligible to vote in the election,” Maricopa County officials wrote on Twitter. “This happens after Election Day. Only eligible voters are added to the voter rolls.”
TRUMP, alleging “all the access logs to the machines were wiped, and the election server was hacked during the election.”
THE FACTS: That flies in the face of the evidence. Maricopa County's election server is not connected to the internet and independent auditors found no evidence the election server was hacked.
Trump's hacking allegation refers to the unauthorized download of public data from the county's voter registration system. That system, which is connected to the internet and broadly accessible to political parties and election workers, is not linked to the election management system, the web of ballot counters, computers and servers that tallies votes.
The election management system is “air gapped," or kept disconnected from the rest of the county's computer network and the wider internet. Two firms certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to test voting systems found Maricopa County's machines were not connected to the internet and did not have malicious hardware or software installed.
TRUMP: “Arizona shows Fraud and Voting Irregularities many times more than would be needed to change the outcome of the Election.”
THE FACTS: Not so. The number of potential fraud cases is far smaller than President Joe Biden's margin of victory in Arizona.
County election officials identified 182 cases where voting problems were clear enough that they referred them to investigators for further review, according to an Associated Press investigation. So far, only four cases have led to charges, including those identified in a separate state investigation. No one has been convicted. No person’s vote was counted twice.
Biden won Arizona by 10,457 votes out of 3.4 million cast. Of the four cases that have resulted in criminal charges, two involved Democratic voters and two involved Republicans.