FACT FOCUS: A false narrative of 74K extra votes in Arizona

FILE - In this May 6, 2021, file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. On July 16, 2021, The Associated Press debunked a false narrative by Cyber Ninjas that the county counted thousands of mail-in ballots that had no record of being sent out to voters. The false claim by the company was based on a misunderstanding of how early voting works in Arizona.

Cyber Ninjas, the cybersecurity consulting firm hired by Arizona Senate Republicans to oversee a partisan review of the 2020 election, on Thursday pushed a false narrative that Maricopa County received thousands of mail-in ballots that had no record of being sent out to voters.

The firm's CEO Doug Logan used the baseless claim to urge legislators to subpoena more records and canvass voters at home, grasping for evidence of fraud even as a hand count of a statistical sample of ballots and two post-election audits showed no proof of wrongdoing in Maricopa County’s election.

The false claim has reverberated online in the day since Logan's comments, parroted by lawmakers and Republican commentators including Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and former President Donald Trump.

Yet Maricopa County officials and election experts confirm that the claim isn’t true and represents a misunderstanding of how early voting works in Arizona.

Here's a closer look at the facts.

CLAIM: Arizona’s largest county in the 2020 election received and counted 74,000 mail-in ballots that had no record of ever being sent out to voters.

THE FACTS: False. The claim mischaracterizes reports that are intended to help political parties track early voters for their get-out-the-vote efforts, not tally mail-in ballots through Election Day. The reports don’t represent all mail-in ballots sent out and received, so the numbers aren’t expected to match up, according to Maricopa County officials and outside experts.

“We have 74,243 mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent,” Logan said at a meeting livestreamed at Arizona’s Capitol on Thursday. “That could be something where documentation wasn’t done right. There’s a clerical issue. There’s not proper things there, but I think when we’ve got 74,000, it merits knocking on a door and validating some of this information.”

Logan based his false claim on two types of early voting reports issued by Maricopa County: EV32 files and EV33 files. He claimed that EV32 files are “supposed to give a record of when a mail-in ballot is sent” and EV33 files are “supposed to give a record of when the mail-in ballot is received.”

That’s not accurate, according to Maricopa County officials, who tweeted on Friday that “the EV32 Returns & EV33 files are not the proper files to refer to for a complete accumulating of all early ballots sent and received.”

Instead, the EV32 and EV33 files are reports created for political parties to aid them in their get-out-the-vote efforts during early voting, according to Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund and a former Maricopa County elections official. Arizona law requires county recorders to provide this data to political parties and candidates, Patrick said.

Arizona reports both mail-in ballots and early in-person votes at voting centers as early votes, so both are included in the data in files EV32 and EV33, Patrick said.

The EV32 file includes all requests that voters make for early ballots, either by mail or in person, up to 11 days before Election Day, Patrick said. The EV33 file includes returned early ballots up to the Monday before Election Day.

That means there is a 10-day period between the final day of each report, during which thousands of mail-in votes are submitted and thousands of additional voters go to voting centers, request early ballots in person and submit them. Furthermore, the files don’t include any early ballots that came in on Election Day.

“To use these files as an attempt to understand the number of voters who were mailed a ballot or who returned a ballot is misguided,” Patrick said. “That information is obtained from the Voted File, not a GOTV tool for the political parties and candidates.” “GOTV” is short for “get out the vote.”

Maricopa County officials tweeted later Friday that they calculated the true number of mail-in ballots requested and returned in November's election. According to that count, nearly 450,000 more mail-in ballots were requested than returned.

Rod Thomson, a public relations consultant working for Cyber Ninjas, said Maricopa County refused to answer questions posed by the audit team in private, forcing Logan to ask for explanations in public.

“Mr. Logan never said this was fraud or criminal, he merely stated the facts as they were provided to him and did not have an explanation,” Thomson said. “None of this would be necessary if the county would simply communicate with the audit team when there are questions.”

Logan is a Trump supporter who has spread conspiracy theories backing Trump’s false claims of fraud. His firm is overseeing the GOP audit despite having no prior experience in elections. Experts in election administration say it’s not following reliable procedures.

Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement on Thursday that the auditors are “portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections.”

“What we heard today represents an alternate reality that has veered out of control since the November General Election,” Sellers wrote.

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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

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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