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How false claims of voter fraud tarnished trust in Arizona elections

With the presidential election just four months away, former President Donald Trump has yet to clearly say he will accept the results of the election.
Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station
Posted at 7:56 PM, Jul 03, 2024

Arizona has been at the epicenter of false claims of voter fraud since the 2020 presidential elections, rhetoric that persists as the swing state braces for the rematch of a presidential contest that triggered chaos and conspiracy theories nearly four years ago.

With the presidential election just four months away, former President Donald Trump has yet to clearly say he will accept the results of the election.

Trump lost in Arizona and other swing states, and some of his Republican allies in key states are facing charges for attempting to overturn the 2020 election and for spreading false claims of voter fraud.

During a CNN presidential debate, moderator Dana Bash asked Trump if he would accept the election results once all legal challenges were exhausted; Trump skirted the question before responding, “if the election is fair, free.”

Mike Noble, the CEO of Noble Predictive Insights, a nonpartisan polling company, said he expects this election to be “volatile.” Data collected by his company shows Trump is leading in the Grand Canyon State.

Noble said polls conducted before the debate showed both candidates underperforming compared to four years ago. He predicts the race for the White House will once again come down to a narrow win in Arizona.

In 2020, protesters rallied outside the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center where election workers were counting ballots, and shouted, “We are watching you, count the legal vote.”

Garrett Archer, an ABC15 data analyst and a former senior elections analyst for the Arizona secretary of state, recalled claims of rigged elections dating back to the 2000s, but said they didn’t compare to the supercharged allegations of voter fraud fueled by Trump, his former attorney Rudy Giuliani and high-profile republicans in Arizona.

Archer said the false claims “blew up,” and ignited demonstrations across Phoenix. “I mean, it was a nuclear bomb.”

President Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona by less than 11,000 votes. His win was certified in November of 2020 by then-Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who appeared to silence a call from Trump moments before signing the election results that confirmed Biden won.

“As I have stated before, we do elections well here in Arizona, the system is strong,” Ducey said.

Trump later accused Ducey of rushing to put a Democrat in office, and falsely tweeted there were “horrible things concerning voter fraud.”

In an attempt to overturn the elections, on Dec. 20, 2020, the Republican Party of Arizona posted a video on “X” with the caption “The Signing.” Kelli Ward was part of a group of Republicans in the video who claimed they were the “2020 electors from Arizona.”

They declared Trump the winner of the swing state and submitted documentation to Congress to help seal his win. Nearly four years later, a grand jury indicted 18 Trump allies including Ward and 10 other fake electors, charging them for submitting documents to Congress falsely claiming that Trump won the election. They also faced charges for conspiracy, forgery, and fraud.

But prior to the charges, far-right Arizona Republicans continued to question the election results. On Jan. 5, 2021, one day before the Capitol insurrection, then-Arizona State Rep. Mark Finchem spread baseless claims of a rigged election.

“When you steal something, that’s not really a win,” Finchem said to a crowd.

Months later, in July of 2021, Trump visited Arizona for the first time following his loss. He spoke to a crowd and continued to cry foul: “The facts are coming out, the truth is being uncovered, and the crime of the century is being fully exposed,” Trump said.

Archer said the allegations tarnished trust in the election process, and some Arizona residents even suggested overhauling the whole system while others called for ballots to be hand-counted.

“They wanted to go back to a process that is so error-prone,” Archer said.

The baseless claims of a stolen election led to two audits by Maricopa County. An audit of the tabulation equipment was performed by two independent testing laboratories.

The companies analyzed election equipment software, the hardware’s hacking vulnerability and more. The forensic audits concluded that the Maricopa County election equipment and software passed all tests.

The state Senate then raised $5.7 million and hired the company Cyber Ninjas to review 2.1 million ballots. The monthslong review cost $9 million.

“When they did their hand count, Joe Biden still won Maricopa County,” Archer said.

Related story: Arizona voters to decide if police can arrest migrants suspected of crossing the border illegally

Since the 2020 election, a series of lawsuits claiming voter fraud have been dismissed, with some cases citing a lack of evidence.

Former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who investigated the allegations, reportedly completed his investigation before the 2022 election in Arizona, but buried the finding and chose to release an interim report claiming his office found “serious vulnerabilities,” according to ABC15.

That same year, Attorney General Kris Mayes was elected to office. She released the full report withheld by Brnovich. According to Mayes, agents and support staff spent more than 10,000 hours investigating alleged instances of illegal voting.

Mayes said parties did not provide any evidence to support their allegations, and the information provided was speculative in many instances and found to be inaccurate.

Claims that agents investigated included allegations of double-votes, satellites controlled by the Italian military changing votes to favor Biden, bamboo ballots, dead people voting and other claims. Mayes added that voter fraud is rare.

Mayes also released a statement on Feb. 22, 2023, saying: “The results of this exhaustive and extensive investigation show what we have suspected for over two years — the 2020 election in Arizona was conducted fairly and accurately by elections officials.”

The contentious 2020 presidential election prompted changes at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center. A spokesperson with Maricopa County tells Scripps News they added new fencing, upgraded indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, added lighting at drop boxes, increased armed guards at entrances and exits, established SWAT presence at the building, increased the security process during ballot transfers and implemented a new training program to ensure the safety of election workers.

Maricopa County is the largest county in the state, home to 2,402,446 active registered voters as of June 1, 2024, and is the largest voting jurisdiction in the country, according to the Maricopa County website.

A slew of bills have been introduced since 2020, and while little has changed in how Arizona conducts votes, transparency has increased. The Maricopa County Elections website answers voting questions, addresses concerns, links documents to the 2020 audit and provides live video feeds where tabulators are located.

“Maricopa County elections is one of the most transparent departments in the country for elections,” Archer said.

Noble expects voter turnout in Arizona to meet or exceed the 2020 election. According to his polls, voter confidence is slightly up.

“Independents we've noticed have increased their confidence in the election, and you've seen a little erosion for the Republicans, but it's really that hard, more populist wing,” Noble said.

Arizona is one of several swing states that will be closely watched during the 2024 presidential election.

Archer said this year, it’s vital to remind voters that it can take days to count every vote in Maricopa County.

“Elections appear simple, but there are multiple layers and thousands of people behind it to make sure that that count is the true and accurate count,” Archer said.