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Maricopa County follows Arizona’s election procedures manual, which details the steps for taking ballots from voting sites to a central counting facility.
After polls close on Election Day, ballots are placed in black bags that are for security and brought to the central site by two workers from differing political parties.
The number of ballots is compared with the number of voters who checked in. Observers from both political parties oversee this reconciliation process.
Instagram users took a still image from a live video recording of Maricopa County, Arizona’s vote counting site and reached the false conclusion it is evidence of fraud.
"This is a live feed of video from Maricopa County a few minutes ago. A bunch of bags just randomly arrived at the vote counting center..." stated a Nov. 15 Instagram post.
The photo shows Maricopa’s central counting facility in Phoenix, with a luggage trolley piled full of black bags.
The caption says, "Nothing to see here, just Democrats with the help of the media and GOP establishment stealing another election." The caption continued that the "reason the Republican establishment is not saying a thing" about "these obvious stolen elections" is because they want to "get rid of" former President Donald Trump and squash the MAGA movement.
Hashtags on the post said #ElectionFraud and #DemocratsCheatOutinTheOpen.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
A Maricopa County Elections Department spokesperson, Megan Gilbertson, told us that the scene in the video screen grab is normal and reflects a long-standing post-election practice.
The black canvas bags in the image are used to take voted ballots and results reports from the vote centers to the central counting site after polls close on Election Day, Gilbertson said.
"Bags are sealed with a tamper-evident seal for security, logged on a chain of custody form and returned to the Elections Department by two poll workers of differing parties," Gilberton said. "When the black canvas bags are opened, it’s done under 24/7 livestream cameras and with political party observers present."
The process is observed by members of the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties, Gilbertson said. The image in the Instagram post shows both observers and election officials.
It is common for the black canvas bags to be in the ballot tabulation center as officials reconcile the number of physical ballots with the number of voters who checked in at voting centers.
"This is basically an audit check for us," Gilbertson said. "We do it in every election right at the end."
Maricopa tweeted a similar image of the bags of ballots and wrote, "This routine process happens every election to ensure only legal ballots are counted."
Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director of the voting rights group All Voting is Local, said the image shows the standard practice as outlined in the state’s election procedures manual. On Page 194, the manual explains the procedure for transporting ballots to a central counting site.
Sarah Brannon, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights project, also confirmed that the image shows a typical process used by Maricopa officials.
"The county has represented that these pictures are related to that regular process," Brannon said. "We have no reason to question that representation and no reason to believe these pictures raise any questions about the integrity of the election in Maricopa County."
An Instagram post said that bags arriving at the Maricopa County vote counting site are evidence of "Democrats with the help of the media and GOP establishment stealing another election."
Bags did arrive at a Maricopa election site, but it’s not a sign of anything criminal or nefarious, and it is in keeping with the state’s election procedures manual. Sealed bags are taken from vote centers to the central counting site by workers of differing political parties. When the bags are opened, it’s done under camera surveillance with political party observers present.
The bags are at the vote counting site so officials can reconcile the number of ballots with the number of voters who checked in at voting centers.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
Instagram post, Nov. 15, 2022
Maricopa County Elections Department, Tweet, Nov. 15, 2022
Maricopa County Elections Department, Statements to the media about election results updates, Nov. 8-16, 2022
Arizona Secretary of State, Election procedures manual, 2019
AP, Arizona county quick to bat down election misinformation, Nov. 14, 2022
Telephone and email interview, Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department, Nov. 17, 2022
Email interview, Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director of All Voting is Local, Nov. 17, 2022
Email interview, Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the Voting Rights Project
American Civil Liberties Union, Nov. 17, 2022
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