ARIZONA NEWS

Maricopa County officials quick to bat down 2022 election misinformation

Nov 15, 2022, 8:00 AM

Republican supporters stand outside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office to protest what they alle...

Republican supporters stand outside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office to protest what they allege is an unfair election in Phoenix, on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly urged Arizonans to let go of "conspiracies of the past," calling for unity a day after he won re-election to a crucial Senate seat. Officials in Arizona's most populous county have become adept at batting down slanted or false claims about how they ran the midterm election and are counting ballots. (AP Photo/Alberto Mariani, File)

(AP Photo/Alberto Mariani, File)

PHOENIX — When the Republican candidate for Arizona governor accused the state’s most populous county of “slow-rolling” the vote count to skew early election results, a local official fired back.

“Quite frankly, it is offensive for Kari Lake to say that these people behind me are slow-rolling this, when they’re working 14 to 18 hours” every day, said Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors.

On Monday, Democrat Katie Hobbs defeated Lake, a Donald Trump ally who falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged and has refused to say she would accept the results of her race this year.

Gates and other Maricopa County election officials aggressively batted down rumors and slanted or false claims, as vote counting has come under intense scrutiny in the battleground state. The accusations have come in all types and at all hours from Trump and the former president’s supporters, as well as other Republican candidates and voters.

“Sadly, there continues to be a lot of misinformation from all different sources that are out on social media right now,” Gates said. “That’s why we have to continue to do this.”

Election officials have had two years to hone their game.

In 2020, Maricopa County landed in the national spotlight while certifying results amid false claims that the election was stolen from Trump. The following year, it underwent an “audit” pushed by Republicans in the state Senate, which ended with a report validating Biden’s win.

“That was just a constant flow of misinformation that we became adept at responding to,” Gates said.

In May, county officials began talking publicly about what to expect in the upcoming midterm elections. They have held regular news conferences since early October, and since Election Day officials have held briefings nearly every day. They also have a large public affairs team that can quickly respond to new or renewed claims of fraud or mismanagement.

One persistent claim started when Lake accused the county of “slow-rolling” the count.

Lake and other Republicans said the county has timed vote releases so Democratic areas of the metro Phoenix area are released first. Gates has spent days explaining how that’s not happening and is not possible. In truth, the county processes ballots using a first-in, first out system.

That means mail-in ballots that are dropped off at the polls on Election Day are processed in the order they are received at the county’s election headquarters.

“That’s how we do this,” Gates said Saturday. “We’re not picking them from certain parts of town. In fact, we can’t do that because we have a vote center model.”

Vote centers mean any voter can walk into any polling place across the metro area to cast a ballot in-person or drop off their early ballots. And because ballots dropped off at vote centers are kept together for processing, the votes could be from anywhere.

Gates called the allegations “irrelevant” and an “incredible distraction.”

A record 290,000 of those ballots were dropped off at the county’s 223 vote centers on Election Day and are now being processed. As of Monday morning, the county had between 185,000 and 195,000 ballots to count, while nearly 1.4 million in-person and early ballots had been tabulated.

Gates said the audit taught the board and other county leaders the importance of battling misinformation quickly and accurately.

He and county Recorder Stephen Richer have taken the lead, with Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone also taking the podium at times. Gates is a lawyer who for years represented the GOP during county elections. Penzone said the constant unfounded claims have forced Gates and Richer to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining why they are wrong.

“What’s the saying, a lie travels around the world … 10,000 times before the truth even gets started?” Penzone said Saturday. “That’s what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing people empowered by saying things that make them feel good, and they’re not accountable for it, and they lie.”

David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who now runs the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, praised county election officials and Gates in particular for their rapid and consistent responses.

“They’re doing an outstanding job,” Becker said. “I’ll tell you, I think Bill Gates and his colleagues have been the best of American governance, not just in the last week, but over the course of the past several years while they’ve been running elections in Maricopa County.”

The Republican Party of Arizona has complained about Election Day issues and the prolonged vote count, which is normal in Arizona. Party Chair Kelli Ward complained about ballot-counting machines that could not always read the ballots. The 17,000 affected ballots were instead taken to the county’s central facility. Black bags of those ballots were stacked for processing Monday.

Not every claim is a lie, but the accusations have answers that make sense. On Friday night, losing Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters accused the county of mixing up counted ballots with those that could not be tabulated by the vote center machines at least twice. He demanded that the more than 1.4 million ballots that had already been tabulated be recounted, calling it a “giant disaster.”

Megan Gilbertson, spokeswoman for the county elections department, told The Associated Press that election workers at two vote centers did combine voted ballots with a batch that could not be read by the on-site tabulators, but that the mix-up did not lead to double-counted or uncounted ballots because the department has systems in place to deal with such occurrences.

“Because ballots are tabulated by batch, we are able to isolate the results from those specific locations and reconcile the total ballots against check-ins to ensure it matches,” she wrote less than two hours after Masters made the statement. “This is done with political party observers present and is a practice that has been in place for decades.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano seen during 2018 event in Los Angeles, is part of a panel inve...

Kevin Stone

Former Arizona governor joins panel investigating attempted assassination of Donald Trump

Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will serve on a panel investigating the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump.

1 hour ago

Leading Democratic candidate Kamala Harris and Arizona voters...

Serena O'Sullivan

Border could be hardest issue for VP Kamala Harris to win Arizona voters on, Valley political expert says

Vice President Kamala Harris is now in the spotlight as the leading Democratic candidate ahead of the general election in November.

3 hours ago

Vice President Kamala Harris prepares to swear in Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, with wife Gabrielle G...

Kevin Stone

Does Arizona US Sen. Mark Kelly have chance to be running mate for Kamala Harris?

With Vice President Kamala Harris seemingly on track to move to the top of the Democratic ticket, could Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly be her running mate?

4 hours ago

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes answers questions in Phoenix after winning his election in...

Kevin Stone

Arizona Sec. Adrian Fontes explains how Joe Biden’s withdrawal affects state elections

How will Joe Biden's withdrawal affect Arizona elections? "We'll be OK with that," Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said Monday.

6 hours ago

(Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management)...

KTAR.com

Romero, Circle fires threatening land near Kearny in rural Arizona

Crews continue working to contain two large wildfires threatening farm land in rural Arizona near Kearny, officials said Monday.

6 hours ago

People in the Valley are without power after weekend outages...

KTAR.com

Power mostly restored across metro Phoenix morning after storms rolled through

Over 200 people in the Valley went without power early Monday morning, according to the Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service.

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Maricopa County officials quick to bat down 2022 election misinformation