Were ballots from the 2020 election found shredded and trashed in Maricopa County, Arizona? No, that's not true: The ballots cast in that election are safely sealed and stored in a vault, according to a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department. She said that "Maricopa County has not, and would never destroy voted ballots until legally authorized to do so after the 24-month retention period."
The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by The Gateway Pundit on March 6, 2021. The article, titled "BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: Ballots In Arizona's Maricopa County Found Shredded and In Dumpster - Days Before Senate Audit To Begin," opened:
Piles of shredded ballots were located today in a dumpster in Maricopa County, Arizona. This find occurs only days before the Senate's audit of the county's 2020 election results is due to start. For months the Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County have blocked and delayed any independent audit performed by the Arizona Senate of the County's results...
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BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: Ballots In Arizona's Maricopa County Found Shredded and In Dumpster - Days Before Senate Audit To Begin
Dumpsters full of shredded ballots were located today in Maricopa County Arizona. This occurs only days before the Senate's audit of the county's 2020 election results is due to start. For months the Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County have blocked and delayed any independent audit performed by the Arizona Senate of the County's results...
This fact-check does not encompass all the claims made in the article. It focuses on the main claim, which is that bags of shredded ballots were found in the trash in Maricopa County, Arizona.
The article clearly implies that the ballots were genuine, voted ballots from the 2020 election. It included several photos of shredded ballots and stated:
Per our source on the ground in the County, yesterday an individual went by the Maricopa County Tabulation and election center and found doors wide open with seeming uninhibited access to the facility. Today some other interested individuals in the county stopped by the same facility and found huge piles of ballots in the dumpster outside the facility. Someone ordered the ballots be shredded.
Lead Stories reached out to the Maricopa County Elections Department to ask about the article. In an email to Lead Stories, dated March 8, 2021, spokeswoman Megan Gilbertson said that it's not true. She explained:
Maricopa County has not, and would never destroy voted ballots until legally authorized to do so after the 24-month retention period.
The reality is the November General Election ballots are sealed and stored in the vault, not the warehouse. The vault is under the watch of a 24-7 camera. None of the ballots or other General election materials from the vault were in the garbage, and as a matter of business, the county can and does throw out trash.
When asked to hazard a guess as to what the dumpster divers found, Gilbertson speculated that it could be a number of different things. She wrote:
The Elections Department and Recorder's Office have sample ballots used for demonstrative purposes, as well as sample ballots that were posted online so people could preview what they would be voting on. There are also voters who received ballots by mail but did not return them. The ballot shown in the picture could be any one of those things. What it is not is an official voted ballot from the November General Election. The 2.1 million voted ballots from the November General Election are safe and accounted for in a vault, under 24/7 surveillance.
Gilbertson added that Maricopa County will follow up with law enforcement about the activities of the individuals involved in the dumpster-diving, which took place on county property. Security footage shows that they tried to break into the warehouse entrance of the Elections Department, she said.
The Gateway Pundit article further claimed that Arizona is "not the first state where we found shredded ballots after the election," mentioning allegations made concerning Cobb County, Georgia. Lead Stories looked into those allegations and found them to be false. See our previous reporting here. In that case, a video showed routine shredding of documents, not ballots or anything "relevant to the election," according to an official there.
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According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.