STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Were over 74,000 more mail-in ballots received and counted than were mailed out for the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona? No, that's not true: County officials say the true tally shows there were 446,000 fewer mail-in votes than ballots sent out. They said the meme's claim relies on muddling all early votes: mailed ballots together with early voting ballots. Early voting happens in two ways. People can either vote by mail or vote in person at vote centers. People who vote at centers are given ballots there, meaning that the total of early votes could very well be greater than the number of ballots mailed out.
The claim appeared in a meme (archived here) on Facebook on July 15, 2021. The meme was one in an apparent series by The America Project, an organization created by Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. The group promotes the idea that the 2020 election was stolen or rigged and raises money to help fund audits, like the one taking place in Maricopa County. The meme reads:
GUILTY! ARIZONA SENATE DEBUNKS THE LEFT'S 'BIG LIE'
OVER 74,000 VOTES
MORE MAIL-BALLOTS WERE RECEIVED AND COUNTED THAN WERE MAILED OUT
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jul 16 15:10:57 2021 UTC)
The meme was created in the aftermath of an Arizona Senate briefing on the election audit in Maricopa, Arizona's most populous county. The July 15, 2021, public hearing was billed as an update on the audit, which was commissioned by Republicans in the state Senate. The audit was ongoing at the time this fact check was written.
Among the many claims that came out of the briefing was this allegation about the 74,000 mail-in ballots. The claim was made by Doug Logan, head of Cyber Ninjas, the private company tapped to lead the audit effort. He said:
We have 74,243 mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent.
Maricopa County addressed this claim on its Twitter page, stating that Cyber Ninjas appears to be looking at all early votes in making this claim. The Maricopa County Twitter statement says early voting can happen in two ways: People can either vote by mail or vote in person. People who vote at centers are given ballots there, meaning that the total of early votes could be greater than the number of ballots mailed out.
The county wrote: "This is not a new practice, so it's not unusual that we would have more early votes than mail-in ballots sent."
The people who vote in-person use ballots provided at a Vote Center. This is not a new practice, so it's not unusual that we would have more early votes than mail-in ballots sent.-- Maricopa County (@maricopacounty) July 16, 2021
Later, the county added its exact count of requested and returned ballots:
CLAIM: 74,000 more mail-in ballots were counted in Nov. 2020 than were sent.-- Maricopa County (@maricopacounty) July 16, 2021
FACTS: @maricopavote calculated the true number of requests and returns:
REQUESTS = 2,364,426
RETURNS = 1,918,024
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers released a statement the same day as the hearing, slamming the audit and Senate leadership for broadcasting false election narratives. He said:
At today's briefing, the Senate's uncertified contractors asked a lot of open-ended questions, portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections. In some cases, they dropped bombshell numbers that are simply not accurate.
What we heard today represents an alternate reality that has veered out of control since the November General Election. Senate leadership should be ashamed they broadcast the half-baked theories of the 'Deep Rig' crowd to the world today.
Finish your audit, release the report, and be prepared to defend it in Court.
Lead Stories has debunked claims about the Arizona audit before. See here, here and here for those stories, in which we found that 250,000 illegal votes were not found in the audit, that Dominion Voting Systems did not have 70 lawyers in the state trying to stop the audit and that the audit did not confirm rumors about a special watermark.
More than 2 million voters in Maricopa County participated in the 2020 general election.
2021-07-16T23:14:12Z 2021-07-16T23:14:12ZUpdated to include Maricopa County's tallies of mail ballots sent and mail ballots returned.