The claim: A video shows ballots breaking chain of custody in Arizona
During any election, state and local officials document the control and possession of election materials through a process known as the chain of custody. But some social media users claim this process was disrupted in Arizona’s Maricopa County during the recent midterm elections.
Evangelist Lance Wallnau shared an Instagram clip on Nov. 13 that shows conservative commentator Ben Bergquam following a white Penske truck purportedly delivering ballots. The truck leaves a Maricopa County elections center and makes a stop at the Runbeck Election Services facility.
Above the clip is a screenshot of a tweet from Wallnau with the headline of a Nov. 12 Gateway Pundit article that reads “FIX IS IN: Arizona Ballots Make Stop at Runbeck Printing Company to Scan Ballot Envelopes Before They Are Sent to County — WITH NO OBSERVERS.”
“More ballots break chain of custody in Arizona,” Wallnau says in the post caption.
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The Instagram post generated over 2,000 likes in less than two weeks. The Gateway Pundit article making the claim was shared to Facebook over 3,000 times, according to the social media insights tool CrowdTangle.
But the viral claim is off the mark.
It is typical for bipartisan staff to deliver ballots to Runbeck Election Services to create a digital image of the unopened ballot envelopes, according to Arizona election experts and Maricopa County officials. That isn’t proof the chain of custody was broken in the county or of any kind of “fix.”
USA TODAY reached out to Wallnau and Bergquam for comment.
Chain of custody was secure in Maricopa County
USA TODAY could not directly verify the authenticity of the clip. But Megan Gilbertson, a Maricopa County Elections Department spokesperson, told USA TODAY that ballots were transported to Runbeck Election Services the days following Nov. 8.
Bergquam shared the same clip featured in the Instagram post on his Twitter account on Nov. 11.
But contrary to the post’s claim, the video does not show the chain of custody being broken in Maricopa County, said Tammy Patrick, former senior advisor to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan elections watchdog.
Runbeck Election Services says on its website that Maricopa County bipartisan staff transport ballot envelopes to and from the company regularly during elections. The transfer of ballots is documented through a slip signed by both the Elections Department staff and Runbeck staff, according to Maricopa County’s 2022 election plan.
USA TODAY found no credible reports to suggest that such slips in Maricopa County were in any way compromised during the midterms.
Runbeck Election Services then scans the unopened ballot envelopes to capture a digital image of the voter signatures and places those images into an automated batch system for the Elections Department to review, according to the plan.
The batch system is “continuously audited systematically in addition to being validated by Elections Department staff and citizen boards through audit tray reports that accompany the batches,” the plan says.
Observers were present first two days, not subsequent days
The post’s claim that there were no observers at the Runbeck facility is correct.
The Maricopa County Republican Party tweeted on Nov. 14 that there were Republican observers “at Runbeck on Election Night and the next day when ballots were being sent there for scanning.“
But Kristy Dohnel, a spokesperson for the Arizona Republican party, told USA TODAY there were no observers present on Nov. 10 or Nov. 11, when the video was shared on Twitter.
Gilbertson said that bipartisan staff members appointed by political party chairs were present at the facility on Nov. 8 and the days following, including Nov. 11, to deliver early and late ballot envelopes and sign chain of custody forms.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a video shows ballots breaking the chain of custody in Arizona. Contrary to the post’s claim, no chain of custody was broken in Maricopa County. It is typical for bipartisan staff to deliver ballots to Runbeck Election Services for a digital imaging of ballot envelopes.
Our fact-check sources:
- Megan Gilbertson, Nov. 28-29, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Tammy Patrick, Nov. 28-29, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Kristy Dohnel, Dec. 1, Text message exchange with USA TODAY
- Runbeck Election Services, accessed Nov. 29, Claims vs. Facts
- Maricopa County, Nov. 11, Tweet
- Maricopa County Elections Department, accessed Nov. 29, 2022 Elections Plan
- U.S. Election Assistance Commission, accessed Nov. 30, CHAIN OF CUSTODY BEST PRACTICES
- Maricopa County Republican Party, Nov. 14, Tweet
- Reuters, Nov. 22, Fact Check-Maricopa County says bipartisan staff transport mail-in ballots for preparation of signature verification
- AFP Fact Check, Nov. 16, Maricopa County ballot transportation not a sign of fraud
- PolitiFact, Nov. 13, Video shows Arizona ballots “break chain of custody in Arizona.”
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