July 16, 2021 - 6:04 pm
PHOENIX — Arizona county election officials have identified fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 3 million ballots cast in last year’s presidential election, further discrediting former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election as his allies continue a disputed ballot review in the state’s most populous county.
An Associated Press investigation found 182 cases where problems were clear enough that officials referred them to investigators for further review. So far, only four cases have led to charges, including those identified in a separate state investigation. No one has been convicted. No person’s vote was counted twice.
While it’s possible more cases could emerge, the numbers illustrate the implausibility of Trump’s claims that fraud and irregularities in Arizona cost him the state’s electorate votes. In final, certified and audited results, Biden won 10,400 more votes than Trump out of 3.4 million cast.
AP’s findings align with previous studies showing voter fraud is rare. Numerous safeguards are built into the system to not only prevent fraud from happening but to detect it when it does.
“The fact of the matter is that election officials across the state are highly invested in helping to ensure the integrity of our elections and the public’s confidence in them,” said Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. “And part of that entails taking potential voter fraud seriously.”
Arizona’s potential cases also illustrate another reality: Voter fraud is often bipartisan. Of the four Arizona cases that have resulted in criminal charges, two involved Democratic voters and two involved Republicans.
AP’s review supports statements made by many state and local elections officials — and even some Republican county officials and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey — that Arizona’s presidential election was secure and its results valid.
And still, Arizona’s GOP-led state Senate has for months been conducting what it describes as a “forensic audit” of results in Phoenix’s Maricopa County. The effort has been discredited by election experts and faced bipartisan criticism, but some Republicans, including Trump, have suggested it will uncover evidence of widespread fraud.
‘A lie that developed over time’
“This is not a massive issue,” said Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the Maricopa County election office during the 2020 election and lost his re-election bid. “It is a lie that has developed over time. It’s been fed by conspiracy theorists.”
The AP tallied the potential cases after submitting public record requests to all Arizona counties. Most counties — 11 out of 15 — reported they had forwarded no potential cases to local prosecutors. The majority of cases identified so far involve people casting a ballot for a relative who had died or people who tried to cast two ballots.
In addition to the AP’s review of county election offices, an Election Integrity Unit of the state attorney general’s office that was created in 2019 to ferret out fraud has been reviewing potential cases of fraud.
A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich told the AP in April that the unit had 21 active investigations, although he did not specify if all were from last fall.
A month later, the office indicted a woman for casting a ballot on behalf of her dead mother in November. A spokeswoman declined to provide updated information this week.
Maricopa County, which is subject to the disputed ballot review ordered by state Senate Republicans, has identified just one case of potential fraud out of 2.1 million ballots cast. That was a voter who might have cast a ballot in another state. The case was sent to the county attorney’s office, which forwarded it to the state attorney general.
Most cases in Pima County
Virtually all the cases identified by county election officials are in Pima County, home to Tucson, and involved voters who attempted to cast two ballots.
The Pima County Recorder’s Office has a practice of referring all cases with even a hint of potential fraud to prosecutors for review, something the state’s 14 other county recorders do not do. Pima County officials forwarded 151 cases to prosecutors. They did not refer 25 others from voters over age 70 because there was a greater chance those errors — typically attempts to vote twice — were the result of memory lapses or confusion, not criminal intent, an election official said.
None of the 176 duplicate ballots was counted twice. A spokesman for the Pima County Attorney’s Office, Joe Watson, said that the 151 cases it received were still being reviewed and that no charges had been filed.
Pima County’s tally of referrals to prosecutors after last year’s election was in line with those in 2016 and 2018. Prosecutors filed no voter fraud cases after the 2016 election and just one after the 2018 election, and that case was later dismissed, Watson said Friday.
But there were some new patterns this year, said deputy recorder Pamela Franklin. An unusually high number of people appeared to have intentionally voted twice, often by voting early in person and then again by mail. In Arizona, where nearly 80% of voters cast ballots by mail, it’s not unusual for someone to forget they returned their mail-in ballot and then later ask for a replacement or try to vote in person, she said. But this pattern was new.
Franklin noted several factors at play, including worries about U.S. Postal Service delays. In addition, Trump at one point encouraged voters who cast their ballots early by mail to show up at their polling places on Election Day and vote again if poll workers couldn’t confirm their mail ballots had been received.
Similar findings to other states
The results in Arizona are similar to early findings in other battleground states. Local election officials in Wisconsin identified just 27 potential cases of voter fraud out of 3.3 million ballots cast last November, according to records obtained by the AP under the state’s open records law. Potential voter fraud cases in other states where Trump and his allies mounted challenges have so far amounted to just a tiny fraction of Trump’s losing margin in those states.
The Associated Press conducted the review following months of Trump and his allies claiming without proof that he had won the 2020 election. His claims of widespread fraud have been rejected by election officials, judges, a group of election security officials and even Trump’s own attorney general at the time. Even so, supporters continue to repeat them and they have been cited by state lawmakers as justification for tighter voting rules across the country.
In Arizona, Republican state lawmakers have used the unsubstantiated claims to justify the unprecedented outside Senate review of the election in Maricopa County and to pass legislation that could make it harder for infrequent voters to receive mail ballots automatically.
Trump, in a statement, called AP’s tally an attempt to “discredit the massive number of voter irregularities and fraud” in key battleground states and said the “real numbers” will be released “shortly.” He did not provide any evidence to back up his assertions.
Senate President Karen Fann has repeatedly said her goal is not to overturn the election results. Instead, she has said she wants to find out if there were any problems and show voters who believe Trump’s claims whether they should trust the results.
“Everybody keeps saying, ‘Oh, there’s no evidence’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah well, let’s do the audit.’ And if there’s nothing there, then we say, ‘Look, there was nothing there,’” Fann told the AP in early May. “If we find something, and it’s a big if, but if we find something, then we can say, ‘OK, we do have evidence and now how do we fix this?’” Fann did not return calls this week to discuss the AP findings.
Aside from double voting, the cases flagged by officials mostly involved a ballot cast after someone had died, including three voters in Yavapai County who face felony charges for casting ballots for spouses who died before the election.
In Yuma County, one case of a voter attempting to cast two ballots was sent to the county attorney for review. Chief Civil Deputy William Kerekus told the AP that there was no intent at voter fraud and the case was closed without charges.
Cochise County Recorder David Stevens found mail-in ballots were received from two voters who died before mail ballots were sent in early October. Sheriff’s deputies investigating the cases found their homes were vacant and closed the cases. The votes were not counted.