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Fact Check-Maricopa County says bipartisan staff transport mail-in ballots for preparation of signature verification

A video showing a truck departing from the Maricopa County Elections Department in Arizona to a third-party facility triggered social media claims of fraud, citing an allegedly inadequate chain-of-custody process. The video captures a standard procedure, however, involving the transport of sealed ballot envelopes to Runbeck Election Services, a company that assists the county by scanning them to create a digital image of the signature in the packet. The envelopes are then returned unopened to the elections department for signature verification and tabulation. Both the Maricopa County Elections Department and Runbeck Election Services told Reuters that bipartisan staff are present during the transport of the sealed envelopes to and from their offices.

The clip was tweeted on Nov. 10 by Ben Bergquam, from the conservative media outlet Real America’s Voice (here). It had garnered over 11,000 retweets as of the writing of this article.

It has also been shared on Instagram (here)

“Just trying to keep an idea of chain-of-custody, what’s happening with this election,” Bergquam can be heard saying to the camera around timestamp 1:40.

Bergquam did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Some users sharing the video claim that the footage is evidence of voter fraud. Comments include “I smell F R A U D at its finest,” (here) and “Fake ballots are being trucked in.” (here)

The video indeed appears to shows a truck departing from the Maricopa County elections office (comparable to Google street view imagery visible) (bit.ly/3OeqI5I) and arriving at Runbeck Election Services (also comparable in Google street view visible) (bit.ly/3Ap0eJf)

Megan Gilbertson, Communications Director at the Maricopa County Elections Department, told Reuters that “bipartisan staff” drive such trucks and that they “transport sealed envelope packets to Runbeck for signature imaging in preparation for signature verification, which is performed back at the Elections Department”.

The Maricopa County Elections Department 2022 Elections Plan states that Runbeck scans the affidavit envelopes “to capture a digital binary image of the voter signatures from that packet and places those images into an automated batch system for Elections Department staff to review (see page 44 and 45 bit.ly/3V3kicg ). Election workers then compare those images with other signatures in the official voter registration file.

Voters are required to sign the affidavit envelope, as well as date it and include a phone number (bit.ly/3gut97G ) . An example of an affidavit envelope posted by the Maricopa County Elections Department is viewable (here )

The Maricopa County Elections Department 2022 Elections Plan also details that the transfer “is documented using a chain-of-custody transfer slip that is signed by both Elections Department staff and Runbeck staff.”

“To ensure all ballots are accounted for, 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. These audit tray reports are also used by early processing boards,” the plan adds.

Katie Geraghty, who handles media relations for Runbeck Election Services, also told Reuters that Maricopa County bipartisan staff transport the unopened ballot envelopes “to and from Runbeck until all ballot envelopes are properly scanned”

Geraghty explained the process as follows: “Early ballots returned to Maricopa County Elections before the voting deadline are transported by bipartisan Maricopa County elections staff to Runbeck Election Services where ballot envelopes are scanned by Runbeck equipment. Runbeck does not open ballot envelopes and does not capture the image of any voted ballots. Runbeck captures images of the unopened returned envelopes for Maricopa County only, which they use for audit and signature verification.”

The sealed envelopes are then returned to Maricopa County’s election office for processing and tabulation.

Reuters could not independently confirm when the clip was filmed, but Gilbertson confirmed to Reuters that the transport process to and from Runbeck continued from election day until Nov. 10, when the video was shared on Twitter by Bergquam.

Geraghty also referred to a tweet by the Maricopa Republican Party, saying Republican observers were at Runbeck “on Election Night and the next day when ballots were being sent there for scanning!” (here)

The Maricopa Republican Party did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

News reports covering Runbeck’s Elections Services role in Maricopa County 2022 midterm elections and in the past are viewable (here) (here )( here )

VERDICT

Misleading. Maricopa County Elections Department and Runbeck Election Services told Reuters that bipartisan staff are present during the transport of the sealed envelopes to and from their offices. Runbeck Election Services assists with the scanning of sealed envelopes of returned early ballots, which helps with signature verification that later takes place at Maricopa County Elections Department.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work (here).

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